The 11 Best Marathons in the U.S. for Beginners: Your Guide to a Memorable First Marathon


Starting your first marathon journey is an exhilarating and life-changing experience. As a beginner, selecting the right marathon can significantly impact your overall enjoyment and achievements in the race.

With a ton of marathons to choose from, the process of selecting one can be both exciting and overwhelming. It's easy to get caught up in exploring the options, reading about each race's unique offerings. However, the huge number of choices can lead to decision paralysis, causing us to procrastinate and never actually commit to a marathon.

I've personally experienced this dilemma countless times, finding myself opening numerous tabs on my computer with different marathon websites, leaving them open for days, only to eventually close them all without making a decision. To help alleviate this challenge, I've compiled a curated list of popular marathons that are particularly well-suited for first-time participants.

*Go straight to the marathon list*

People running a marathon

What makes a marathon beginner-friendly?

When considering marathons for beginners, certain characteristics can make the experience more positive and manageable for new long-distance runners. Here are some key factors that make a marathon more beginner-friendly:

  • Flat and Gentle Course: A marathon with a relatively flat and gentle course is generally better for beginners. Steep hills or challenging terrains can be physically demanding, leading to fatigue and potential injuries. A flat course allows beginners to maintain a more consistent pace and conserve energy.

  • Ample Time Limits: Beginners may require more time to complete a marathon than experienced runners. Look for marathons with generous time limits that accommodate a wide range of abilities. Adequate time limits reduce the pressure on beginners and allow them to complete the race without feeling rushed. I would say a generous time limit in a marathon is 6-8 hours.

  • Clear Mile Markers and Signage: Clearly marked mile indicators and course signage are essential for beginners to pace themselves and understand how far they've come and how much remains. This helps in mental preparation and maintaining motivation.

  • Support and Aid Stations: Marathons that provide well-stocked aid stations with water, sports drinks, and energy gels are beneficial for beginners. Regular support throughout the course helps maintain hydration and energy levels during the race.

  • Encouraging Atmosphere: Events with a supportive and encouraging atmosphere can make a big difference for beginners. Friendly volunteers, cheering spectators, and fellow runners can boost morale and keep participants motivated.

"Choosing a beginner-friendly marathon with a flat course, generous time limits, a clearly marked course and a supportive atmosphere, can make the experience more positive for new runners."

  • Race Expo and Information: A well-organized race expo with useful information can help beginners understand what to expect on race day. Information about the course, logistics, and race-day procedures reduces anxiety and uncertainty.

  • Training Support: Some marathons offer training programs or resources specifically designed for beginners. These resources can help participants prepare physically and mentally, increasing their chances of completing the race successfully.

  • Race Size: Smaller marathons may be more suitable for beginners, as they typically offer a less overwhelming and more intimate experience. Smaller races often have a strong sense of community, making it easier for beginners to connect with other participants.

  • Medical Support: Adequate medical support, including medical stations and trained personnel along the course, is crucial for the safety and well-being of all participants, especially beginners.

  • Post-Race Amenities: After completing a marathon, beginners will appreciate post-race amenities such as food, drinks, medical support, and a comfortable area to rest and recover.

Always keep in mind that every individual's experience may vary, and different runners may have different preferences. Beginners should prioritize their safety, listen to their bodies during training and the race, and choose a marathon that aligns with their current fitness level and goals. Consulting with a running coach or experienced runners can also provide valuable insights when selecting a marathon for beginners.

Other considerations in your decision making

  • Timing and Weather: Evaluate the date and time of the marathon. Research the weather conditions during that period, both at the marathon location and in your hometown. Understand how the climate may affect your training leading up to the event. For instance, if you opt for a spring marathon, prepare for potentially challenging winter training conditions. Likewise, for a fall marathon, consider the heat you might encounter during summer training.

  • Location and Travel: Plan the location of the marathon and assess how far you are willing to travel. Factor in the climate of the marathon destination compared to your hometown. Determine if you need to adapt to a different climate and allow extra time for acclimatization. Additionally, evaluate the logistical aspects of traveling to the marathon, such as transportation, accommodation, and associated costs.

  • Personal Goals and Preferences: Reflect on your personal goals for the marathon. Are you seeking a fast and flat course to target a personal record, or do you prefer a more scenic and challenging route? Consider your preferences for race atmosphere, crowd support, and potential participation in a larger or smaller event. Aligning these factors with your aspirations can contribute to a more fulfilling marathon experience.

