What makes a marathon the best?

I think the Super Moon has made me super sensitive. I got really offended by a couple things I read on the Internet and YES I know that’s stupid. I shouldn’t let things I see online bother me and I wasn’t going to let either instance ruin my day any further by bringing them up on here.

But then I got my butthurt under control and one of these things seemed like an interesting topic for a Thursday so I thought I’d share:

The general gist was that there are the “easier” marathons out there and then there are the BEST marathons…I guess these typically include challenging terrain and/or occur in a beautiful, exotic location, etc.

This was pretty much my face:


I had never thought of marathons that way before.

After doing a ton of research, for my first I chose a small, flat race through Pennsylvania farmland. Hence I guess that means…easier? Less amazing? I don’t know…I’ve never heard the words easier and marathon spoken in the same sentence and whenever I hear the word “marathon” I think it’s amazing regardless of which one is being discussed.

As far as I’m concerned they are all created equal. ‘The best’ is purely subjective and bucket list races vary greatly from person to person.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who takes on the challenge of a marathon. ANY marathon. Whether it is hilly or flat, next to the ocean or through an industrial park, running 26.2 miles is an enormous accomplishment and I felt aggravated that something I had worked so hard for and am so proud of that I had it tattooed permanently onto my skin could be snubbed as some lackluster feat because it didn’t include a mind-numbing elevation change or it was in rural Pennsylvania instead of Bali. Like I’m somehow less of a marathoner after my first time out because I didn’t run up the side of a mountain.

The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got so thank goodness there was a yoga class for me to go to right then. Yoga solves everything


Bob Potts – a small race with a friendly, hometown feel – is the best marathon…to me. Sure you might not read about Potts in Runner’s World very often or ever, but everything about it was perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing…even hitting the wall and crying through the final water station.

I have my personal bucket list races, but I didn’t need to start with one of those to make my first marathon experience amazing. I could have run it on the streets around my house that I travel all the time and it still would have been amazing.

I’ll be crossing a bucket list item off in January when I go to Florida, but I’m pretty sure my little train medal from Bob Potts will always outshine the Dopey Challenge bling because it was my first.

What makes a marathon amazing to you? (Friendly people, a beautiful course, and GU at every mile marker for this girl!)




53 thoughts on “What makes a marathon the best?

  1. Michele @ PaleoRunningMomma says:

    If those factors are what qualify a marathon as the BEST, then my actual best marathon was really the worst, being that it was an easy course on the jersey shore 🙂 Honestly I don’t run marathons to check out the scenery and they are more than hard enough without climbing a mountain. I mean while I’m trying to keep my tendons from exploding out of my skin the last thing on my mind is the view.

  2. Imarunner2012 says:

    I’ve run Boston several times and each has been an experience, often involving pain.
    The most memorable was my last, and not just because I can still remember some of the details. I ran the Bay of Fundy International Marathon. My re-cap explains why the race was so cool. In a nut shell it was the people, both runners, organizers and the locals who welcomed us. I was with my sister and we had several amazing experiences that were just, well amazing.
    Many other cool things about that race also, but my post was about 2K words.

  3. txa1265 says:

    Yay! #mamaSalt Rant! 🙂

    I was thinking about this after reading an article by a local trail and ultra guy talking about the Western States Endurance Run and the Hardrock 100. Both are 100 mile races a couple weeks apart, and both winners set records … but one was in just over 14 hours and the other was in just less than 23 hours.

    Is one ‘better’ than the other? No – but they each present unique challenges. Think about it – one is more about running, the other about mountain climbing … does that make one ‘better’? Not in my book.

    My PA Grand Canyon marathon last July had over 6000ft of elevation change, whereas the Wineglass I’ve run a few times has an overall 250ft drop and a couple of upslopes less than 100ft. Is one *better* than the other? Again … NO! They are DIFFERENT! Your strategy and time will likely be slightly different … because they are different courses.

    I would say that based on the course you might not easily compare race times within a few minutes – same with temperature and altitude … but that doesn’t make one better or worse.

    For me, it is once again a matter of ‘puffery’ – someone trying to inflate themselves to seem better than someone else. If you ran a marathon … you are awesome. Period.

  4. DarlinRae says:

    Every race is different for every person–we’re all different and the things that makes us happy are totally subjective. Anyone who completes any race is amazing, and for someone to belittle someone else’s achievements just plain sucks.

  5. missadventuresinrunning says:

    I think the BEST marathon is the one that means the most to you! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, because they didn’t run the race. Just because something is hard, that doesn’t make it better.

    • runsaltrun says:

      I agree with this too! Honestly I think for me a flat course is much harder than hills. It’s all a matter of personal preference and opinion. Difficulty is totally subjective.

