Top 5 Marathons To Consider For A New Personal Best


There are a lot of fast marathons around the world. I have never necessarily been a big fan of the term ‘fast marathon course’.


I have tried for fast marathon times on pancake flat courses and have totally bombed in the past. It isn’t just about running a flat course.

It comes down to a lot of factors to run a great marathon time as I am sure any of the readers of rundreamachieve can surely attest to.

Pacing, weather, sleep, nutrition and a great perfectly timed taper all play a factor but the marathons mentioned will surely give you a great shot at a new personal best.

I think it is just as important to be honest and discuss some of my own failures in marathons here on the site to ensure my readers know that, hey I get it.

I know what it feels like to be on top of the world mastering the miles and I understand the other side of the coin when nothing works right.

As I mentioned in Failure. How Learning From It Can Make You A Better Runner you really have to keep your motivation high when things don’t go as planned. I will mention some of the best marathons I have run that I would highly recommend to any runner, regardless of ability level.

The California International Marathon

This is where I ran my personal best time of 2.19.35 in December of 2007.

The race was nearly perfect. I was on 2.16.15 pace through 20 miles (1.44.05) and although slowing the last 6 miles (5.30-40s pace) I came in to average 5.19 per mile.

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The race is held in Sacramento and although they say it, like the Boston Marathon, it is net downhill, I do not consider it a fast course.

There are certainly parts of the course that are very fast but there are a lot of rolling hills the majority of the race.

Mile 10 there is a very sharp downhill that last for about 150 meters, then goes back into rolling hills

The first 16-18 miles of the course is rolling hills.

The last 10K is very nice and flat, which certainly helps in that section of the race, but at 20 miles flat roads is no more comforting.

There are certainly more positives then negatives about this race. Great staff, great support along the course and post-race support.

2. Monumental Indianapolis Marathon

I’d rank this up at one of the top marathons I have run in the past 11 years of competing in this distance. I tried to earn the ‘then’ 2012 Olympic Trials “A” standard time of 2.19.00 in November of 2011.

I missed the goal.

I finished 5th overall with a time of 2.26.42 including an unfortunate porta-john stop at mile 18, while running with the lead Kenyans and Mario Mendoza out of California (a sub 2.21 marathoner, respectively) who went on to finish 3rd, respectively.

Two of which went on to finish 1st (Hillary Cheriyot) and 2nd (Pius Niyantika).

I don’t know what my finish time would have been, will never know, but am sure I lost at most 3 minutes.

I would have still missed the standard but would have made for a better finish time. I only wish I would not have had that stop because I’ll always wonder.

The course is flat. Highly recommend it and the temperatures in November in Indiana are usually in the low 40’s at the start. Perfect.

There are a few minor hills on the course but overall is a great race to consider and takes place at the perfect time of the year in Indiana.

2004 Army Ten Miler3. New York City Marathon

The most exciting race I have ever raced in.  I ran my debut marathon here in New York City in 2002 as a part of an Armed Forces marathon team that was running there for a Lung Cancer Research charity.

I had run a 10-mile best of 53.12 at the 2002 Army Ten Miler. It was my first year in the Army as well and I was ecstatic. I got a call from the sports specialist at the US Army World Class Athlete Program asking if I wanted to be a part of this team.

We had to start in last place waiting for everyone to cross the start line and only then were we allowed to start the race.

I went from 32,189th to 253rd and finished in 2.43.36 (2.51.53 including the wait time of the masses to cross the start line). The energy in this race is hard to explain. I am sure it rivals the cheering crowds of the Boston Marathon.

It is not pancake flat and obviously if you have watched the race on television you will know there are many bridges you have to run over. Don’t let this sway you from considering NYC. The energy of the race and the incredible support will get you to the finish line with a great time.

Geoffery Mutai set the course record of 2.05.06 there in November of 2011. Who said this course is slow again?