  • Reputation and Reviews: Research the marathon's reputation and read reviews from previous participants. Look for feedback on the event organization, course markings, aid stations, crowd support, and overall runner experience. Learning from others peoples experiences can provide valuable insights to help inform your decision.

people running a marathon

How long does it take to train for a marathon?

While the specific duration can vary depending on individual factors and training plans, there are some general guidelines to consider.

The recommended timeframe for marathon training is typically around 16 to 20 weeks. This duration allows runners to gradually build their endurance, improve their fitness level, and prepare their bodies for the demanding 26.2-mile race.
However, it's important to note that the duration can be adjusted based on an individual's current fitness level and running experience.

For beginners who have little to no previous running experience, it is advisable to allow for a longer training period to establish a solid foundation of running fitness and gradually increase mileage without risking injury or overexertion. A training plan of at least 24 weeks would be more suitable for beginners to comfortably progress and adapt to the demands of marathon training.

On the other hand, experienced runners who have a solid running base and prior long-distance race experience may be able to follow a shorter training schedule, ranging from 12 to 16 weeks.

It's important to remember that marathon training is not just about logging miles. A training program should include a combination of long runs, speed workouts, tempo runs, cross-training, strength training, and rest days. These elements help prevent injury, improve performance, and enhance overall fitness.

"For beginners, it is advisable to allow for a longer training period to establish a solid foundation of running fitness and gradually increase mileage without risking injury or overexertion."

Keep in mind that every individual is unique, and training requirements may vary. Factors such as age, fitness level, previous injuries, and personal goals should be taken into consideration when determining the appropriate duration of marathon training. Consulting with a running coach or experienced marathoner can provide valuable insights and guidance tailored to your specific needs.

Next, we'll explore some of the best marathons specifically tailored for beginners and first-time marathon runners and you don't need to qualify for any of these, you can sign up without any prior experience. Whether you're seeking a scenic route, a supportive atmosphere, or a well-organized event, these marathons offer the perfect opportunity to kickstart your marathon journey on the right foot.

Best Marathons for Beginners

Race Where When
1. Napa Valley Marathon California March
2. Missoula Marathon Montana June
3. Grandma's Marathon Minnesota June
4. Chicago Marathon Illinois October
5. Walt Disney Marathon Florida January
6. Philadelphia Marathon Pennsylvania November
7. Marine Corps Marathon Washington, D.C. October
8. Steamtown Marathon Pennsylvania October
9. Flying Pig Marathon Ohio May
10. Portland Marathon Oregon October
11. Twin Cities Marathon Minnesota October

Napa Valley Marathon

Experience the breathtaking beauty of California's Napa Valley at the Napa Valley Marathon, a picturesque and scenic race through renowned wine country. This marathon offers a point-to-point course along the enchanting Silverado Trail, allowing you to soak in the lush green hills, stunning vineyards, and world-class wineries.
With its supportive atmosphere, relaxed vibe and reputation for taking care of runners, it's a fantastic choice for first-time marathoners.
The Napa Valley Marathon combines stunning vistas, a relaxed ambiance, and a chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant wine culture of the region. Don't miss out on this unforgettable experience that blends athleticism and natural splendor.


Missoula Marathon

The Missoula Marathon in Montana offers a scenic course through the streets of Missoula, along the Clark Fork River, and across stunning countryside.
Known for its friendly volunteers and supportive community, it's perfect for first time marathoners. It has even been recognized multiple times as the best marathon in the United States.
The mostly flat, point-to-point route is ideal for those chasing faster times, with a challenging halfway hill offering rewarding views.
Experience the majesty of Missoula as you join 1,750 runners in a memorable race through valleys and mountains. The downtown finish awaits with enthusiastic cheers and a unique horseshoe-shaped medal. Don't miss this remarkable event.


Grandma's Marathon

Grandma's Marathon is ideal for beginners due to its beginner-friendly features. With a relatively flat course, including some gentle rolling hills and a larger incline before mile 22, it offers a manageable terrain for first-time marathoners.
The race takes place in June in Duluth, Minnesota, ensuring cooler weather that is conducive to running. Additionally, the event has gained a reputation for its well-organized nature and supportive atmosphere, with loud crowds of spectators providing encouragement along the way.
The combination of small-town charm, scenic views of Lake Superior, and enthusiastic community support make Grandma's Marathon a perfect starting point for marathon beginners.


