Back in January many of you may have made New Year’s resolutions to get fit and shift those unwanted extra pounds. Fast forward a couple of months, however, and the chances are that that initial motivation is beginning to waver as the lure of the pub and other social commitments start to take hold.
One great way to prevent the bad habits drifting back in to your daily routine is to sign up to run a marathon. There are loads to choose – crumbs, there is even the Great Wall Run in China – but by far and away the most popular are the 5 World Marathon Majors: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York City.
Marathon race days are fantastic spectacles awash with color, brass bands, vociferous crowds and fantastic costumes and well worth attending even if you’re not taking part.
To help you choose, we’ve compiled a list of the world’s top five marathons – also known as the 5 World Marathon Majors – along with some recommendations on places to stay.
1. Boston Marathon 2014, USA
Monday 21st April 2014
Traditionally held on Patriots’ Day, Boston Marathon is considered, by many, as the original and the best. Boston is the first and longest-running marathon in the world – this year’s race will be the 117th in its long and illustrious history – and is considered the toughest of the 5 World Marathon Majors.
Starting in Hopkington, the heart of New England, the gruelling course runs through eight towns before finishing in Boston’s beautiful and famous Back Bay by Copley Square. The route includes a draining 5 mile stint over 4 hills in Newton which culminates in ‘heartbreak hill.’ This is an imposing 600 meter stretch near Boston College that takes runners up 88 vertical feet at a time in the race (between 20 and 21 miles) when many runners ‘hit the wall.’ Many experienced and inexperienced runners alike are forced to walk.
25,000 runners will brave the variable weather and difficult terrain to have a crack at this year’s marathon, roared on by the vociferous support of crowds of up to 500,000.
‘Marathon Monday’ is the biggest and most widely-viewed event in New England’s sporting calendar. Patriots’ Day is a national holiday and the whole day is a huge social and cultural occasion.
Every year, the Boston Red Sox play an early home game at Fenway Park, starting at 10:05 am and once the game ends, the crowds empty into Kenmore Square to cheer on the runners as they enter the final mile. This makes for a fantastic finale and really helps get you get over that finishing line.
Where to watch
A great spot to watch the race is at Wellesley College around the half way point. Every year the college students turn out on mass to cheer on the runners, generating such a noise that the mile stretch has come to be known locally as the ‘scream tunnel’. Alternatively head to the finish line in advance where, opposite the Boston Public Library you can watch the race on a big screen
Boston is not for the faint hearted or the casual fun runner- you have to have run marathons before in certain times in order to qualify- however, it is one of the best and well worth considering as both a competitor and spectator. Be sure to check out our guide to Boston Patriots’ Day.
Despite the marathon starting well outside of Boston, staying in the city centre means you won’t have to walk/hobble far to get back to the hostel for a well earned rest after the race. Shuttle buses are available to ferry you to the Hopkington starting point on marathon morning.
If you are looking for hostels or hotels in Boston, we’ve got a few suggestions. The Hi – Boston Chinatown is situated on Stuart Street and within walking distance of the Boston Common and the Freedom Trail, while 40 Berkeley is also within hobbling distance from the finish line. A free hearty breakfast is included and there is a charming leafy garden area.
2. London Marathon 2014, UK
13th April 2014
If you are a first-timer, then London is one of the best to consider alongside Berlin as the course is very flat. The course also incorporates some of London’s most iconic sites, which really helps when the going gets tough. Starting at Greenwich and Blackheath, it crosses the Meridian line and goes past the Cutty Sark, City Hall, Tower Hall, Canary Wharf, Cleopatra’s Needle, the London Eye, Big Ben and Houses of Parliament before finishing along the Mall.
One of the best things about London is the phenomenal level of support from the hordes of supporters that line the course from the start in Greenwich right through to the grand stand and finishing straight on the Mall.
Steel drum bands, choirs, stereos and good old fashioned vocal encouragement, ensures that there are few points where you’re treading the streets alone, while the camaraderie between the runners is also outstanding.
Another aspect of the London Marathon that is unique is the number of comedy costumes and characters that take part. It has the most fun runners of all the marathons, and one minute you can be running alongside Spiderman and the next you can be rubbing shoulders alongside Little Miss Giggles. The atmosphere is second to none.
Due to the sheer number of runners the course actually begins at three separate points around Blackheath, with the vast majority starting in Greenwich Park.
The point where the three courses finally converge after three miles in Woolwich, near the Royal Artillery Barracks is a great early highlight, and many of the runners breaking out into spontaneous song as the three merge. Runners also break into song later in the course as you pass through a couple of tunnels in areas devoid of spectators as you home in on the finishing straight.
Where to watch
The last mile and a half down the Embankment and finally down the Mall are among the best you can experience in marathon running and the feeling as you pass the finish line cannot be described- you’ll have to lace up your trainers and experience it for yourself!
The end is pandemonium and it is best to arrange a place to meet your friends and families in advance as it is super, super busy and you’re unlikely to get much phone reception when you finish the race as 500,000 people and 30,000 finishers will be trying to get in contact with you.
Head to the sanctuary of a nearby pub where you can sit down or, if you’ve got the energy, walk to the nearest tube and take advantage of your free London travel you get a as a marathon survivor!
Use our map facility to find a hotel or hostel in London close to the course. London has a fantastic transport system so it really doesn’t matter whether you opt for a hostel near the start, end or somewhere in-between.
