5 Must-Do Fall Marathons You May Not Have Heard About

Runners cross over a bridge during the Flying Pig Marathon.

Cooler temperatures, crisp air and falling leaves signify one thing: marathon season. With many major marathons taking place in person again in the fall, runners can now reclaim autumn as the marathon racing season.

The Chicago Marathon, the New York City Marathon and many more major races take place throughout the fall months, but many of them require a qualifying time, a charity slot or a lottery entry (and many are already full).

If you’re looking for an exciting fall marathon with a stress-free registration process, check out these five certified, Boston-qualifying races.

The start line of the Flying Pig Marathon

1. Flying Pig Marathon (October 31, 2021)

Yep, you read that right. Pigs will fly in Cincinnati, Ohio, this fall. The Flying Pig Marathon is usually held in the spring, but due to COVID-19 related cancellations this year’s race will be held in October. The weather in Cincinnati in late October is typically between 40 to 60 degrees, perfect for running. Race weekend consists of a 5K, a 10K, two half marathons and the full marathon.

The weekend kicks off with the expo, where runners can pick up their race bibs and browse gear from over 120 local and national vendors. The expo is located at the Duke Energy Convention Center, about a half mile from the start line.

The marathon course starts in downtown Cincinnati near the Paul Brown Stadium and takes approximately 4,000 runners through the city streets. Runners cross over into Kentucky and then back into Ohio within the first few miles of the race. The course’s major hills are all in the first half of the race, with some gentle rolling hills in the last half. Runners are required to maintain a 16:00 per mile pace to finish within the seven hour time limit.

“Having completed seven marathons, Flying Pig is by far my favorite,” says Ashley Casano, an avid marathoner from St. Petersburg, Florida. “The people of Cincinnati know how to put on a 26.2 mile party with the absolute best crowd support and the most entertaining themed aid stations.

While the course is known for being hilly, the views of the Ohio River are well worth it, and you’ll be having so much fun you won’t even notice.”

The “finish swine" is located just a couple of blocks from the start, making it easy for runners to grab their gear, meet up with family and get back to their hotels...but not before enjoying the post-race festivities.

If you’re local, Fleet Feet Cincinnati offers the official training program for the Flying Pig Marathon and half marathon. Find more information about the program and sign up here.

Runners run along the James River during the Richmond Marathon

2. Richmond Marathon (November 13, 2021)

Aptly named “America’s Friendliest Marathon”, the Richmond Marathon, which takes place in Richmond, Virginia, is known for its phenomenal course support, scenic fall foliage and riverfront finish. Race weekend includes the full marathon, a half marathon and an 8K.

Runners can pick up their race packets at the expo on Thursday and Friday prior to the race. The expo is located at the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center, about three miles from the marathon start. You can browse the latest running gear, mingle with other runners and check out the race merchandise. For runners who can’t make it to the expo, bib mailing is available for $30 prior to October and $40 throughout October.

Marathon runners start in downtown Richmond at the corner of Grace Street and 5th Street and then head through historic neighborhoods into the Virginia Commonwealth University campus and along the famous James River. Beautiful autumn leaves provide a perfect backdrop for 26.2 miles.

“I loved the course. My favorite section was running along the James River starting at mile eight,” explains Paul Ternes, a marathoner who trains with the Montgomery County Road Runners in Rockville, Maryland. “It’s a few beautiful, flat and quiet miles that almost make you feel like it’s a regular weekend long run.”

The race usually attracts about 4,000 marathon runners, making it big enough to be challenging but not overwhelming. “I really loved the size of the race. It fits that Goldilocks category of being not too big but not too small,” Ternes says.

The weather in Virginia is often ideal for runners in November, with race day temperatures hovering around 50 degrees. Runners are treated to two “junk food” stops along the course, including soda and candy, and three “party zones” with more food, prizes and cheering. The course has a seven hour time limit, so runners must maintain a pace of 16:00 minutes per mile before the course opens up to traffic.

Runners finish right along the Canal Walk on the James River where a post-race celebration awaits.

Runners pose with their medals after the Seattle Marathon

3. Seattle Marathon (November 28, 2021)

If you’re looking for a marathon with chilly weather, amazing views and ample hills, the Seattle Marathon is for you. Touted as the “oldest marathon in the Pacific Northwest,” the Seattle Marathon offers runners a premier tour of the Emerald City. Race weekend features a half and a full marathon, both starting at 7 a.m. on November 28.