The Bank of America Chicago Marathon

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the easiest marathons in the US and is therefore, an ideal choice for first-time marathoners seeking a fast and flat course.
Held in Chicago, Illinois, this iconic marathon takes participants through the vibrant streets and diverse neighborhoods of the city. With its reputation for producing personal best times and world records, the Chicago Marathon offers an exciting and supportive atmosphere for runners of all levels. The race boasts a massive crowd of 1.7 million spectators, ensuring plentiful encouragement throughout the course.
Whether you're drawn to the party atmosphere or the scenic tour of Chicago's landmarks, the Chicago Marathon is a must-try for beginners and experienced runners alike.


Walt Disney World Marathon

Experience the famous Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida. This unique marathon allows you to run through the enchanting Disney theme parks, accompanied by beloved characters and exciting entertainment.
Held in January, the flat and beginner-friendly course takes you through all four parks, starting and ending at Epcot, through Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. With a time limit of 7 hours, this marathon is perfect for both beginners and Disney enthusiasts. Channel your childhood memories by running in costume and capture unforgettable race day photos with your favorite Disney characters.
It's a truly magical marathon experience and the satisfaction of completing 26.2 miles is made even more rewarding by the Mickey Mouse-shaped medal that awaits you at the finish line.


Philadelphia Marathon

Experience the historic and vibrant Philadelphia Marathon in Pennsylvania. With a flat and fast route and a 7-hour time limit, this late-season race is an excellent choice for beginners.
Runners will be treated to stunning views of Fairmount Park, the Schuylkill River, and iconic landmarks such as the Independence Hall and Liberty Bell. The race culminates at the famous Rocky Steps, adding an epic touch to the experience.
Renowned for its breathtaking, high-speed course, pleasant climate, and enthusiastic supporters, it's no surprise that the Philadelphia Marathon consistently ranks among the nation's top ten marathons.


Marine Corps Marathon

The Marine Corps Marathon, known as the "People's Marathon," offers a patriotic journey through iconic landmarks in Washington, D.C. Starting in Arlington, VA, you'll run past famous sites like the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Building, and National Mall.
With its few moderately demanding hills, it's a challenging yet rewarding race, attracting beginners, who make up one-third of the 30,000 runners. The well-organized event provides incredible support from inspiring Marines along the course.
This unforgettable marathon showcases the beauty of the nation's capital and is a top choice for first-time marathoners seeking a patriotic and memorable experience.


Steamtown Marathon

The Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a highly regarded race known for its fast and downhill course. Taking place in October, the Steamtown Marathon takes participants on a journey through the historical landscapes of Northeast PA. Commencing in Forest City and culminating in downtown Scranton, this race offers a unique opportunity to explore the rich heritage of the region.
With a time limit of 6 hours, it attracts both seasoned runners and beginners seeking a memorable experience. Despite some challenging hills, Runner's World has recognized it as one of the best courses for beginners. The net elevation drop of 955 feet makes it an ideal race for qualifying for the Boston Marathon.


Flying Pig Marathon

The Flying Pig Marathon takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio. It's an unforgettable race known for its unique and fun theme. Embracing the city's pork industry, participants are encouraged to embrace the "piggish" spirit.
With a range of distances available, including a half marathon and 10K, this event caters to runners of all levels. It's a welcoming and inclusive marathon where beginners can find support and assistance throughout the race. The scenic course takes runners through Cincinnati's vibrant neighborhoods and offers ample entertainment along the way, with over 80 live music acts and 25 support stations.
Experience the joy and communal atmosphere of the Flying Pig Marathon in May.


Portland Marathon

The Portland Marathon, held in scenic Portland, Oregon, offers a picturesque course through parks, neighborhoods, and iconic bridges.
With a time limit of 8 hours, it welcomes beginners and slower runners. Known as "the best people's marathon in the West," it treats all finishers as winners. Runner's World ranks it among the top marathons nationwide thanks to its supportive atmosphere, thousands of volunteers, fantastic race swag, and beautiful course.
Experience the charm of the Pacific Northwest with city sights, waterfront views, and the right level of challenge at the Portland Marathon.


Twin Cities Marathon

The Twin Cities Marathon, held in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, is renowned for its stunning urban scenery and picturesque lakeside course.
With excellent organization and strong community support, it provides a welcoming environment for first-time marathoners. This popular race, often attracting 30 percent of first-time participants, is hailed as the "most beautiful urban marathon in America."
The fall setting adds to the charm, with towering trees and colorful leaves as your backdrop.
Enjoy stretches along the Mississippi River, tree-lined streets, and the cheers of 300,000 spectators. Plus, this year, there's a new treat at the finish line: beer!