© 1998 42K(+) Press, Inc.
Participation in marathon running in North America has grown approximately 10 percent per year for the past five years. The steady increase has had a profound effect on existing marathons, swelling the entry list of some formerly modest races to the point where they must, like megamarathons, set entry limits.
The Rosetta stone of the current growth in marathoning was the 1996 "100th" running of the Boston Marathon, which created a qualifying frenzy that affected hundreds of other marathons. When Runner's World magazine declared the St. George Marathon in Utah as one of the best races in which to get a qualifying time for Boston, the organizers were thrown into a spin by the torrent of entries.
The huge marathons continue to grow, turning away thousands of supplicants. The mid-sized marathons grow steadily. Small marathons quickly grow to mid-sized marathons, occasionally outstripping the organizers' (and the courses') abilities to accommodate the new runners.
On the fringe there are other marathons, remote and unheralded, that manage in the midst of what appears to many to be madness to hold their own and maintain the unique style and substance they've exhibited for years, sometimes for decades.
The growth in marathoning is fed by Jeff Galloway's training programs across the continent, increasing numbers of Team In Training and other organized charity-oriented marathon training chapters, a new crop of how-to-train-for-the-marathon books, and the camaraderie of the Runner's World marathon pacing groups.
The current health of the marathon is reflected by the outrageous prerace success of the Rock'n'Roll Marathon, which set a record with nearly 20,000 entries in a first-ever race. In the midst of the growth, some marathons work diligently to maintain their down-home feel while others strive for stratospheric numbers and hype.
To say that there is a marathon for every taste is not an exaggeration. There are marathons for those who want to be part of a mega event, and on the other end of the spectrum there are races that are small and intimate and as low-key as a training run -- and there is every variation in between.
A marathon's very existence doesn't guarantee that it's a good event, however. Today's marathoners are more demanding and discerning than the rugged individualist marathoners of 20 years ago, sometimes to a fault. There are components of a marathon, however, which, if present in abundance, assure runners that the race is more than worth entering. Things like a good, accurately measured, safe course; a decent expo; a nicely designed T-shirt and a good pasta loading; adequate hotel facilities and cheerful and knowledgeable volunteers; good medical coverage; and good organization in general.
When Marathon & Beyond went looking for the best marathons in North America, we found we already had in our arsenal the yardstick by which to measure them: the 1,000-point criteria we use for our ongoing marathon review series carried in each issue.
But we were at a disadvantage. How could a limited staff possibly survey every marathon in North America? Fortunately, there was a logical solution. We tapped into a group that more than knows its way around marathons. The 50 & DC Marathon Group USA is a confederation of marathoners who have run one or more marathons in all 50 states and DC. Some have also run in every province and territory of Canada, and a few have run marathons on all seven continents. As of 1997 there are 171 members in the group from 43 states, 3 Canadian provinces, and Sweden. As of 1997, some 74 members have completed all 50 states and DC.
During 1996 and 1997 we were fascinated to follow Gordon Hartshorn's longest season in sports history during which he ran a marathon every weekend for 74 weeks (February 11, 1996, to July 6, 1997). We asked Gordon, veteran of a mere 224 marathons, to put together a group of 10 of his fellow 50 & DCers to rank (using the M&B 1,000-point criteria) for our readers the best marathons on the continent. In addition to Gordon Hartshorn, the panelists were Lois Berkowitz, Steve Boone, Jim Boyd, Joyce Hockensmith, Andy Kotulski, Bill Macy, Dean Rademaker, Clay Shaw, John Wallace, and Brent Weigner (learn more about our 11 panelists at the end of the survey, pages 33-37).
We asked for the Top 25 races but ended up with the Top 26 because there was a tie for #25. Without further ado, we present M&B's Top 26 Marathons in North America.
Note: When requesting a race entry form, please send along a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
No other marathon was even close. Who can argue with the 100+ years of tradition upon which Boston sits? Boston is the longest-running annual marathon in the world.
Steve Boone puts it this way: "This is the standard by which most marathons measure themselves. The entry form is easy to understand and the follow-up confirmation information is detailed. The race is one of the more expensive, but it includes two pasta dinners, a long-sleeve shirt, and a finisher's medal. The race course is closed to traffic, and the spectators are the best in the world." Clay Shaw says, "[Boston is] the running Mecca, and it's an honor to qualify and be part of this great tradition. The expo and results booklet are the best there are. The pasta feed and the atmosphere are unparalleled. I like that runners are seeded by their qualifying times, to the second. Negatives include the awful noon start and the lousy, cheap T-shirts that never fit." John Wallace adds, "There is no other race with the mystique and awe of Boston. The city and area are 100 percent behind the race, and the locals are genuinely friendly and supportive. It is the only race where I look up at the five-mile mark and am totally amazed that there are two or three thousand runners in front of me -- and I'm running a 6:45 pace! The crowds and support along the course are the best anywhere in the world! Nothing else compares to Wellesley! The negatives are the long bus ride to Hopkinton. And the expo is a madhouse!" Andy Kotulski contributes these final thoughts on the #1 marathon: "[Boston is] the best racers' marathon and the most competitive of all marathons in all age categories. It is steeped in tradition and unequalled. Camaraderie among the runners is unequalled. The race offers every amenity available. The race lacks nothing. It's still my favorite after running it 21 times." It is certainly a tribute to Boston that after many ups and downs over the years, the race solved its problems and is #1 in the hearts of its runners.
