Urban Eola

Do 26 miles

In celebration of my official registration for the 2006 Chicago Marathon, here is a list of the best U.S. marathons with help from Jason Elfman at active.com.

>> Best Rural Race // Napa Valley Marathon
25 of the 26 miles of this 2300-person race are through rolling wine countrysides of Napa Valley. March 5, 2006. www.napa-marathon.com

>> Best Big-City Race // New York City Marathon
I can actually vouch for this one. It was amazing. Every part of it made me feel like an elite athlete. With some of the largest marathon crowds going (two million or so), and one of the largest number of participants in the world (36,000 in 2005), it tours all five boroughs of the largest city in the U.S., and is one of only two marathons to garner national television coverage, which is why "big" doesn't really do it justice. Now that ING is ponying up one of the largest prize purses in marathoning, look out: New York's only going to get bigger. 2005 date: November 6; 2006 date TBA. www.ingnycmarathon.org

>> Best Small-Town Race // Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is a smaller city that thinks big. Its marathon offers prize money and has many of the same features of Chicago or New York, but without the crowds. Instead, you'll run by stately neighborhoods on tree-lined streets, albeit with a smaller audience.

"You get a lot more of the funky urban multicultural experience in Chicago," says Meg Daniel of Kennesaw, Georgia, who has run both. "In Richmond you get a little bit of everything else: the stately old neighborhoods, the quiet Zen-like tranquility of the river, and the historical in-town setting." Plus, race directors entice marathoners with two dedicated "Junk Food" stops (miles 16 and 22), stocked with cookies, pretzels, Gummi Bears, soda and other sweets to keep runners on a high. November 11, 2006. www.richmondmarathon.com

>> Best Destination // Honolulu Marathon
Two words: Honolulu. Hawaii. This is the place with 25,000 running it in 2005December 10, 2006. www.honolulumarathon.org.

>> Best Chance for a PR (personal record) // Chicago Marathon
I hear it's pretty fast. I'm planning on doing a 2:30 marathon + 2 hours. October 22, 2006. www.chicagomarathon.com.

>> Toughest Marathon // Pikes Peak (Colorado Springs)
"Yes, you're a badass if you run it, but know what you're getting into before you decide to conquer Pikes Peak." August 20, 2006. www.pikespeakmarathon.org.

>> Most Charitable // Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.)
October 29, 2006. www.marinemarathon.com.

>> Most Legendary // Boston Marathon
This is the granddaddy of them all -- the one on every runner's wish list, either to run in or to win. It's a fabled course, steeped in history, and you feel its magnitude at the starting line. There's just nothing like Boston. And until you've suffered through the journey, there's a little piece of your running puzzle that's missing. April 17, 2006. www.bostonmarathon.org.

>> Biggest Bang for the Buck // Houston Marathon
Way back in the '90s, the HP Houston Marathon was having an identity crisis. They were losing elite runners to other races, and registration was stagnant even as marathoning was experiencing a second boom. Enter new race director Steven Karpas, a runner with a marketing and finance background. Exit prize money for elites. Karpas and the marathon staff plugged that money back into runner benefits and race technology. For $65, each entrant gets a training T-shirt, official race T-shirt, finisher's sweatshirt, finisher's beer mug, finisher's medal, finisher's certificate and a hot breakfast at the finish line. Houston also helped pioneer the art of tracking runners online.

"We wanted to grow our race, and thought the one way to do that was if runners were direct beneficiaries of the aspects of the race," Karpas says.

It's worked. Since 2001, the HP Houston Marathon has added a half marathon and 5K and has grown its participation to 18,000 total runners. The half marathon is the men's national championship race, but every runner feels elite in Houston.

"Lots of races claim they do everything for the runners," says Randy Moore of Minneapolis, who ran Houston last year. "Houston lives up to everything it claims." January 15, 2006. www.hphoustonmarathon.com.


posted by Michael Tavani @ 4:47 PM |

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