The Marathon Bucket List

When you set out on a journey to run a (half) marathon in all fifty states, you inevitably end up knowing about far too many races.  Be it through chatter in a running group, seeing t-shirts from other events or after a frenetic series of Google searches, you realize that there are just too many out there.  This is not altogether a bad thing, but the panoply of races can be overwhelming, leaving you feeling a bit spoiled for choice.  With so many options out there, it’s impossible to run them all.  So I’ve decided to compile a short list of ten races that I want to run before I lose interest in the sport.  Since none of these get me any closer to my ultimate goal, I will be running them purely for the experience they provide (also known as “fun”).  Were I to suddenly become wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, I would sign up for all of these in one calendar year.  In the absence of a giant, golden vault full of bullion minted with my name, I’ll have to settle for the distant gaze of “someday” …

United States

1. Miami Marathon Completed (2/3/2014)

imagesI’ve run the more popular half marathon distance in sunny Miami three times and each time it’s been an extremely fun run, despite some years pairing the 13,000 runners with crushing humidity.  In recent years, as I’ve gotten better at running in adversarial conditions, I’ve begun flirting with the idea of returning to Miami for the full marathon.  It wouldn’t be easy, but I want to run it to prove that I can.  When I dragged myself across the finish line in 2010 I was wondering out loud, in between stifled gasps, how anyone could run twice this distance under such conditions.  One day I will see how it’s not only possible, but hopefully fun.  If I’m lucky, I wouldn’t have to deal with terrible heat, allowing me to enjoy the glitzy beachfront properties, the seemingly endless rows of palm trees and the opulent turquoise condos that jut from the shoreline as if made of coral.

2. Colorado Marathon

colorad-marathonI have had a love affair with the Centennial State that has lasted decades.  It seems that every time I go, I have an amazing time without fail.  When I started running, the idea of going out west to tackle the miles at altitude seemed too daunting to consider.  But after churning out the Horsetooth Half Marathon, a challenging race in Fort Collins, I knew I would someday return for the full beast.  Although the largest marathon in Colorado is the Rock ‘n Roll Denver race, I have always been drawn to the state’s eponymous marathon, run along the Poudre river in Fort Collins.  When I think of Colorado, I think of the outdoors, rising slabs of earth, dirt and trees.  Though I’m sure there are far more rugged marathons in the state, this one has been calling my name for a while.  The fact that the entire race is downhill certainly helps.

3. Boston Marathon

baa-logoNo serious marathoner’s medal display or trophy mantle is complete without the blue and yellow unicorn.  The Boston Athletic Association’s flagship race is a rite of passage for anyone who has put in more than their share of pain and sweat into training, running their fastest possible, grinding their teeth and sapping their lungs.  And that’s just to qualify.  Just being in Hopkington waiting for the race to start, surrounded by twenty thousand other runners who pushed themselves to similar limits, would be reward enough.  But then you’d actually run the race, with Boylston Street 26.2 miles away, and the coveted title of “Boston Finisher” pulling you all the way.  I am several marathon seasons away from even considering a BQ, but with enough diligence and the perfect day, it can happen.

4. Big Sur International Marathon

imagesThe previous three races all involved cities that I have frequently visited.  I was drawn to them because they took place in cities that I hold dear for one reason or another.  Big Sur is the opposite.  I have never been to Monterey County or the Bay Area but have been drawn to it for quite some time now.  In addition, I read somewhere that this is “the race you have to run before you die” which is the literal definition of a bucket list race.  Every story about this race has been inspiring and the breathtaking descriptions of scenery make the decision to someday run it easy.  Even stories where the entire day was covered in fog haven’t lessened my interest in making the trip.  In fact, I’ve been meaning to fly out to California to run a marathon for years now but the surfeit of races is intimidating.  But even as I discover new, exciting courses to conquer, Big Sur has remained at the very top of that list.


5. Paris Marathon

logo_newParis, the city of love, high culture and delicious food.  In my head, I find it impossible to separate thoughts of Paris and that playful yet seductive accordion music that you hear in movies like Amèlie or in the closing credits of Ratatouille.  And that’s while not on the course.  What better way to get to know one of the most iconic and renowned cities in the world than by running on the historic Champs-Élysées, around le Place de la Concorde, past Notre-Dame and finishing just shy of L’Arc de Triomphe?  I can’t think of any other race (or city) that would inspire more nostalgia in me than Paris.  After all, it’s the closest major city to Fontainebleau, where I was born.  So now you know that.