A marathon for the hardiest of the hardy, this race is held above the Arctic Circle and is the most northerly marathon in the Western Hemisphere. Lois Berkowitz says, "This is a dream race -- a bonding experience. Some 129 runners fly from Ottawa to Baffin Island, Canada, for five days. You are alone with other runners and a few miners. The plane trip itself is a dream, chartered exclusively for runners.
There are organized tours of Nanisivik Mine, Arctic Bay, and so on. There are warm accommodations in the miners' dwellings. There is stark landscape with no shrubbery. The runners are taken care of in all aspects of the race. You get your medal at a ceremony and dance in the Dome, a community cafeteria. The course is very difficult with significant climbs and downhills throughout. The trip is a bargain at $1,000 for five days' stay, three meals a day, tours, plane flight from Ottawa to Nanisivik and back."
Brent Weigner adds, "This is without a doubt the best marathon package in North America. Unfortunately, the field is limited to the first 100 or so people who sign up and pay their deposit. The cost of the five-day trip includes everything and is the most economical way to see the high Arctic. For me the trip is a spiritual journey to celebrate the joy of running. The memorial service at Terry Fox Pass is very moving. Most of the runners return year after year to visit with their extended family of running friends. The course is hilly and the weather can be brutal, but the party and awards ceremony afterwards make up for everything." (For a more detailed account of the Midnight Sun Marathon, read Gordon Hartshorn's article in the November/December 1997 issue of Marathon & Beyond).
The New York City Marathon continues to evolve as a template for big-hype, big-organization megamarathons. Where else can you run in your underwear with impunity through every strata of a major American city without fear -- with, in fact, exhilaration all around you? Panelist Lois Berkowitz sums up the magic of New York City's marathon: "This is a miracle of organization. I went by myself but met others from Detroit on the plane. The host hotels were about one mile from the finish. Fantastic organization! There were about 30,000 entrants the year I competed. There were spectators along every inch of the course. Lots of music, people of every ethnic variety. The finish was fantastic, especially the last two to three miles in Central Park. New Yorkers saw our medals and were extremely friendly. This race is a model for every large race." Joyce Hockensmith has similar feelings: "I chose this race because it is one of the most exciting to run. The crowds are great. Running through Central Park and the crowds at the end are thrills. Although it is one of the largest, the race is very well managed." John Wallace comments, "Everyone should do New York once! The expo is great but crowded. The crowds are great, and the support is excellent. The negatives are the logistics of the bus ride to the start and the long wait -- usually in cold weather. Do not try to run a PR here. You are usually tired by the time the race starts."
Made famous some years ago when Runner's World declared the downhill course an ideal place to qualify for Boston's "100th" running, the scenic, remote, beautiful St. George Marathon has been deluged with entries ever since. In actuality, the course features some challenging uphills and is not by any means an easy course. "A fast course which everyone uses to qualify for Boston," John Wallace reports. "A very small town and a point-to-point course, so there's not much support along the route. Scenery is awesome early in the morning as the sun rises. Logistics are a negative -- a long drive to the start and a very cold wait." Dean Rademaker picks St. George as the best marathon in North America: "The St. George Marathon offers a scenic run. Participants are furnished a ride to the high point start of the marathon. Fires are started so runners are protected from the chilly air. The predominately downhill run does not have steep enough declines to cause leg discomfort. After the race, there is a barrage of goodies and drinks available. The awards are both unique and attractive." Jim Boyd also picks St. George as the best: "Depending on the particular year, the clear, translucent high-desert sky is a canopy of stars; sometimes the moon is out to light your way. As you rapidly wind your way down the (runners- only) country highway, the sky lightens with glorious hues of color before the sun pops over the mountains. Long shadows form across the valley floor as you wind ever down, and the sun plays on the colorful opposing canyon walls. Although there is a serious hill at about mile eight, and a few gentle rises to go over, this is a fast, elevation-loss course and one of the most popular Boston qualifiers. Be quick on the draw to enter -- or you won't get in."
