Biggest Marathons in The World: A Comprehensive Guide

Running a marathon is a significant accomplishment for any runner, and participating in one of the world’s biggest marathons only adds to the sense of achievement. This comprehensive guide dives into the biggest marathons in the world, showcasing the top races across countries and continents while providing training tips and travel recommendations to help you navigate your journey.

Marathons are a true test of endurance and a long-standing tradition that dates back to ancient Greece. From casual beginners to seasoned athletes, running 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) in one of the world’s biggest marathons is a remarkable feat for any participant. 

The sheer variety of marathons ensures there’s something for everyone, from those held in iconic cities and picturesque landscapes to prestigious races that demand extraordinary talent. The following sections delve into the key races that every marathon enthusiast should know about, offering helpful insights for your running journey.

The World Marathon Majors

The World Marathon Majors (WMM) consists of six renowned races held in different cities across the globe. These marathons, regarded as the most prestigious events in the running world, attract top athletes and everyday runners alike.

Overview and history

The World Marathon Majors was founded in 2006, initially comprising the Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City Marathons. In 2013, the Tokyo Marathon joined the ranks, rounding out the series of six iconic races. The WMM has significantly influenced the marathon calendar, raising the profile of these events and contributing to their growth in popularity among professional and amateur athletes.

Criteria for a marathon to be considered a Major

Not just any marathon can be considered a Major. The criteria include the race’s historical significance, geographical location, organization efficiency, the course’s standard, and the quality and depth of elite participants. All these factors contribute to the WMM’s reputation for being the most prestigious marathons in the world.

The six marathons in the World Marathon Majors

Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon - Biggest Marathons in the world

Held in Japan’s bustling capital city, the Tokyo Marathon attracts more than 35,000 participants each year. The race’s route takes runners past many iconic landmarks, including the Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace.

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathons

The oldest annual marathon, the Boston Marathon, has been held since 1897. This historic race requires participants to qualify based on age and finishing time in an accredited marathon, making it a widely acclaimed event among serious runners.

London Marathon

London Marathon - Biggest Marathons in the world

A mix of well-known sites and vibrant city neighborhoods, the London Marathon is a captivating event for both runners and spectators. The race course winds along the Thames River, passing Big Ben, Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace.

Berlin Marathon

Berlin marathon

The Berlin Marathon is known for its flat and fast course, making it a favorite among runners looking to set personal records or break the world record. The race’s route showcases Berlin’s rich history, with sights like the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag.

Chicago Marathon

chicago marathon

With its iconic skyline and diverse neighborhoods, the Chicago Marathon is a fantastic event set in the heart of the United States. Runners experience the sights and sounds of Chicago’s diverse culture as they navigate the 26.2-mile course through the city.

New York City Marathon

New York Marathon

The largest marathon in the world with over 50,000 participants annually, the New York City Marathon, traverses all five city boroughs. The course takes runners across the famous and scenic Staten Island’s Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge before finishing in Central Park.

Other Biggest Marathons in the World

While the World Marathon Majors series features some of the most prestigious marathons globally, there are plenty of other big marathons worth exploring. In this section, we introduce ten other notable marathons, ranging from famous races to hidden gems.

Criteria for selecting the biggest marathons

To compile our list of the biggest marathons outside the World Marathon Majors, we considered the number of participants, race history, course scenery, organization, and geographic diversity. The following ten marathons are well-regarded international events, each offering unique experiences to the marathon enthusiast.

Top 10 biggest marathons outside the World Marathon Majors

1. Paris Marathon

The Paris Marathon is one of Europe’s most popular marathons, with around 50,000 entrants each year. The race takes runners along the banks of the Seine, passing famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and Notre Dame.

2. Los Angeles Marathon

From the iconic Dodger Stadium to the finish line at the Santa Monica Pier, the LA Marathon showcases the best of the City of Angels. Over 25,000 runners take to the streets each year, enjoying the sunshine and vibrant neighborhoods along the route.

3. Sydney Marathon

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Sydney Harbour, this marathon in sunny Australia offers stunning views and a relatively flat course. The race begins at Milsons Point and finishes at the iconic Sydney Opera House.

4. Great Wall Marathon

One of the world’s most challenging marathons, the Great Wall Marathon in China, incorporates over 5,000 steps as runners traverse the ancient and scenic China wonder. This race is highly recommended for those looking for a unique and demanding adventure.

5. Honolulu Marathon

Hawaii’s beautiful island scenery and warm weather create the perfect setting for the Honolulu Marathon. The course takes runners through downtown Honolulu, past the iconic Diamond Head, and along the beautiful Pacific coastline.

6. Rome Marathon

Historic sites abound during the Rome Marathon, with the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pantheon among the course’s landmarks. With its cobblestone streets, runners experience both the ancient and modern Rome charm.

7. Athens Marathon

Taking place along the same historic route as the original marathon, the Athens Marathon is a must-run for any marathon enthusiast. The race begins in the town of Marathon and finishes at the historic Panathenaic Stadium.

8. Stockholm Marathon

Set against the picturesque backdrop of Sweden’s capital, the Stockholm Marathon takes place during the city’s beautiful summer months. The course highlights the stunning waterways and greenery unique to the region.