  6. Lily says:

    This is very timely, as I’ve been scouring the internet for a while now trying to choose my first marathon. The one I have my eye on is hilly, but I know any marathon I choose will have its own challenges, so I’m not too focused on the course! I think timing and location (how far from home) are big factors, as is size. I’d rather do a smaller one than a huge one (that’s what she said).

    • runsaltrun says:

      Definitely don’t focus too much on the course. I knew Potts was flat when I signed up and honestly that scared me because I had never really run on a flat course before. And I agree with the size thing too and that was actually the biggest selling point for me. I wanted one that was smaller because I thought I would be less nervous. (And I think I was!) Good luck choosing!

  7. sarahdudek80 says:

    All marathons are the best in my opinion. There is no such thing as a truly easy one. Each one has its challenges. My first marathon was a flat course which was awesome but it was also very lonely with zero crowd support. I really believe that make it incredibly hard by the end. I was up towards the front and I didn’t see any other women. It was a real blast running with just a bunch of hairy and sweaty men 😉 Great post. I completely agree with this!

    • runsaltrun says:

      Did we run the same race!? Haha that sounds just like mine! I’m wondering if maybe my last 4 miles would have been any easier if there were more people cheering for me. I was just so wiped out!

  8. Hanna says:

    Every runner is at a different level, and what is challenging for one runner may not be challenging for another. If you’ve never run a marathon before, like me, than any marathon no matter how fast or flat will be challenging and a huge accomplishment to finish. But if you’ve run 80 marathons, then maybe you’ll start to feel like a flat marathon is “easy” compared to hillier ones.

    I see this a lot in the running community, where people think that their personal standards and preferences apply to everyone. It’s like people who think that marathoners are “better” or more legitimate runners than folks who only run 5Ks. In reality, people who only run short distances are often tremendous athletes in their own right, and they have made a choice not to run distances. But many people just can’t be open minded about things.

    My first marathon in October is small, and many might think it’s “easy” cause it’s flat and pretty fast (it’s listed by the BAA as a great BQ race!). The course had nothing to do with why I chose it. I’m running it because it’s here in my town and that means I’ll be able to enjoy the experience of my first marathon with friends, something I wouldn’t be able to do if I had done a “better”, more popular and celebrated marathon like Chicago or another big city race. There’s a time for everything, and maybe later in my running career will be the time to choose a marathon based solely on course terrain!

    • runsaltrun says:

      I love your reasons for choosing it. 🙂 I wish that Baltimore was in the spring because that would have been my first for sure! I would have loved to make my marathon debut at a hometown race!

  9. Sweaty Mess says:

    You know what makes a marathon amazing? That fact that you are running it!!! Doesn’t matter what, where, when, or why – you know the effort you put in and that you finished. Not everyone gets to run, not everyone can run, and not everyone can run a freakin’ marathon!

    If I ever decide to do one – I’m going to pick one that I think is awesome and it will be the most awesomest of the awesome because I ran it.

    Running is about competing with ourselves. When you compare yourself to others, whether to make yourself feel better or to beat yourself up, you are kinda missing the point of running. I’m all about bragging about a good run or a PR – lets just make a collective agreement that we don’t do it at the expense of others acheivements.

  10. Run Colby Run says:

    I love this post Salt.

    I’ve run NY, Chicago, Marine Corps, Philly, Big Sur and Vermont City Marathons. Those are some biggies. Some of “The Bests”. According to Everyone. (Who Everyone is remains another story.) And what was my best? Its wasn’t my fastest (Chicago). And it wasn’t the most difficult (Big Sur). It also wasn’t even the one with the most spectacular scenery (Big Sur). Or the one with the most people ever in a marathon (NY2014). It was Vermont City. Why? Because my journey to it nearly broke me. Running through polar vortexes. Winding up in the Emergency Room. Ripping my face apart. Finishing my last long run with stitches in my face. And running that race on the first 80 degree day of the year. I finished and I felt like I could run more. So I signed up for my first ultra. It wasn’t the prettiest. The flashiest. The biggest. The flattest. Or even My Fastest. But I’ll be goddamned if it wasn’t My Best. It made me stronger.

    We define what is the best. The rest of the static needs to be auto tuned right on out. xoxox

    • runsaltrun says:

      I love this comment. I actually teared up a little. I love that I got to follow through your training and be your taper buddy for your best marathon ever. A lot of what I went through training for Potts is what made it great for me. There was a point that I didn’t even think I’d make it there and then I did.

      Thanks for being awesome. ❤

  11. Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine says:

    I don’t know if I would call any marathon “easy”…maybe just “less hard”! I think a marathon with a good view, crowd support, decent weather and reasonable elevation would be amazing. (But would all of those things ever really exist in the same race? Probably not!)