A beautiful -- but tough -- marathon whose course was seriously damaged by the storms of early 1998, Big Sur is the top-rated marathon in The Ultimate Guide to Marathons. Big Sur is a perennial favorite of numerous runners because of its breathtaking scenery and attention to detail along the course -- a tuxedoed pianist playing classical music on a grand piano, for example. Gordon Hartshorn states, "Real estate people have the axiomatic question: What are the three most important factors in a property's value? Answer: Location, Location, Location. This answer rings true for many marathons, and Big Sur is a prime example. It's hard to top the point-to-point, beautiful, and scenic 26-mile jaunt up the California coast south of Carmel." "This race is everything they say it is," contends Lois Berkowitz. "Incredible scenery, a difficult but not impossible course, wonderful classical music starting about mile 9. Winds can reach 40 to 50 mph at Hurricane Point, around mile 11. Traffic control is perfect. Highway 1 is shut down for the race, and only race vehicles are allowed on the course. The pasta dinner has a huge variety of pasta with several sauces. A flock of doves is unleashed at the start. The only letdown was that the finish was anticlimactic after such a fabulous course. The race is a little pricey, but worth it." John Wallace says, "Tough course, but the scenery is so awesome that it takes your mind off the pain and difficulty. The support is excellent, even though it is a point-to-point course on an isolated highway. The handcrafted finishers' medallions are very nice. One possible negative: the weather is either great or very bad."
Over the past 20 years, Chicago has been through a raft of changes in management and style. The past several years the race has stabilized and is again rising toward the top of the pack among major marathons in North America. The marathon-training clinics by local veteran marathon racers like Hal Higdon and the addition of Runner's World pacing groups in 1997 helped push the race to new levels of participation. What about Chicago clicks with our panel of itinerant marathoners? "I've run [Chicago] several times over a 20-year span," reports Andy Kotulski. "The race has the potential to be the best in the world but has stumbled in the past in a broad range of a few to nearly all categories, to the point that it was even cancelled one year. Today, the race has finally blossomed and performs from good to excellent in all categories. Today's course is the best of the many used over the years. It allows for a great view of the city, its attractions, and its varied neighborhoods. Weather, however, is a big question mark, with a good potential for strong winds. On the flip side, however, on a good day, Chicago is a PR course. Although truly a megarace, Chicago is still small enough to allow marathoners to run well from the start. This is the best value per dollar of any of the great races." Bill Macy also gives Chicago high marks: "Just because it is a flat, fast course doesn't mean it is not well done. It has a great registration and expo. There was everything a runner would need and aid stations with plenty of fluids. With such a crowd, there is great control of the start and finish area. Traffic control is excellent."
Surely one of the best-organized races in the country, Marine Corps has a lot going for it, in spite of the potential for terrible East Coast fall weather. It is no accident that both Oprah and vice president Al Gore picked it as the site for their inaugural marathons. Panelist Bill Macy picks the race as his favorite: "With no seeded runners and no prize money, this is an everyday runner's marathon. The weather can be a factor, as this marathon is run during the last half of October. The expo, the marines as volunteers, and the scenic course also make this my favorite, especially when you are from the cornfields of Nebraska and don't get to run in the nation's capital very often. The organization of the race is excellent, but what else would you expect from the Marine Corps?" Although not his runaway favorite, Steve Boone picks this race for Top 10 honors: "This marathon starts and ends at the Iwo Jima Monument and runs by most of the important buildings in Washington, DC. But race packet pickup was inconvenient, crowded, and the expo didn't include enough exhibitors for the number of runners. There is adequate housing, but make your hotel reservations early. There is no official pasta party, but there are plenty of places to eat. The course is fairly easy and includes mile markers and plenty of aid stations. Spectators line most of the course. The race shirt, finisher's medal, and postrace food are a good value."
This is another race that has had nearly as many course incarnations as years of existence. For such a liberal-leaning city, San Francisco does not exactly bend over backward to accommodate a race that fills the tourist coffers on race weekend. What the race has going for it is an encyclopedia of spectacular views -- and a start on the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Andy Kotulski picks it as one of his Top 5: "I ran this race three times while living in the Bay Area (1992-94). It's a great race to run in what may be the best city in America to visit in July. A visiting runner can safely expect a cool (60s), foggy start, and a warm (70s), sunny finish. It's a wonderfully scenic race with great vistas from the Golden Gate Bridge start to all the scenic waterfronts, neighborhoods, and business areas. It runs through and finishes in Golden Gate Park. Despite its obvious attractions, San Francisco remains a fairly small race. This is not a PR course, but the scenery makes up for it." John Wallace also rates San Francisco as a Top 5 race: "The course usually starts from or runs over the Golden Gate Bridge. What can be more memorable? The weather is normally good for a summer marathon, and the city is a great place to visit. The course has a few tough hills, but the craziness and exuberance of the runners usually makes you forget the hills!"