St Christopher’s Inn Greenwich is near the start of the London Marathon, while the Walrus Waterloo hostel is close to Westminster tube station, so if you hop on the Jubilee line at St James Park after the event you will be home in no time.
3. Berlin Marathon 2014, Germany
28th September 2014
The Berlin Marathon is the biggest marathon in the world. 40,000 runners fill the streets in the last week of September every year to run the grueling 26 miles and 385 yard marathon course.
Berlin is another great race for the first time marathon runner thanks to the mild autumn temperatures and the fact that it is the flattest of the Five World Marathon Majors. It is the marathon to set a personal best at; the men’s world record has been broken here three times in the last six years alone. Like London, Berlin is fantastically supported with a huge number of fun runners and power walkers taking part.
Where to watch
40,000 are expected to take on the marathon course this year which is one big sightseeing loop through one of Europe’s finest cities. The course highlight is undoubtedly the final stretch along the Avenue Unter den Linden. Here, you pass through the iconic Brandenburg Gate past packed, noisy grandstands on your way to the finish line.
One of the best aspects of the Berlin Marathon is its uniquely international flavour and two day programme of events. Saturday sees 8,000 inline skaters take to the streets in their own version of the race and this is a great opportunity for the marathon runners and their families to soak up the atmosphere and prepare themselves for their own big day.
Just a short walk from the marathon’s finish, MEININGER Hotel Berlin Hauptbahnhof is the stand out choice. It is our top-rated Berlin hostel, offering guests three-star standard accommodation with air-conditioned rooms and a stunning view over the Berlin roof tops from its 9th floor bar.
4. Chicago Marathon 2014, USA
12th October 2014
The Chicago Marathon is another good fast and flat course for marathon debutants. The 2014 race is the 37th in its history and is expected to be its biggest yet.
The race has grown significantly from its humble beginnings. Under its original name of the Mayor Daley Marathon, the race featured just 4200 runners- compared to 48,839 last year- and attracted far lower crowds.
Where to watch
The course conveniently starts and finishes in the beautiful Grant Park, taking in many of Chicago’s most famous landmarks, districts and neighborhoods including the historic Old Town, Little Italy and the University Village.
Inhabitants of America’s windy city have really grown to embrace the event since its inception, and, while the crowds are smaller than Berlin and London, they are no less vociferous or enthusiastic in their support.
One unique aspect to the Chicago Marathon is the CEO Marathon Challenge. First introduced in 2007, this is a special competition among the CEOs, presidents, company owners and c-suite executives of companies with at least $5 million in annual gross revenue ($2.5 million for women) which adds another competitive element to the day.
After you finish the race, runners head to the 27th Mile Post-Race Party in Grant Park’s Butler. Featuring live entertainment, food and beverages from 10 am until 3 pm, this is a fitting place to celebrate your achievement with your friends and family and should not be missed! The incentive of a free beer at the end is also a great incentive when the going really gets tough around the 18, 19 and 20 mile mark!
Hi-Chicago is situated right next to Grant Park (where the race starts and ends) and offers safe, friendly and inexpensive lodgings to guests. Breakfast is included and its restaurants and bars are great places to share your marathon experiences after the race.
If you’re after a private room, then the Chicago Getaway Hostel, offer both shared and private rooms and is a short train ride away from Grant Park and the Loop. Look for more Chicago hotel options here.
5. New York City Marathon 2014, USA
2nd November 2014
For many New York City is the best of the five World Marathon Majors; it incorporates all five New York boroughs.
Where to watch
The marathon starts on Staten Island in Fort Wadsworth. The start villages are all outside and the marshals and race organizers like to have everyone in place hours before the race starts. New York City in November can be bitterly cold so wrap up warm while you wait in items of clothing you don’t mind not seeing again.
From Staten Island the race heads into Brooklyn via the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, and then on into Queens. Brooklyn and Queens are well supported but is nothing compared to the wall of noise that hits you when you cross the Queensborough Bridge and enter Manhattan for the first time.
The support in the Bronx is equally impressive, while the support that you receive in the final few miles all along Fifth Avenue and into Central Park is nothing short of extraordinary.
Going through dozens of culturally and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods and crossing a total of five bridges in total, the course fittingly finishes at Tavern on the Green in the world-famous Central Park- a fitting end as the marathon originally was run exclusively in Central Park
More than 100 live bands stationed at regular intervals along the course motivate and entertain participants and spectators alike on the day, and a special stage at Columbus provides additional inspiration for the final 385 yards.
42,000 runners are expected to take part this year in a marathon experience like no other.
New York accommodation
Running is a cheap hobby, but New York knows how to leave a dent in your pocket! Best to opt for a New York hostel to keep to a budget.
Jazz on the Park has shared and private rooms available while Hostelling International offers quality shared accommodation. Or, check out our map page listings for NYC hotels to find a spot near the runners.
Best of the Rest
While the big five make up the most popular marathons in the world, there are a number of other great alternatives out there including Paris and Amsterdam. There’s even a Polar Circle Marathon for those that think the challenge of 26.2 miles on its own isn’t challenge enough. And running the Great Wall Marathon in China (17th May 2014) would certainly be one to tell the grandchildren about!
Wherever you decide to run your marathon, you’ll need somewhere to stay and (North Pole aside) we have that covered so all you have to worry about is getting fit!
Thanks to Martineric, marksteelenz, corono, easy-berlin, metaxin, Steward Dawson, problogand givn for the fabulous Flickr images. Please note, all images were free to use at time of publication under Creative Commons license.