6. London Marathon

vlm-logo-baseLondon comes in a close second to Paris’ nostalgia and sheer weight of history.  As a World Marathon Major, it is known for superb organization, a star-studded international field, and a fast course.  On paper alone, it is enough to get me to sign up (or add my name to the lottery and cross my fingers, as I’ve done the last two years).  But it’s more than that.  I lived in London for a little over two months as a child, which was more than enough time to develop an intense liking for castles and all things medieval.  The chance to run past the Tower of London, Westminster Palace, the Tower Bridge and various other structures of the highest regality is enough to make me and my inner child salivate.  That said, if there were a relay race in the United Kingdom whose legs connected castles to each other, then I would sign up in a heartbeat.

7. Berlin Marathon Completed (9/27/2015)

logo-2013-header-enThe chance to run the world’s fastest marathon is another no-brainer.  Sure, there are downhill marathons like Wineglass, Colorado and Tucson, but those events don’t have a torrential river of humanity 40,000 strong pushing you along the way.  This is the city where the great Emperor himself Haile Gebrselassie became the first person ever to run a marathon under 2 hours and 4 minutes, a feat broken in 2011 by Kenyan Patrick Makau.  Though Berlin is also a city with a very complex and fascinating history, it doesn’t have the same resonant, personal associations as the previous two European cities have had (despite living in Bonn for 3 months before college).  Running the Berlin Marathon would certainly help my ties to the city grow stronger, especially if it allows me to earn a new PR on its perfectly flat course.

8. Midnight Sun Marathon

LogoMSM_122x64All of the previous races have been in large cities with sprawling, international airports.  This one breaks that mold.  The Midnight Sun Marathon takes place in Tromsø, Norway, an island in the northernmost part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and it starts at 8:30 PM in summer, when the sun shines all night long.  I would race this exclusively for the celestial novelty, but it doesn’t hurt that the course rarely leaves the coast and is hosted by a city surrounded by the Nordic wild.  It would be an adventure just getting there and not knowing the language will add to the experience … but I have no doubt that it would be worth the effort.  Marathons push you far beyond your comfort zone, so why not make the trip do the same?

9. Niagara Falls International Marathon

imagesThough technically an international race, it would require a domestic flight shorter than two hours from Chicago.  I have wanted to run this for two years now, but it seems like every weekend in October has ten different marathons, all of which I want to run including Chicago.  Since Canada isn’t part of my 50-states goal, the Niagara Falls Marathon keeps getting pushed to next year as I decide to knock out another domestic race.  But one day I’ll make the trek to Buffalo, New York, cross into Canada and finish to the sound of thundering cascades of foaming water.  It’s also the only marathon, perhaps even race, in the world that starts in one country and ends in another, requiring a valid passport at packet pick-up and check-in.

10. Two Oceans Ultramarathon

logoDespite my love of travel and discovering new places, I readily admit that I have very little desire to visit the African continent.  I used to find Egypt intriguing but the recent political situation there keeps me from taking any steps in that direction.  However, I have several friends who have lived in Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania, and they all have, in one way or another, tried to convince me that I should run an African race.  They certainly know me well because that is the most surefire way to lure me.  Though a race in Kenya or Ethiopia would be fitting given the sport, I’ve settled on the Two Oceans Ultramarathon in Capetown, South Africa.  There’s a half marathon option but if I’m going to make that excruciatingly long series of flights, I’d do myself a disservice by running anything less than the full distance of 56 kilometers (34.8 miles).  Adding to the intrigue is its non-exclusive billing as “the world’s most beautiful marathon.”

So there it is, my official bucket list.  Though I’m always finding new races and occasionally removing some, I am confident that these ten will remain stalwart ambitions on my radar.  It will be many, many years before I will have completed these, which is fine by me.  Despite gung-ho carpe diem attitudes towards life, not everything should be done all at once.  There’s something to be said about having long-term plans and knowing that you can tackle them at your own pace.  Besides, I have yet to become perilously wealthy, so all of these adventures will take careful planning and too many hours of daydreaming.

But surely I must have missed something.  Please let me know.  Have I forgotten any iconic races?  Do you have a race bucket list?  Are these races all “so annoyingly popular” that they betray my knowledge of the running world?  More importantly, should I replace Paris with Medoc?  Big Sur with Avenue of the Giants?

About Dan
Running a marathon in all 50 states because there's no better way to explore the world around you than on your own two feet, for as long as you can, until you hate yourself and everything around you. Then you stop, get a medal, and start over.

