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The Best First-Time Marathons for Beginners

Taking the time to research the best marathons for beginners will be of great benefit to first-time marathoners. Selecting the right race for your first marathon will have a profound impact on your overall experience and enjoyment of 26.2.

Are all marathons beginner friendly?

While most major city marathons have become welcoming for slower paces, not all marathons are alike. Some marathons, like the Boston Marathon, have qualifying standards. Other races allow general entry, but have some pretty fast cutoff times.

In addition, smaller races often lack the course and crowd support that can drastically boost enjoyment – especially for first-time marathoners.

When you’re looking for the best marathons for beginners, you’ll want to find a race that provides plenty of support, lots of time, simple logistics and beautiful scenery.

How to Choose the Best Marathon for Beginners

The growing number of marathons in the US and around the world is a testament to the rising popularity and love of both the distance and support. And while it’s certainly a good thing that so many have fallen in love with 26.2, it can make selecting a goal race very overwhelming.

Here are some of the qualities to look for when narrowing down the best marathons for first timers.

  • Lengthy time limits
  • Flat and/or downhill course
  • Beautiful or interesting scenery
  • Consistent aid stations and race support
  • Straightforward expo and race day logistics
  • Well-marked, easy to follow course
  • Lots of crowd support
  • Welcoming environment
  • Organized race corrals
  • Pace groups for all finish times
  • Comfortable running weather
  • Paved courses
  • Race sizes
  • No qualifying times

It can be very challenging to meet every single one of these criteria, so it’s important to narrow down your top priorities for your first marathon. Most runners find that a flat course with good crowd support, aid stations and slower cut off times are in their top.

From there, each runner will need to decide for themselves what race size and running climate they most prefer. Many beginner marathoners look for races that are not too small, but won’t be overly crowded and overwhelming.

If you’re willing to travel in order to make minimal sacrifices, checkout this list of the best marathons for beginners. These marathons are perfect for first-timers, with each one meeting at least 90% of the criteria listed above.

Check out the best marathons for beginners! These marathons are a great option for first timers with flat courses, lengthy time limits and more.

The 15 Best First-Time Marathons

These 15 marathons are some of the best for beginners in the US. Each race offers a unique experience that will keep you motivated to finish and excited to train for another.

Baystate Marathon

Location: Lowell, MA

Date: October 20, 2024

The Baystate Marathon is a great option for first timers! The mostly flat course is perfect for beginner marathoners who are completing the distance for the first time. The race boasts a balance of amateur, recreational and competitive runners, which minimizes the pressure for first timers.

The double loop course design makes it easy for spectators to see runners multiple times on the course without much effort. In addition, pacing is easier and more straightforward with an obvious halfway point.

Chicago Marathon

Location: Chicago, IL

Date: October 13, 2024

As one of the most popular marathons in the US, the Chicago Marathon is an excellent option for beginners. With a completely flat course, completing 26.2 miles will be as easy as it can get. The start is conveniently located within walking distance to many hotels, making it easily accessible.

Well organized support on and before race day will help minimize stress and anxiety in first time marathoners. The packed streets will provide the boost runners need along the course for motivation and inspiration!

Flying Pig Marathon

Check out the best marathons for beginners! These marathons are a great option for first timers with flat courses, lengthy time limits and more.

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Date: May 5, 2024

The Flying Pig Marathon is a marathon that beginners will certainly remember. The race directors take the theme to heart, with plenty of photo opportunities and unique goodies for runners. The race boasts a welcoming environment for both walkers and runners, making it an all-inclusive event no matter the pace.

With lots of crowd support along the way and a gentle downhill after the first 10 miles, this is a perfect marathon for first timers.

Grandma’s Marathon

Location: Duluth, MN

Date: June 22, 2024

Grandma’s Marathon is committed to inclusivity and equity for all. This race welcomes all types of participants and celebrates them all. The relatively flat course will aid beginners as they attempt to conquer the distance for the first time.

The cooler weather and supportive atmosphere will help first timers give it their all on race day. A well-organized expo and race day make logistics straightforward and easy to navigate.

Honolulu Marathon

Check out the best marathons for beginners! These marathons are a great option for first timers with flat courses, lengthy time limits and more.

Location: Honolulu, HI

Date: December 8, 2024

If you’re unsure of your marathon finish time or nervous about needing to walk, the Honolulu Marathon is an excellent option. With no cut-off time, this marathon provides a laid-back atmosphere that welcomes all paces.