Runners who love this race love it in a big way. Two panel members rate it among their Top 3. Bill Macy says, "Twin Cities has one of the best crowds in the running world. You can't run 100 yards anywhere on the course without cheers and encouragement, especially at the finish, with bleachers on both sides of the home stretch. Great expo and plenty of hotel/motel rooms in the area and an easy flight or drive." John Wallace adds, "Twin Cities is a fast course with lots of nice scenery in the fall. The crowd support is excellent, and I set my PR! The weather is normally cool to cold, so it's great for racing. The city and crowds are very friendly and supportive. The logistics are very easy -- I walked to the start line from the hotel!"
Exotic scenery for a marathon usually involves some travel beyond flying into a major city. North America's most scenic marathons are of more than average difficulty to get to but usually worth the effort. Ask Steve Boone, who calls the Kilauea Volcano Marathon "a race in a remote wilderness area that is one of the more scenic in the country. The first half takes place in the desert surrounding the volcano, then climbs to the summit through the rain forest in the second half. The race is very difficult because it is run on lava trails; it's easy to fall and get cut up, so wear gloves. There are no spectators, and the water stations for the first half are carried in on horseback. The volunteers spend the night in the desert and are as dedicated as any in the country. The shirts are a unique Hawaiian design, and local artists make the awards. Postrace refreshments are generous, and the results are posted immediately. There is no expo, there are no mile markers, no spectators, and the course is difficult, but the scenery is absolutely the best!" Lois Berkowitz reports, "This race is one of a kind. It is not, however, for the faint of heart. I fell three times -- and I was going at a snail's pace! The lava is brittle, jagged, and broken up by short expanses of sand -- not ordinary sand, but very slippery stuff. At mile 13.1 you leave the lava fields, run down a paved road, then go into the rain forest. The humidity and heat are very high, but you are soothed by wild orchids, wild ginger, and huge palms."
"'Caution Alligators' the sign indicates near bodies of water," Brent Weigner reports from Kiawah Island. "I guess the golfers don't fetch their balls out of the water hazards. This is a great vacation marathon with a pasta dinner before and an awards celebration and dance after the race. The course is as flat as a pancake." Joyce Hockensmith also places Kiawah in her Top 5. The fact that the Island is a resort area adds to the fun, she reports, and although there is no expo, the pasta party and dance are very well done. She adds that the two-loop course is rolling with one challenging hill. Most of the course is closed to vehicular traffic, and the course is very runner-friendly. "The Kiawah Island Marathon course is so pretty it could be on postcards," reports Bill Macy. "And come to think of it, it is. There are great places to stay, right on the island. Food, food, and more food. You won't go hungry at the finish line. Running along the Atlantic Ocean in the bright sunshine sure makes the running pain more bearable, especially with the many aid stations. Only wish I were faster and could have won one of those age group awards, a proud pelican."
It's difficult not to like a marathon placed in such a wonderful setting, although to really love it, you've gotta' love crowds. Honolulu is one of the world's largest marathons. "This is a huge marathon," reports Dean Rademaker. "When I ran it in December of 1993, it was the second largest in the world. Twenty-six thousand marathoners had registered, and there were 23,500+ finishers. Behind the marathoners were an additional 10,000 lined up for the Mayor's 10K. Running in Hawaii was a thrill. Approaching Diamond Head with the Pacific as a frame was a beautiful sight. Humidity was high, as there were periods of rain during the marathon. Refreshments, finisher medallions, and the general atmosphere at the finish of this marathon are excellent." Andy Kotulski, whose top picks tend to be the major marathons, has this to say about Honolulu: "This marathon tends to be more of an event than a race and shouldn't be missed by racers, runners, or tourists. The large number of Japanese walkers at the back of the pack magnifies the race size. When I ran Honolulu in 1995, I went for two days and stayed a week. The race begins well before dawn, thereby avoiding the midday heat. This is not a PR course and shouldn't be -- it's too nice a place to race, more to enjoy yourself. The race is well run and offers every amenity imaginable. Accommodations are reasonable, considering the location. This is the perfect race for those attempting to do a marathon in every state. It greatly overshadows the neighboring Maui Marathon."
"Very well organized," begin Gordon Hartshorn's accolades about this marathon. "A lot of spirit and solid assistance from the volunteer crew. Oriented toward the satisfaction of ordinary runners rather than just the elite. Markers and splits are at every mile. The course runs from downtown Dallas out to a 10-mile open loop around White Rock Lake and then finishes back at the start." John Wallace, who lives in Dallas, ranks this marathon 7th on his list. "Half the course is run on my training course -- around White Rock Lake -- so I could run it with my eyes closed. But the course is fairly flat and fast. The weather is normally cool to cold, and the crowds are my friends and family. Logistics are easy: you can walk or park next to the start/finish line. The postrace activities are great!" "This marathon has great tradition," reports Bill Macy. "It's never too big, but there are enough runners to make it very competitive. I have always wondered if those volunteers at about mile 22 ever got a runner to take one of the beers they offer. The Rock always has great T-shirts, and you see them at races all over the U.S. The race is an easy place to get to and from and has a great expo."