9. St. Petersburg Marathon

The White Night Marathon in St. Petersburg, Russia, is a beautiful event held during the city’s famous long summer days. The course takes runners along the Neva River, offering views of St. Petersburg’s historic landmarks and stunning architecture.

10. Rio de Janeiro Marathon

With its stunning coastline, lively atmosphere, and world-famous landmarks, the Rio de Janeiro Marathon is one of South America’s top races. The course takes runners along the beautiful coastline with views of Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana Beach.

Comparison of the Biggest Marathons in The World

MarathonLocationEstimated Annual Participation
Tokyo MarathonTokyo, Japan35,000+
Boston MarathonBoston, USA30,000+
London MarathonLondon, England40,000+
Berlin MarathonBerlin, Germany40,000+
Chicago MarathonChicago, USA45,000+
New York City MarathonNew York City, USA50,000+

Training for the Biggest Marathons

Participating in any of the biggest marathons in the world requires dedication, thorough preparation, and an understanding of the unique challenges each race presents. This section offers an overview of recommended training plans and tips for adjusting to different race conditions.

Importance of adequate preparation

Preparing for a marathon requires a substantial commitment to a structured training program, which generally spans 12-20 weeks, depending on the individual’s fitness level and goals. Proper preparation minimizes the risk of injury, increases the likelihood of finishing the race, and helps ensure an enjoyable marathon experience.

Recommended training plans

The right training plan depends on your experience, goals, and the specific demands of the marathon you want to participate in. Beginners should start with a base mileage of at least 12-15 miles per week and gradually increase their weekly long-run distance. Experienced runners looking to improve their performance can follow more advanced training plans that include speed work and hill training. Many online resources offer free, personalized training plans to suit various skill levels and marathon goals.

Tips for adjusting to different race conditions

Each marathon has its unique challenges, whether based on the course, weather, or elevation. To ensure that you’re well-prepared for the conditions you’ll face, consider incorporating the following strategies into your training:

  • Research the racecourse and train on similar terrain.
  • If possible, include hill training in your program to prepare for a marathon with significant elevation changes.
  • To acclimate to different climates, consider training during different times of the day or using heat and humidity to simulate the race’s conditions.
  • Practice fueling and hydration strategies during your long runs to ensure that your body can adequately utilize nutrients and fluids during the race.

Travel Recommendations for Marathon Runners

Traveling to participate in a marathon presents additional planning considerations, from accommodations to sightseeing. This section provides tips and guidance to help you make the most of your marathon adventure.

Planning your trip to global marathons

When planning a trip to attend an international marathon, prioritize booking flights and accommodations early to secure the best prices and availability. It’s essential to allow some time before the race to acclimate to the local time zone and recover from any jet lag. Additionally, research the marathon expo, packet pick-up, and transport arrangements to ensure a smooth race weekend experience.

Tips for accommodations and sightseeing

For optimal convenience, consider staying close to the start or finish line of the marathon. This will simplify transportation on race day and make for a more relaxing post-race experience. Prioritize going on sightseeing adventures before your marathon so that you can focus on recovery afterward. When planning your itinerary, don’t forget to explore lesser-known local attractions and hidden gems that can offer unique and memorable experiences.

Packing essentials for marathon travel

In addition to standard travel items, marathon runners should pack the following essentials:

  • Running gear, including shoes, socks, clothing, and any accessories you’ll need for the race.
  • Personal fuel and hydration supplies, in case they are not provided or don’t suit your preferences during the marathon.
  • Copies of your race registration and any required travel visas.
  • A small travel first aid kit with essentials such as pain relievers, band-aids, and anti-chafe balm.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I qualify for the biggest marathons in the world?

Each marathon has its unique qualification and registration requirements. Some races, such as the Boston Marathon, require runners to achieve specific qualifying times in an accredited marathon. Others, like the London and New York City Marathons, use a lottery system to allocate entries. Always consult the marathon’s official website for detailed information on qualification and registration requirements.

What is the average cost to participate in a major marathon?

Entry fees for the world’s biggest marathons can vary significantly, typically ranging from $100 to $300. Additional costs may include accommodations, transportation, and sightseeing expenses. It’s worth noting that some marathons offer charity race entries, which require participants to fundraise for a specific cause in exchange for a guaranteed race entry.

Are there any charity race options for the biggest marathons?

Many of the world’s biggest marathons offer charity entries, which allow runners to secure a race entry by fundraising for a partnered charity. The fundraising minimums and requirements will vary depending on the marathon and the specific charity. When you approach any of the big marathons, check their webpage for information about charity partnership options.

What are some alternatives if I can’t make it to the biggest marathons?

If you can’t participate in one of the world’s biggest marathons, consider exploring smaller or regional marathons that may be more accessible, such as the popular marathons in the USA or beginner-friendly marathons. Additionally, virtual marathons have gained popularity in recent years, offering the flexibility to complete a marathon at your convenience and location.


The world’s biggest marathons offer a unique blend of challenge, camaraderie, and unforgettable experiences for runners of all skill levels. Through adequate preparation and thoughtful planning, you can embrace the opportunity to explore new places, challenge your physical limits, and join thousands of fellow participants in achieving the remarkable accomplishment of completing a marathon.