If you are looking for excitement, the best crowd support anywhere and the power of a highly competitive field, the new york city marathon is a great option to get a personal best.

Remember, it isn’t always about running on a flat course. There are many times runners run their personal bests on very challenging courses. Perfect training, weather and taper plays a huge part, regardless of the course elevation.

4. Rotterdam Marathon

I ran this marathon in 2006. A beautiful city and one of the best marathons in the world. It is also considered one of the world’s fastest courses in terms of overall elevation. In fact, most of rotterdam is below sea level. It is held in my second favorite country in the world, the Netherlands.

I still have thoughts of earning my dutch citizenship. Yes, I love the country that much.

Rotterdam is one of the world’s largest port cities as well. The race is nearly completely flat, outside of the Erasmas Bridge, at around mile 2 and mile 17 when you come back into downtown.

This, unfortunately, was one of my failures at the distance and I do talk about failures here at I DNF’d at mile 18. I did not have a grip of proper marathon training in 2006.

I had qualifying for the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials as my goal and needed to run a time of 2.22.00. It was not my day but this was one of my failures that taught me what I was doing wrong.

I was not doing long runs fast and I wasn’t spending enough time training at 5.25 per mile pace or enough time below it. I was running a lot of mileage but not enough quality.

High mileage is exactly that, high volume. Anyone can do it, it doesn’t make it a wise choice. There are runners doing 130 miles a week and there are other runners achieving the same results as the high volume athlete running half the volume.

This sport is individual. What works for one runner will not work for the next. We all have different physiology’s so you always have to listen to your body and what it is telling you. More isn’t always better.

It doesn’t mean anything to do 120 mile weeks without training properly to race at the goal pace you are dreaming about.

To make it a reality takes an enormous amount of drive and you can’t let the trials keep you from getting the gains later down the road.

James Kwambai tied with Duncan Kibet, both Kenyans, in 2009 with a world record time of 2.04.27. The next year he went for a world record again but had a bad day (for him) finishing in 2.24.07 jogging the last few miles (he was on world record pace for 35K).

I would highly recommend Rotterdam. It is a perfect race for a new personal best. No hills, great weather and race support and they have a superb race expo. One of the very best I have ever seen.

Chicago Marathon

THE course you want to consider if you are seeking a specific time.

The only negative I can really say is that there are years where the temperatures are hot and humid.

I ran Chicago in 2007 in the race’s work temperatures in its history.

The race staff actually closed the race down about 4 hours in due to the rising temperatures.

I finished in 2.51.53 with a 1.11.13 first half so you can guess how my last 13.1 miles were.

The most painful experience of my running career as you can clearly see to the right.

It was one of my failures as I was in the best shape of my life leading into this race.

I had set a personal best of 1.07.06 for the half marathon the month before the race and was having great workouts.

It goes back to what I have said in past posts. We can’t control the weather. We can control how we handle setbacks and this was tough for me as it was the last chance I had to qualify for the 2008 USA Olympic Marathon Trials.

I would go on to earn the Olympic Trials “A” standard of 2.20.00 exactly 8 weeks later on a very cool race morning (42 degrees) at the CIM Marathon.

Chicago is a IAAF gold race and continually produces some of the fastest marathon times in the world.

Last year the top two men both broke 2.05.00, astounding times and it seems the competition just continues to improve.

It isn’t all about times.

I don’t care if you are a 5 hour marathoner or a total novice running a marathon for the first time, Chicago is probably one of the best choices of top marathons to run, you have something of value to offer that race.

You are just as important as any of the top athletes who get catered to and given all the accommodations that go along with it. You have worked just as hard.

The crowds are incredible. The volunteers are some of the best in the world and it simply is one of the best marathons you can run.

Personal bests can be achieved on hilly or flat courses.

It comes down to proper training, great weather conditions and the mindset to create a breakthrough in your marathon running.

I hope the marathons suggested here will get you that much closer to every fitness and race goal you have ever dreamed about achieving.

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