"This is the only marathon in the state of Rhode Island and is a near-tour of the length of the state," reports Jim Boyd, "from the bus ride to the start in Narragansett to the finish in Warwick. It can be cool in New England this time of year, so the toasty-warm high school gym at the start is appreciated. After a tour along the scenic coast and through quaint villages, hot showers await you at the high school gym at the finish. The course is slightly rolling and can be a 'leaf peeper's' delight." "New England has the most knowledgeable running fans in the USA," reports Clay Shaw, "and this marathon in Rhode Island is no exception. The marathon has live coverage, cheering crowds, and plenty of food at the finish. By the way, it IS possible to run a marathon all within the borders of this small state." "Ocean State offers a great course along the bay," reports Brent Weigner. "However, the wind can be a problem, especially if it's 40 degrees and raining as was the case in '97. The race has super organization, pasta, awards, and food. It's a very fast field with money up for grabs. This past year was the New England USATF Marathon Championships and had more than 1,400 in the field."
"There is a feeling here of a strong presence of Indians and the spirits of their ancestors in the shadow of their sacred edifice, Shiprock Peak," reports Gordon Hartshorn. "There is even a small group of Navajo beating a tribal drum for about 15 minutes before the start." Steve Boone, who picks Shiprock as his 5th-place marathon, reports, "This marathon starts in the desert near Shiprock Monument in northwestern New Mexico. This is a small marathon run on rural roads that are open to traffic, but the runners are always facing traffic. Water stations are properly placed and staffed. Spectators are usually family members of the runners and are very supportive of all the participants. A relay is run in conjunction with the marathon and allows more people to participate. The prerace pasta party is held at the race headquarters hotel. There is adequate housing and beautiful wilderness areas to enjoy. Disadvantages of the race included having to drive 30 miles to catch a bus to the starting line and the use of Styrofoam cups at some of the aid stations. The race shirt is designed by a local artist. Awards are Indian pottery. The Postrace food is good, and the awards ceremony is fast. Overall, Shiprock offers a beautiful place to run on a hilly course of moderate difficulty."
Lois Berkowitz ranks Detroit very high on her list of the best marathons in North America. "I have done the Free Press seven times. The field is roughly 2,800, with one of the largest wheelchair races anywhere. The course is very flat. There are water stops at every mile with water, sports drinks, oranges, candies, bananas, and this year at mile 15, sports gel. Runners meet at the Renaissance Center in Detroit at about 5:30 a.m. and are bused to a small park in Windsor, Ontario. The Canadian and American national anthems are played. There is water and plenty of porta-johns at the start. The volunteers are enthusiastic, and music is often available. When the weather is warm, there are large crowds at several points, including the finish area at Hart Plaza next to the host hotel. The expo is moderate in size and has a good variety and good bargains. Miles 12 through 18 are run on Belle Isle, which is an island park. Race results are posted in the Detroit Free Press the next day. You have to register early so race management can have your application inspected by customs." John Wallace adds, "The unique and memorable experience is starting in Canada, running through the international tunnel, and finishing in the U.S. Logistics are the drawback -- a long bus ride to the start and a long walk back to the car at the finish!"
Clay Shaw ranks Portland in his Top 5: "This is a superbly organized event. It starts and finishes downtown, and much of the course is along the Willamette River. Beautiful views and lots of park land make this urban marathon seem quite nonurban. Portland is a beautiful city, and the organization and friendly people make the race one of the best. The T-shirt swap the night before gives the marathon a personal touch, lacking in some of the larger city marathons." Steve Boone pretty much agrees: "This marathon has many additional events taking place the same weekend. This is a great family event with races and walks of different lengths. Housing is plentiful, and the rates are lower if you rent a car. The entry form is easy to follow, and the cost of the race is acceptable. The medium-sized expo includes many exhibitors. The course is slightly hilly but is fairly fast and mostly scenic. The pasta party has a variety of food and includes drawings for door prizes. Finishers receive a long-sleeve shirt and medal. The volunteers and aid stations are adequate for the number of runners. Trophies run as deep as 15 places in some age groups. Overall this race is a good value and a fine family event in a scenic city."