  12. Elizabeth says:

    That would bother me so much as well! I have never run a half or full marathon but they’re definitely goals of mine. I think running a marathon, wherever you run it is AMAZING and it isn’t about whether it was “easy” or not. So much of the running community is so supportive I really try to focus on surrounding myself by those people and not the negative ones. There are people that have told me I’m not a good enough runner because I’m too slow or I don’t run a long enough distance. It’s sad that people feel the need to put others down in order to feel good about their accomplishments.

  13. northernambitions says:

    haha yoga really does make everything better. I should have to attend a flow class when I start getting grumpy. But I agree with you, they’re all equal. My favourite races are the small ones where everyone is super friendly and the competition is not scary and mean. There has to be plenty of water and I do love the post run buffets. I want delicious food when I’m done exercising…stat.

    • runsaltrun says:

      Thank goodness I had that class yesterday or I would have been a mess. 🙂
      I LOVED that about my race. Normally runners are friendly people, but this one really seemed like a family race. That’s part of the reason I picked it…I thought it might cut down on my nerves. 🙂

  14. vegasmotherrunner says:

    I’m sorry but I think you took my post and my comments completely out of context yesterday. When I said that Big Sur is not a flatter “easier” marathon, I was talking about an easier marathon for ME. This is my first marathon, so of course a less challenging course would probably be easier than this super hilly, slanted road course that I signed up for. Not easy by an means, but EASIER for me. It has absolutely nothing to do with you and your accomplishments (which I have been hugely supportive of from day one). Also, if I was portraying Big Sur as the “best” marathon out there, again I meant for ME in MY opinion. Surely you do not think that I believe that everyone has the same dreams and goals in their running life? Everyone is different and so each marathon is going to rank differently with each person. And who knows, I might hate this marathon when I get done with it. I might run a completely different one in the future that will be my best. But that is completely subjective. Each person is entitled to their own opinion. I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting really excited about my first marathon and that it is a bucket list race for me.

    • runsaltrun says:

      Okay well usually when I read that someone is running the best marathon, I take that as face value. If you mean for things to be taken as your personal opinion, I would suggest adding that part in so as to avoid any confusion from anyone who might be reading. Obviously I was not the only one taken aback.

      This post is really not about you specifically though. Comments on your blog and the post itself (including the Yasso quote) sparked the debate in my mind, but then it became bigger than that. Also after thinking about it a lot, I was genuinely curious as to what makes an amazing marathon to other people and thought it would be an interesting question to ask. Sorry you assumed that it was all about you though.

  15. The running Schlub says:

    Great rant! I have zero experience when it comes to full marathons but I have my own two cents. In all areas of life you have the so call purists who frown upon everything. Well I agree with you 100%. We all have our own personal best/worse races and that is the beauty of this sport. For me no destination race, bling, or prize will ever surpass the Mrs and I running together which may never happen at a Boston, NYC, or other high profile race. The two of us crossing together has nothing to do with easier, harder, big name, etc.

    • runsaltrun says:

      That’s pretty much what spawned this post. It originated from one thing I read, but then I started to realize that this kind of thing happens a lot and it made me feel sad. I absolutely love your outlook on it and I wish that my husband was a runner so we could have that kind of experience together!

  16. SuzLyfe says:

    As evidenced by my own post today, people are very, very stupid and very very cynical and bitter. A MARATHON IS A FREAKING MARATHON PEOPLE.
    When I was deciding about Twin Cities, I was looking for something that wasn’t too far away, around the right time of year, had a course that was beautiful, good crowd support, good weather, and was mostly flat and enjoyable but did have some rises (oh, glutes, you silly bitches). I also decided that I really liked the 12,000 person cap, because big marathons are so impersonal and also you have to be there wwwaaayyyy ahead of time, which messes with everything. When I did MCM I enjoyed running it with Runner’s World, so that was like a sorority within a university. And I just decided that I didn’t want to deal with the nonsense of Chicago, or trying to get in to it. And I already spend enough time here, thank you.
    Again. People can suck it.

    • runsaltrun says:

      The more I read about this, the more I was realizing that there does seem to be this elitist mindset and it makes me kind of sad. The main reason I wanted to do a Disney race wasn’t even entirely for me…it was so I could run, but then have fun with Betty at Disney too. I just really want to run. I don’t care where it is.

  17. byrne1324 says:

    There is no such thing as an easy marathon. There may be a less hilly course or a course with more down hills but they all are 26.2 miles and that alone is hard. For me a good marathon is one that had a good crowd, very organized and also has sufficient water and gu on the course… I still put NYC as one of my favorites.. But I Pittsburgh is up there as well (probably because it’s my home town race) and I love seeing people I know cheer me on

    • runsaltrun says:

      Agreed! I would love to run Pittsburgh at some point actually (funny coming from a Ravens fan haha) because I just love the city in general and think it would be a blast to run though. 🙂 Same thing with NYC. Yes it’s considered a world class marathon, but it’s also the first one I ever spectated before I was a runner so I feel like it would be special in that way.

