Check out America’s Fastest and Most Challenging Marathons

america's marathons

Add these 26.2-milers to your list.

No one runner is like another, which is why there are hundreds of races tailored to the needs, and sometimes crazy desires, of runners across the country. But if you’re seeking a new personal best or are up for a challenge, these are the marathons that should be on your radar:

Most Challenging

Pike’s Peak Marathon

Because this race is so physically demanding, all participating runners must complete a qualifying event before registering. In fact, one section of this Colorado-based marathon can take as long, or even longer, than some full flat-road marathons, due to the constant ascent. Qualifying runners start at an elevation of 6,300 feet and steadily climb their way to the 14,115-foot summit. The running trail is narrow, winding and made up of loose gravel, dirt and rocks, which means each stride must be taken with caution. What’s more, the course is no stranger to inclement weather. Past years have seen runners stranded at the summit due to freak snowstorms. The combination of these unforgiving obstacles makes the Pike’s Peak Marathon one of the most challenging marathons in the U.S.

The San Francisco Marathon

This yearly, summertime running event is one of the American big city’s toughest marathons. Unlike New York or Chicago, this metropolitan marathon has a hard time selling out because of its difficulty. Anyone who has ever visited San Francisco has seen the hills that participants come up against. These grueling inclines mean much slower times for runners as well as screaming quads. But there is an upside to taking on these hills. Around the six-mile mark, race participants get to take in one of America’s coolest scenic views, running back and forth on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Grandfather Mountain Marathon

Due to its high elevation and geographic location, the Grandfather Mountain Marathon also has a reputation as one of the most challenging marathons in the United States. The race, which takes place in Boone, North Carolina, in the mountains near the Ski Beech and Sugar Mountain ski resorts, has a continuous rise in elevation from start to finish. Only 400 runners are allowed to take on this challenge, but thousands of friends, family members, fans and even festival-goers can cheer them on, as the race coincides with Boone’s annual Highland Games Festival, the largest Scottish games festival in the United States.


A1A Marathon

Participants in Florida’s A1A Marathon need not worry about hills. Taking place in Fort Lauderdale, on one of the nation’s most iconic roadways, this race attracts runners from near and far because it’s easy… as far as marathons go. In 2015, the race drew in participants from 40 of the United States as well as runners from around the world, with more than 4,000 people participating. The course remains flat, making it one of the fastest road races in the country.

Phoenix Marathon

Starting just east of Phoenix in Mesa, Arizona, the Phoenix Marathon is a fast marathon that is nearly all downhill for the last 10 kilometers of the race, dropping around 1,000 feet. This Boston Qualifier offers a glimpse at unique scenery from citrus trees to saguaros and is a great race for runners seeking to achieve a new personal best or BQ. And, there is almost little chance of inclement weather, which further contributes to its reputation as one of the fastest marathons in the country.

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon

Held each year in Ventura, California, this point-to-point marathon is up in the ranks with the fastest courses in the U.S. The course winds through the Ventura River Valley, making its way to the beaches of Ventura at the finish. Runners who are looking for a fast race will appreciate that 18 of the first 20 miles of the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon are all downhill, with a net downhill of around 700 feet, so it’s easy on knees and makes for satisfying finish times.

Photo credit: Thinkstock, iStock, Ivanko_Brnjakovic.