Dean Rademaker ranks this Alaska race second in his voting: "This race is truly a runner's delight. For the most part, the run is in a shaded bicycle path, and approximately 8 miles is run on a ‘tank road'! The tank road does have a few large rocks, but these don't seem to be a threat. This is an interesting nature-type run. With luck, you don't usually encounter bears. Excellent trophies and good snacks at the end!" Jim Boyd ranks the race seventh on his list: "A visit ‘way up north' is a must for your marathoning itinerary; this is a truly unique area to visit. For this one, you are bused out of town for the start at a high school that is carved out of the conifer woods. Great prerace facilities. About the first 7 miles is a mix of bike trail and roadway that are closed to traffic, with a bit of gentle elevation gain. Views of meadows and snow-covered peaks abound. The next 10 miles or so are run through pristine woods on an ex-army tank trail, and then there's a series of bike trails and closed roads to the finish at a high school back in town. All of this in air so clean that residents of Los Angeles need to go two weeks early to acclimate. It is easy to see why this has become the most popular of the Team In Training (Leukemia Society) destination marathons."
Joyce Hockensmith is very high on the Hoosier Marathon. She cites the value for the dollar: $25 gets a T-shirt, finisher's medal, finishing certificate, and results are mailed. She also cites good and easy registration, an easy course, markers every mile, two-way radios at every aid station, most of the course closed to traffic, course accessibility for family and friends, very easy sweatbag retrieval, and postrace refreshments that include foot-long Subway sandwiches, cookies, fruit, and pop. Lois Berkowitz is also high on Hoosier: "You sign up and start near a park shelter. There is hot coffee and donuts in the morning before the race. The marathon is a multiple loop course through a beautiful park, with no traffic. There are refreshments every two miles. This is a nice race for a first-timer. There are plenty of awards, and they go fairly deep in age categories. There's a good variety of food at the end. The medallion and T-shirt are nice. The course is flat and fast. There's only about 200 people in the race, so it's very accessible."
Lois Berkowitz is also high on Steamboat Springs, ranking it in her Top 5: "You are bused up into the mountains, and you run downhill, finishing in the resort town of Steamboat Springs. The scenery is incredible: snow-capped mountains, green valleys. You start at 8,000 feet and drop to 6,500 feet. The volunteer stations are good. The finish is nice -- no big fuss over you, but you can stroll over the courthouse grounds in the center of town and talk to people or lounge on the grass afterwards. I visited a natural hot springs, Strawberry Park, the day after -- incredible. Massage is available at the end of the race, but I had one in Strawberry Park, in a small cabin overlooking the hot springs and a natural waterfall. Truly unforgettable." Clay Shaw has especially good memories of the race: "This is a high-elevation, point-to-point course in the Rockies. It was my 50th state [in his string of running marathons in each of the 50 states], and I was treated like a celebrity. I was introduced at the prerace dinner by Runner's World's Bart Yasso. They gave me #50 for my bib number, and a photographer wired a photograph of me back to my hometown. The Steamboat people were extra nice, and the marathon was scenic and very well-organized."
"The Crater Lake Rim Marathon has the most beautiful scenery of any marathon in North America," reports Gordon Hartshorn. "The hills and the altitude of 6,000 to 8,000 feet provide a formidable challenge." Joyce Hockensmith also likes Crater Lake. Both Gordon and Joyce ran the race in 1995. Joyce backs Gordon's claim that the race is held at a truly beautiful location, but like most beautiful locations, it is on the less-than-easily-accessible side and requires a car. There are no race-related parties, no pasta loading, and no expo, and the course is very challenging. "I chose this race," Joyce asserts, "because it is one of the most beautiful areas in which a marathon is held. Period."
Joyce Hockensmith picks this Boone, North Carolina, race as one of her Top 3. She reports that the race is a real value, but it is not easy to get to, housing is in short supply (you'd best arrange housing early), there are no parties, and no expo, but there is a pasta feed for $10. The Highland Games are nonrace activities that are going on at the same time as the marathon. There is limited parking, the course is not easily accessible to family and friends, and the course is difficult, but the scenery makes up for it. Steve Boone and Andy Kotulski put the race in their Top 15. Steve Boone says, "This marathon requires transportation to get to the town and to the events themselves. Housing can be a big problem, and you need to make your reservations well in advance. There is no expo, and the pasta party is low-key with good food. The course is point-to-point, almost all of which is uphill. The marathon is run on rural roads through beautiful wilderness areas and finishes on top of a mountain in the middle of the Highland Games. The course is difficult but beautiful. Transportation back to the start takes a while." Andy Kotulski adds, "It seems more than a little insane to run a 26.2-mile race up Grandfather Mountain in the heat of mid-summer in North Carolina. Only marathoners, who are a little out there to begin with, would do this event. None of the course is too steep to run. Located in North Carolina's highlands, the race is surprisingly cooler and dryer than might be expected. The course winds up the shaded mountain road. The scenery is as nice as you'd expect. This is a good-value race in a nice part of the country at a time of the year when hardly any marathons are being run."
