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8 Great Fall Marathons in Unique Places

A woman finishing a California marathon

There's something for everyone

Last Chance BQ.2 Chicagoland Marathon

Date: Sept. 8, 2018

Location: Geneva, Ill.

Website: bq2races.com

If you want to earn a Boston Marathon qualifying time (aka “BQ”) for the 2019 Boston Marathon, time is running out. One of the very last races, the Last Chance BQ.2 Chicagoland Marathon in suburban Geneva, Ill., annually ranks among the races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifiers. It’s set up for fast times on a flat loop course on a bike path along the Fox River and pace teams aimed at getting runners well below the minimum qualifying time in their age group. Celebrate your finish and sign up for Boston the next day when registration opens.


The Boring Marathon

Date: Sept. 16, 2018

Location: Boring, Ore.

Website: boringmarathon.com

What? A boring marathon?! That’s not possible. Running 26.2 miles is always fun and exciting, right? Well, there is also a Half-Boring Half Marathon and the Really Boring Relay and Constantly Boring 8K. OK, jokes aside, these are really great races that just happened to take place in a town called Boring. The course takes you down the flat, paved pathway of Springwater Trail and roads that are free of traffic. The marathon is now a Boston qualifier, so you can run fast if that’s your jam. One more one-liner: any resident of Boring’s sister city of Dull, Scotland, can enter for free.


A group of people running a marathon

A group of runners crosses over a bridge

Freedom’s Run Marathon & Half Marathon

Date: Oct. 6, 2018

Location: Shepherdstown, W.V.

Website: freedomsrun.org

Part of a series of races promoting history and health, the Freedom’s Run Marathon sends runners through three historical national parks—Harpers Ferry, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Antietam National Battlefield. In fact, the race director is Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a professor of family medicine at West Virginia University, who has made running for health a focus of his professional career. The race benefits the Eastern Area Health Education Center, gives out health and fitness grants to communities in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and hosts a kids’ mile race to raise awareness about childhood obesity.


Steamtown Marathon

Date: Oct. 7, 2018

Location: Scranton, Penn.

Website: steamtownmarathon.com

There are plenty of great big-city marathons in the fall—Chicago, Toronto, New York, Las Vegas—but the best 26.2-miler between summer and winter might just be the Steamtown Marathon. It’s a small-ish race (capped at 3,000 runners) in a quaint town steeped in industrial and coal mining history. (And yes, it was the setting of the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin on NBC’s “The Office” from 2005-2013.) What makes the race great is the well-supported and fast net-downhill course that passes through 14 communities along the Lackawanna River.

Three runners compete in the Moab Trail Marathon

Two runners wrapped in thermal blankets after a race

Mt. Desert Island Marathon

Date: Oct. 14, 2018

Location: Bar Harbor, Maine

Website: runmdi.org

Consistently ranked among the best and most scenic marathons in the country, the Mt. Desert Island Marathon sends runners adjacent to colorful forests, inland lakes, quaint villages and the Atlantic Ocean coast. Run on the largest island off the coast of Maine, the hilly point-to-point course from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor is very challenging, but it rewards its hearty runners with non-stop views of stunning Acadia National Park during the peak of fall foliage. (There’s also a half marathon and a marathon relay.)


Moab Trail Marathon

Date: Nov. 3-4, 2018

Location: Moab, Utah

Website: moabtrailmarathon.com

If you’ve never spent time roaming the stunning red rock terrain of eastern Utah, this is your opportunity. The course sends runners into the scenic Moab backcountry over singletrack trails and red dirt roads, through sandy washes and narrow canyons, all with views of red rock buttes and classic slickrock terrain in all directions. (There are also a few semi-treacherous sections in which a fixed rope serves as a guideline.) This year’s race will once again host the USATF trail marathon national championships, so there will be a fast pace off the front. But in this race, running a bit slower and enjoying the scenery can be preferable. (There’s also a half marathon, 5K and Kids K race.)


The North Face Endurance Challenge

Date: Nov. 17-18, 2018

Location: Mill Valley, Calif.

Website: www.thenorthface.com

Whether you’re new to trail running or interested in competing against some the world’s best ultrarunners, the championship edition of The North Face Endurance Challenge series is a top-tier event that serves up challenging terrain and stunning views. Held in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area north of San Francisco, the marathon sends runners on a very hilly course in the coastal headlands. You won’t run a fast time the rolling dirt trails, but you’ll cherish the notion that you worked hard to earn your finish. (There are also 5K, 10K, half marathon, 50K and 50-mile races held during the weekend.)


California International Marathon (CIM)

Date: Dec. 1-2, 2018

Location: Sacramento, Calif.

Website: runcim.org

CIM is one of the last chances to run a fast marathon before the end of the year. To do so, you’re going to have to be able to run well downhill for long periods of time. That might sound easy and fun, but you’ll have to train on similar terrain, so you don’t blow your quads and reduce your gait to a hobble. Starting at an elevation of 366 feet, runners dash over a gently rolling, point-to-point, net downhill course with few turns to the finish line (elevation: 26 feet) in front of the California state capitol. This year’s race is hosting the USATF marathon championships, but there are pace leaders for a wide range of finishing times. (There is also a 5K and marathon relay on tap during the weekend.)


By Brian Metzler. Metzler has raced just about every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles, is a three-time Ironman finisher and has been involved in the quirky sport of pack burro racing for more than a decade. He is the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, the former editor of Competitor and the co-author of "Run Like a Champion: An Olympian's Approach for Every Runner."


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