On the Friday and Saturday prior to the race, runners can pick up their bibs and race packets at the expo at The Westin Seattle. The expo is conveniently located less than a mile from the start line. Runners can browse apparel, snacks and official race merchandise.

The race starts at Seattle Center, home to the iconic Space Needle. Runners will get to travel over the city’s impressive bridges and vast waterways, and witness the gorgeous greenery. The marathon usually hosts between 1,500 and 2,000 finishers, and the average race day temperature is around 40 degrees. The race course is open for 7.5 hours, meaning runners must maintain a pace of 17:00 minutes per mile. This marathon is definitely hilly, so train accordingly.

Runners during the California International Marathon

4. California International Marathon (December 5, 2021)

The California International Marathon (CIM), is known for producing some of the fastest times on the West Coast. Runners come from all over the world to run their personal records, Boston Qualifying times and even Olympic Trials Qualifying times thanks to a net downhill course with an elevation loss of 340 feet. Race weekend consists of the full marathon, a marathon relay and a 5K. Sacramento weather in early December usually falls between 40 and 50 degrees, ideal temperatures for a PR.

Runners can pick up their race packets at the expo prior to the race. The expo location for 2021 hasn’t been announced yet, but it typically features about 75 exhibitors. Runners can check out official race merchandise, get inspired with live speakers and explore brand-new gear and shoes.

Because the race is point-to-point, there are free shuttles for runners to get to the start line near the Folsom Dam. You can hop on the shuttles from Downtown Sacramento, Point West or Folsom. The race starts promptly at 7 a.m.

The course takes runners through tree-lined, residential neighborhoods and larger main roads to get to the finish line at the State Capitol.

“I ran CIM in December 2019 and absolutely loved everything about the race from the weather to the huge Olympic Trials Qualifying efforts and more,” explains Melissa Perlman from Delray Beach, Florida, who ran a personal best of 2:49. “My absolute favorite part was that, even though there were lots of hills in the first half, every time you thought it was about to get tough on the legs the hill ended and you got to enjoy miles of downhill. It ended up being the perfect set-up for me to run a personal record by nearly 11 minutes.”

Seventeen aid stations along the course feature water, Nuun and nutrition products. There’s also plenty of on-course entertainment, including lively locals who love to come out and cheer. CIM usually hosts about 7,000 finishers, so there are plenty of people to run with. All participants must maintain a 13:44 per mile pace to finish in the allotted six hours. If you’re looking for extra accountability, expert advice and one-on-one support in your training, Fleet Feet Sacramento offers the official training program for the race.

Runners pass a spaceship during the Rocket City Marathon

5. Rocket City Marathon (December 11, 2021)

The Rocket City Marathon takes off in Huntsville, Alabama, in mid-December. Temperatures typically range from 30 to 50 degrees, the perfect weather to help you fly. Runners enjoy a flat, fast course and a space shuttle theme that pays homage to the nearby U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Race weekend consists of a marathon, a half marathon and a marathon relay. A kid’s marathon is offered during the weeks leading up to the race, encouraging children to run 26.2 miles in the 10 to 12 weeks leading up to the race. The last and final mile is run on race day.

Runners can pick up their packets the day before the race at the Von Braun Center, which is also where the finish line is located. The start line is just a couple of blocks away, making it easy for out of towners to get around during the weekend. The expo features a variety of vendors offering gear, nutrition and apparel.

The course launches approximately 1,000 marathon runners through downtown Huntsville, where you’ll see antebellum homes in the historic district, before winding around the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. 12 aid stations along the course offer water, Gatorade and GU energy gels. The course is open for six hours, which means runners must maintain a 13:44 pace per mile.

The Rocket City Marathon always incorporates a space theme into their race, but this year event organizers are taking things a step further. This year’s race features a science fiction comic that will be revealed on social media leading up to the race. Characters will be in costume along the race course to act out scenes from the story.

“The comic celebrates the science fiction that inspired so many of the young rocket scientists who lived in Huntsville during the 1960s and were part of the space program,” explains Dwayne DeBardelaben, Rocket City Marathon Race Director and science fiction writer of Huntsville. “The comic has a full story with a hero and villain, and the runners all play a role in the story.”

Fleet Feet Huntsville offers a 14-week training program for the full and half marathon. If you want to run with a group and receive personalized training from experienced coaches, you can sign up here.

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