Clay Shaw offers these comments about Grandma's: "The marathon is probably the biggest event in Duluth, Minnesota, all year. This point-to-point course offers a fast course and the scenic beauty of Lake Superior and the north woods. Many people line the course, cheering on the runners. A postrace fest and dance at Grandma's is another extra. Even marathoners who are walking like Tin Men are heroes this weekend." Joyce Hockensmith warns that it's critical that you book rooms well in advance, as the race literally fills every hotel and motel room in Duluth and the surrounding counties. She rates the pasta feed as good and rates the course as excellent: "A PR course." A real treat is that family and friends can follow the race by riding the North Shore scenic railroad train, which parallels the course. Joyce also cites the postrace party, where refreshments are in good supply. The results appear in the next day's newspaper.
Joyce Hockensmith picks Chickamauga as one of her Top 5. According to Joyce, the site of the marathon is extremely scenic, with numerous Civil War monuments, while the race is well-organized, although there are no tie-in party-type activities. The course itself is somewhat rolling with one challenging hill, the course being two half-marathon loops. The weather is cool, and there is very little traffic. "I like this race because it is a very nice course, very scenic," Joyce says. "It is small, but nicely run and nicely managed." Bill Macy also likes the race, commenting that "some of the most helpful and friendly people you will ever encounter at the finish line and at the awards ceremony work the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. The volunteers treat each runner with equal care. The course is especially interesting, featuring rolling hills through the battlefield, with all traffic stopped except for an occasional deer crossing the course. Although a small marathon by big-city standards, it is still very well organized and executed, from the start through the awards."
Brent Weigner chooses Charlotte as one of his Top 5: "If you want to test yourself on the Olympic Trials Marathon course, this is your chance. The hills in the second half of the course will make you work. They have a great expo and pasta feed." John Wallace adds, "The race has a hilly and tough course, but it is well supported by the city and crowd. Charlotte has one of the most friendly prerace pasta parties."
Brent Weigner says of this race, "The marathon is one of several events held during the day. The course follows the river and finishes near the race headquarters' hotel. Awards are given out at the meal after the race. The race draws about 150 runners. It offers good organization and friendly folks." Clay Shaw adds, "This race is held in Saskatoon, a beautiful, small city. The course is quite flat and held with an accompanying half-marathon, so you have plenty of company for the first 13 miles. The second half is an out-and-back along the South Saskatchewan River. I stayed with local runners, and their hospitality and that of the race staff made this marathon a pleasure." Gordon Hartshorn comments, "The Saskatchewan Marathon is closely associated with a character in Saskatoon who has been a pillar of the local running community since the Roosevelt Administration -- the Theodore Roosevelt Administration. He's my good friend, Ray Risling. Ray and the other folks connected to the event are most hospitable and do a great job with the marathon. The course is a scenic figure eight through residential areas and parks, and partially follows the Saskatchewan River. When I ran in 1995, we had sunshine and ideal temperatures, though possibly it was a little warm for some. I was told that two years previous there was a blizzard. I highly recommend you pays your money and takes your chances on the weather and run the Saskatchewan Marathon!"
The following 11 members of the 50 & DC Marathon Group USA served as our panel of experts.
Gordon Hartshorn holds the world record for racing consecutive weekly marathons: 74 weeks. He is the first Texan and 13th runner in the world to race marathons in all states, provinces, and territories of North America; he has run more marathons (224) than any other Texan and has a PR of 3:07:10.
Lois Berkowitz began running on October 26, 1978, and after six months was up to 10 miles a day. It was the first regular exercise she had ever done. Her first marathon was the Glass City Marathon in April of 1990. She did 4 marathons that year, 7 the next, and 11 the following year. After finishing marathons in every state and DC, Lois has begun entering ultras. She has a BA in English and is two-thirds of her way through an MBA. She lives in Michigan and works for the Ford Motor Company.
Steve Boone lives in Humble, Texas. He's been running marathons for the past decade and has completed 117 of them. He completed the 50 States & DC challenge in December of 1996. He currently runs 22 to 28 marathons a year on 70 to 100 miles of training a week.
Jim Boyd began running in 1966 to lose weight. He didn't discover organized running events until 1977, and he ran his first marathon in October of 1978 at age 36. Jim began to train seriously to qualify for Boston in 1988, and five marathons and five months later, he ran a 3:00:35 at Las Vegas (he needed to run a 3:10.) and then ran Boston. Jim got hooked on marathon travel at that time. He's run 3:11 six times and has a Personal Worst of 7:58 at Pike's Peak. Jim finished his goal of 50 States & DC at the Marine Corps Marathon in 1997 with a 3:18 in his 111th marathon.