With a great mix of walkers and runners, first time marathoners will feel at ease taking their time and following any pace strategy on race day. In addition, it makes a great excuse for a winter getaway!

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Location: Indianapolis, IN

Date: November 9, 2024

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is a popular marathon for first timers. The flat course, cooler weather, and larger race field make this marathon accommodating for all.

If you’re looking to be part of a crowd without feeling pressured to push the pace, this race is for you. The course takes runners on a tour of the city’s monuments, providing interesting views along the way.

Little Rock Marathon

Location: Little Rock, AK

Date: March 3, 2024

Sometimes the real running motivation comes from the bling itself – and if you’re looking to reward your hard work, the Little Rock Marathon has you covered. With one of the biggest finisher medals in the country, runners will enjoy getting something extra special to commemorate their very first marathon.

In addition, the 8 hour time limit gives runners plenty of space for walk breaks and different pace strategies. If you can’t make the cut, you’ll still be allowed to cross the finish line!

Marine Corps Marathon

Check out the best marathons for beginners! These marathons are a great option for first timers with flat courses, lengthy time limits and more.

Location: Arlington, VA

Date: October 27, 2024

Hardly anything is more motivating than a line full of United States Marines. The Marine Corps Marathon is a motivating, inspiring way to debut your very first 26.2 miles.

With a finish near Arlington National Cemetery, a plethora of crowd support along the way and Marines nearby to lend a hand, this marathon is a meaningful experience for all.

Missoula Marathon

Location: Missoula, MT

Date: June 30, 2024

The Missoula Marathon has been recognized multiple times as one of the best marathon in the US – and for good reason, too. Friendly volunteers and a supportive community are of utmost important to the race directors.

The mostly flat course is a great way to build confidence and maintain motivation throughout your first marathon.

Mountains2Beach Marathon

Location: Ojai, CA

Date: April 28, 2024

This beautiful marathon often sells out! A net downhill of 700 feet make this one of the easiest marathons in the US – perfect for beginners.

The race starts out in beautiful Southern California with spectacular views. The gradual downhill throughout the first ten miles will help runners feel confident and ready to conquer all 26.2.

Philadelphia Marathon

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Date: November 24, 2024

The Philadelphia Marathon occurs later in the year than most, providing an optimal climate and temperature for runners to PR or conquer their very first marathon. In addition, beautiful views and lots of crowd support will help runners stay motivated along the way.

The flat course is perfect for beginners, and a 7 hour time limit allows for lots of flexibility with pace and any walking that might occur.

Portland Marathon

Location: Portland, OR

Date: October 6, 2024

You’ll love the race swag and beautiful scenery throughout the Portland Marathon course!

The 8 hour time limit makes this one of the best marathons for beginners. With lots of support during the race provided by thousands of volunteers, runners will never feel alone.

Twin Cities Marathon

Check out the best marathons for beginners! These marathons are a great option for first timers with flat courses, lengthy time limits and more.

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Date: October 6, 2024

Runners of all kinds, but especially first time marathoners, will appreciate the welcoming environment in the Twin Cities Marathon. The community support is apparent on race day, with tons of spectators along the way.

The top notch organization makes navigating pre, post and mid-race logistics easy and low stress. With picturesque lake views along the way, runners will feel motivated and excited to conquer their first 26.2.

Vermont City Marathon

Location: Burlington, VT

Date: May 26, 2024

The Vermont City Marathon features a unique clover shaped course that makes spectating easier than ever. Spectators have multiple chances to see their runners without traveling far at all!

Beautiful scenery and a downhill finish make this one of the best marathons for beginners.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Location: Orlando, FL

Date: January 7, 2024

We can’t finish the list of the best first time marathons without mentioning the Walt Disney World Marathon. A fan favorite, this marathon will make conquering your 26.2 mile goal an experience to remember.

The 16 minute per mile pace requirement provides plenty of leeway for those planning to use a walk/run strategy. The course takes runners on a tour of all of Walt Disney World, keeping you entertained and excited. With an early start time to beat the heat and crowds, you can’t miss this experience of a lifetime!

Choosing to run one of these best marathons for first timers is something you won’t regret. Finding a course that is flat, well-organized, supportive and inclusive for all paces will help reduce stress and keep you motivated even when things feel tough!

Sign up for one of these marathons for your first time and you’ll be sure to return again and again.

More tips for finding the best marathon for beginners: