Looking for the best marathons to add to your race calendar is a big deal. Most of us only do one or two a year and aside from the laborious training plans, you’re also looking at a heap of costs from race entry to travel and hotels.
I’ve done quite a few now and they can be a mixed bag. Events that look like the most amazing experiences turn out to be underwhelming and lesser-known ones can far surpass expectations.
Need some new running shoes: Here are my top choices
Here I’ll run through what I think are the best marathons, from the race itself to the logistics of getting there and the overall costs. I should, however, point out that races are a very personal thing, what I love about an event may be completely different from what you may like. So I’ll try to remain as objective as possible.
It can also be massively dependent on the weather as well – which is why some marathons in hotter countries tend to be more reliable if you want a guaranteed nice day.
For updates on all of the races that I take part in follow me on Instagram.
Best Marathons: Madrid Marathon
Of all the marathons I’ve done, Madrid is by far my favourite. I’d never been to the city before and I loved it instantly.
It’s not an easy marathon though, in fact it’s probably the toughest road marathon I’ve ever done with a hell of a lot of elevation across the route. So if you want a flat race, scroll down.
But, not everyone wants a flat marathon and the main plus point of hills is that you tend to get much better views of a location, and Madrid is beautiful when you climb to the highest point of the race and look over the city.
Taking place at the end of April (the same day as London), you’re pretty much guaranteed a hot, sunny day. Although I found that it wasn’t too hot to run in sitting at around 20 degrees when I did it.
It’s a big marathon, but nowhere near on the scale of something like London and the roads are really wide, so there’s no congestion. There is however a 5k uphill section before you hit the finish line which may dissuade many runners.
When: 26 April 2020
Overall cost: You can actually do Madrid fairly cheaply if you book early as flights and accommodation aren’t that high.
Best Marathons: Valencia Marathon
For some reason, many of the best marathons I’ve ever done have been in Spain. There’s something about the combination of great weather, wide roads and the fact that you feel like you’re on a holiday that makes them so perfect for a marathon trip away.
When I ran Valencia it wasn’t quite as popular as it’s become, now the entry spots sell out really quickly and it’s one of the key destinations for people wanting a flat marathon.
Valencia is a beautiful city that combines old town buildings, an incredible central park, beaches and some of the most impressive modern architecture I’ve ever seen. Even in December it’s pretty warm and makes for an amazing location for a winter marathon.
The route is very flat, has wide open roads and takes in some beautiful scenery around the city. My favourite memory by far is running across the amazing blue waters of The City of Arts and Sciences in the last kilometre of the race. Definitely one of the best marathons you’ll find.
Top tip: Get your entry early as the price increases. Also, head down to the Expo on the Friday as on Saturday it’s ridiculously busy with massive queues.
When: 6 December 2020
Price: From €60
Overall cost: Not bad if you book early, although now it’s popular you may struggle for accommodation. I actually flew into Barcelona for a couple of days and got a coach to Valencia.
Best Marathons: New York Marathon
As a course, I’m not a massive fan of the New York Marathon. It’s a very tricky route that’s not only quite hilly but there’s some very difficult sections that seem to go on for miles with no respite.
The whole experience of being in New York for the marathon is phenomenal though and being part of it is a feeling that any marathon runner should try at some point.
The whole city becomes obsessed with running and being there for a few days before is an incredibly exciting feeling. The expo is enormous and, if you like going to an expo (I don’t) you’ll be there for hours.
The major negative of the race is that you have to take a bus or the ferry over to the start village on Staten Island really early on the Sunday. I was sat on a step for about 3 hours waiting to get started, which is not a nice experience when you’ve got to run 26.2 miles. There are however bagels, coffee, fruit and various other things going on which make it all part of the experience.
The course has some amazing sections. As you head over the first bridge from Staten Island and Manhattan comes into view, I had butterflies. Some of the borough areas are a bit painful and you could be running anywhere, but the crowds are second only to London for support.
Definitely not a PB marathon, but an experience I’m really pleased I was part of. It’s also incredibly hard to get in through the ballot (I got really lucky). So start applying now.
Top Tip: Stay somewhere like Brooklyn as central Manhattan prices are ridiculous. The transport system is really good early on the Sunday so you can get central easily.
When: 1 November 2020
Price: About $350 if you live outside the USA. $295 for US residents.
Overall cost: Really expensive. Flights and hotels are at a premium over the weekend and if you leave it late most things are booked up.
Best Marathons: Venice Marathon
I chose to do Venice Marathon because I’d visited briefly on a trip and wanted to spend a bit more time there. As locations go for a race it’s extremely unique and offers one of the most impressive few kilometres I’ve ever done.
As with any marathon, it has its highs and lows. The main negative aspect is the fact that it’s point to point, starting miles away in a little town. The first 30km follow the main road through little towns and hamlets until you finally get to Venice and it’s a real slog.
Luckily the city appears at just the right point and gives you a nice boost to finish the race. The mainland areas of Venice Mestre isn’t the most inspiring part of the course, and the ridiculously long bridge over to Venice Island is a killer. But the excitement of getting into the famous streets drives you forward.
That last few kilomotres as you run up and down little bridges around the old town is tough but an amazing experience. After you cross the finish line you also need to jump on a boat that takes you on a little journey around the Island.
The other plus point of the race: great pizza places to head to afterwards.
Top tip: Stay in Venice Mestre as the start of the race and the expo are easy to access from there. There are also far cheaper options for accommodation.
When: 25 October 2020
Price: From €60
Overall cost: Flights and accommodation aren’t too pricey as long as you’re open to staying outside the main island.
Best Marathons: Paris Marathon
A lot of people don’t like Paris Marathon. In some ways I can see why but there are loads of reasons that make this a great race to tick off the list, especially if you’re from the UK.
The main reason I liked it was that it was so convenient to get to. I wanted to get into London one year but didn’t, so I needed an alternative. Paris isn’t a ballot and it only takes two and a half hours to get to by train. That not only makes it convenient to get to but the journey back is significantly more enjoyable than hobbling through an airport.
It’s a massive event that takes in some of Paris’s major landmarks, although it does miss out the Eifel Tower, which seems a bit weird.
The negative aspects of it, and the reason that many people aren’t a fan of the race, are the long undulating roads that see runners heading through dark tunnels. There are also a few boring elements where you come out of the main city area and could be anywhere.
It’s a great marathon overall though and well worth a go if you want something of a massive scale and haven’t got into London. There’s not many places as enjoyable to be for celebratory food and drinks as well.
When: 5th April
Price: From €90
Overall cost: If you shop around you can find good value accommodation, although you may need to be a bit further out of the city. Eurostar tickets are quite cheap if you book early as well.