Joyce Hockensmith lives in Fort Wayne and has four granddaughters from two children. She teaches the third grade and oversees her school's running club for first through fifth graders; it boasts 76 members. Joyce began running in 1979 and ran her first marathon at age 40 in 1987. She was only going to run one marathon, but to date she has run 135. Joyce has a 3:27:46 PR (at Grandma's) and is the second woman in the world to have run at least two marathons in every state. She holds the women's masters course record in Juneau, Alaska, set in 1986. Joyce is one of the race directors of the Hoosier Marathon and was the 1988 Indiana Computing Teacher of the Year.
Andy Kotulski began running in 1975 and has run 21 consecutive Bostons. He's raced in more than 275 marathons and has completed at least two marathons in every state in the U.S. and every Canadian province and territory. Andy usually races well enough to win or place in his age group (he was born in 1939) while running up to 40 marathons a year. Andy has run a minimum of four miles a day for nearly 20 years and claims he's never seen a race he didn't like. He enjoys good food, beer, wine, the outdoors, and traveling. He lives in New Jersey.
Bill Macy lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, and began running in 1985 at age 46 when he was battling high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and an extra 25 pounds. It was time to take control. His first run was 14 laps around an indoor 22-laps-to-the-mile track -- he almost died. But Bill stuck to it and a year later did his first 10K race -- in 49:50. Bill's mileage increased, and he got sucked into one of those "If you do it, I'll do it" deals relative to the Omaha Marathon. He ran 3:34:43 at age 48 and hasn't stopped since. Bill had hoped to run 25,000 miles and 100 marathons in 10 years but fell a little short: it took him 10 years and 11 months to reach 25,000 miles, and he notched only 96 marathons. Bill completed the 50 States & DC challenge over six years and seven months. He is close to his goal of 100 different marathons.
In April of 1979 Dean Rademaker was diagnosed with a resting heart rate of 82. His doctor advised him to get into some kind of shape. He took up running, and by 1982 his heart rate was down to 46. At age 57 in 1982 Dean ran his first marathon in Iowa City, an event he cites as the biggest thrill of his athletic career. In 1984 he decided to go for a marathon in every state and DC, and in the spring of 1989 he formed the 50 & DC Marathon Group USA. Dean was a public educator for 33 years, the last 20 as a school superintendent; he retired in 1984. Forty-six of the states he needed for the 50 & DC goal were run after his 60th birthday.
Clay Shaw was the first Pennsylvanian to complete a marathon in each of the 50 states. In 1997 he finished in the top 10 in both the Antarctica and Midnight Sun Marathons (farthest south and second farthest north in the world). In 1993 Clay won the Wyoming Marathon, placed 3rd in the 1996 Midnight Sun Marathon, 5th in the 1992 Delaware Marathon, and 5th in the 1989 Bismarck Marathon. Clay has run marathons in 8 of the 12 Canadian provinces and territories. A native of San Francisco, where he ran his first marathon in 1979, Clay has lived in York, Pennsylvania, since 1972. His PR is 2:53, which he ran in Winnepeg in 1984. Unusual for the 50 States & DC group, Clay has never run more than seven marathons in any year. An accomplished photographer, Clay is also race director of the Bon Ton 5-Mile Race and the White Rose 5-Mile Run, both in York.
John Wallace lives in Dallas, Texas, and began running at age 33 to lose weight after he stopped smoking. He ran his first marathon at age 38 at the Silver State Marathon south of Reno, Nevada, in 3:28. After the usual "I'll never do that again," John decided that he could run faster and finally broke three hours at White Rock in Dallas in 1986. He then decided to do all the "big" and top-rated marathons, such as New York, Chicago, and others. After completing those, John decided to run all the states, which he accomplished in June of 1995. Then it was on to races in all 12 provinces and territories of Canada, which he completed in September 1997. Now John's working on hitting all the continents: he has three to go.
Brent Weigner's marathon career began on June 30, 1968, at the Whitewater Wisconsin Marathon, where he ran 3:53. A recent high school graduate and high school record-holder in the 880 (2:01.3), Brent had never raced over 10K. By 1972 he had lowered his marathon time to 2:49:39 at Denver's Mile-High Marathon, where he took 6th place. In 1978 he organized and competed in the First Annual Rocky Mountain 50-Mile Run from Laramie, Wyoming, to Cheyenne, where he finished second in 7:14. The following year Brent ran his marathon PR at Boston with a 2:45:50. During 1979 he also ran his first 100-miler at Western States. He has run 87 marathons (five sub-2:50s) and ultras. He completed marathons in all 50 states in December 1997. The Cheyenne, Wyoming, runner hopes to finish the Canadian provinces and territories by October of 1998. Brent has also run marathons in two countries and shorter runs on every continent and in 79 countries.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 1998 issue of Marathon & Beyond. For information about reprinting or excerpting this article or any other M & B article, contact Jan Seeley via email or at 217-359-9345.
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