  18. chasingchels says:

    Yes! I could not agree more that a first marathon is special no matter where it is. My first was Erie last September, which isn’t big by any stretch of the imagination, and it will always be one of my favorite race experiences even though I got hurt and finished almost two hours later than expected. Taught me so much about myself. I still have that medal around the lamp on my nightstand, and that will never change because it serves as a reminder for what I can do. I prefer smaller races overall, I think. In my experience, they tend to be nicer, cheaper, and more fun. I would love to run NYC, Chicago, and Boston someday for the experience!

  19. Hailey says:

    Ugh…reading that would irk me too…and I’ve never even ran one! I would love to run some of the bigger marathons some day, but for my first I’m choosing it purely based on location. I’m choosing to sleep in my own bed the night before over choosing to run another marathon just for the sake of it being considered “bigger and better.” It doesn’t matter where your first one is, it will always be special because it was your first. And it doesn’t matter where any of the other ones will be because chances are there will be lessons learned from all of them, no matter how big they are or where they are located, that will help make you a better runner because there’s always something to learn, whether it’s from a good experience or a “bad” one. I hope to join the marathon club in the near future! 🙂

  20. Cynthia says:

    I am so in awe of anyone who runs a marathon! I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to. I have the same thoughts as you when I read someone ran an “easy” 6 miles. Haha, 6 miles is not easy to me!! I suppose if you’ve run a bunch of marathons (like a lot) then you start looking for more and more challenges and you start comparing. Just like any race though. To me a 5k is a challenge, any 5k, whether it’s labeled easy or not! I LOVE your gifs!!

  21. ambertherunner says:

    Ugh- I totally see why this irked you. Best is all a matter of opinion, and I agree with you that running 26.2 is amazing regardless of where you do it 🙂
    I don’t think I’m terribly picky about what makes a marathon great- I enjoy scenic courses and prefer not to run out & backs, but really give me some happy volunteers, several water stops, and a banana at the finish & I’m happy. Oh and a wave start if it’s a big race 🙂

  22. courtruns4cupcakes says:

    LOVE this! A marathon is a marathon no matter what. I chose my first marathon because it was flat and close to home, and I can’t wait to conquer it in October. No matter what you still ran 26.2 freaking miles!! Who cares if it wasn’t on of the big name marathons?! Whoever these running snobs are saying these things need a reality check!

  23. piratebobcat says:

    I hope nothing I posted on the internet offended you! If so, then sorry!
    And BTW, I’m am totally offended. There is no such thing as an ‘easy’ marathon. None. Nowhere. Never. Whoever wrote that needs a slap upside the head.

  24. Judith / soveryslightlymad says:

    I’ve decided to avoid websites like letsrun because of some of the elitist stupid-ass attitudes of some of the people posting there who say things about who they deem as “real” runners and “worthy” races. It’s all insecure jerks trying to make themselves feel superior. And then there’s comments about “only a 5k” ( not necessarily on letsrun). Racing a 5k is HARD. RUnning a marathon is HARD. Anyone who looks down on your accomplishment is an asshole who should be asking themself why they have to rain on someone else’s parade.

  25. themilereport says:

    I don’t think ANY marathons are easy, though I suppose some are easier than others based on the course or weather. Either way, they are all hard and all a huge accomplishment. And all a marathon.
    What makes a particular marathon amazing to me: easy logistics, going with friends/family, good weather, post race party

  26. Sarah says:

    A marathon is a marathon, and I think they each are challenging in their own way. It might be downhill-but that can kill your knees. Maybe it’s humid or hot or rolling hills. There’s is no such thing as an easy marathon or a flat one (at least in my opinion). I think we can have our favorites but I’ll run the same 12 mile run every few weeks and sometimes it’s harder or easier than other times. Weather makes a difference, or just how I’m feeling that day.
    I read that 1% of the population have completed a marathon- that’s an accomplishment, don’t let anyone ever take that from you!

  27. alsoranagain says:

    Enthusiastic crowds and a scenic or interesting course make a marathon really special, in my opinion. To make one amazing though, I would have to feel great (i.e., running strong, no stomach issues, and feeling happy) the majority of the race, too.

  28. Sue @ This Mama Runs For Cupcakes says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It is purely subjective, unless of course you are a professional athlete, then the standards are different I’m sure. But for us normal folk, the “best” is purely what is in our hearts and what we enjoy individually!

  29. Shawna says:

    i’ve only run one full, and i found the whole experience of it “the best”: believing in myself that i could actually tackle this thing, and then committing to training and pushing my body past limits i thought i’d never hit, and then the joy of that morning and seeing my fam cheer me on and then FINALLY crossing the finish line and feeling like, OH MY GOSH. i did this. amazing.

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