25 Responses to The Marathon Bucket List

  1. Amy says:

    I love the word panoply, and I’m so excited to see it in a blog post! Since I’m fairly new to the racing world (especially where marathons are concerned), my bucket list is considerably different and includes far more annoying popular races like New York and Disney World just because I haven’t done them yet. For me personally, Medoc ranks higher than Paris just because wine ranks higher than no wine. And I would like to do the Great Wall of China marathon.

    • Dan says:

      New York and Disney would have both made the list had I written it in 2011. Since then I’ve knocked them out and loved both of them (especially Disney — I can’t say enough good things about that race). The Great Wall is intriguing but I’ve read that it’s mostly a walking marathon because of its often vertiginous course …

  2. Koji Kawano says:

    Nice list, Dan! Some races on your list overlap with mine. I had always wanted to run all the majors. I still want to run London and Berlin some day, but my interests have changed a little bit since the NYC debacle last year. As you say, there are so many races out there, and I’d rather run a race that is organized well and with good intention. It’s usually after I sign up for a race when I find out the race is not organized well… I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy reading race reports and learn about a race I might want to run in the future.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks for reading, Koji. Running the Majors is a secondary goal of mine – I just wish they weren’t so damn hard to get into! I heard Tokyo is also a lottery, so when they added that race, that goal got doubly more difficult. Alas …

  3. Great list. I would love to run both the Boston and Paris marathons!

  4. Pretty sharp list there. You’ve got some BQs in ya for sure. Just gotta dedicate some months to just running fast and long. London and Berlin are also on my list. Some day!! *Extra points to you also for using the word “panoply”.

    • Dan says:

      Long/fast runs intimidate me. I tend to be reckless and intrepid when it comes to racing fast, but for training runs I can’t quite muster enough audacity to just go hard for a long time. I’ll have to change that if I’m going to be serious about Boston someday. In the meantime, I’ll learn what I can from you. Have fun on Monday!

  5. Mike says:

    Other than NYC, Boston and the marathon I ran last week (coming soon to a blog near you…) I’m not much of a bucket-lister, but you’ve compiled an intriguing list here. I heard great things about both Two Oceans and Comrades from some South Africans I met last week, they piqued my interest in running both races at some point. I’m also targeting Berlin in 2014. And Tokyo was recently named the 6th major marathon, though as Asia goes the Great Wall holds far more appeal for me.

    Living in CA, I have to get my act together and register for Big Sur one day soon, it’s absurd that I haven’t done that yet… I certainly wouldn’t replace it with Avenue of the Giants, since big ocean trumps big trees in my book every day.

    As for Colorado specifically… how about the Leadville Marathon? I realize you’ve done a bit of running in the highest incorporated town in the nation, but I know several ultramarathoners who call Leadville the toughest marathon they’ve ever run, especially for us sea-level types. I had it in my sights last year before tendonitis derailed my plans. I’d also recommend the Pikes Peak Marathon; neither your quads nor calves will soon forget that experience.

    I know that as soon as I hit “Post Comment” I’ll think of another race, but in the meantime… nice list, this is some great food for thought.

    • Dan says:

      Big Sur it is then. Sold (although I wasn’t exactly on any sort of fence). As for your other suggestions, I don’t think I’ll ever be Leadville-ready unless I were to live for a few weeks at altitude. If Crazy Horse took it out of me at only 5,000 feet, I would shudder to think how poorly my lungs would fare at twice that altitude. And Pikes Peak is more of a long, strenuous hike, innit?

      • Mike says:

        True dat, but as you know (and will continue to learn as you devote more time to the trails), there’s often a very fine line between a kick-ass trail race and a long, strenuous hike…

  6. Otter says:

    The fuck is a panoply?

  7. Otter says:

    But on the real, here’s my working list in no particular order — Big Sur (I’ll be signing up this July for the 2014 race), NYC, Avenue of the Giants (OMG SEQUOIAZ), Niagara Falls, Berlin, Boston (gotta have dreams…), Sogonapmit/Timpanogos, and Pikes Peak (you heard me right). Right now, I only see Big Sur happening with any real immediacy, but 2014 is a pretty wide-open year…

  8. MedalSlut says:

    Yes to the Midnight Sun Marathon! Particularly because the 12 year old boy inside me laughed when I read that the sponsor was ‘DONG’.

  9. MedalSlut says:

    Oh my god, and how could you NOT run a marathon where you are guaranteed to finish, AT WORST, 24th!?

  10. Great list, many on there I’d like to run my self. I’ve done Boston several times and I’m dieing that I’m not runnng it this year. I read a blog post yesterday about the Paris Marathon and the Parisians lived up to their bad reputation.
    Lot’s to think about on your list!

  11. I love your list! 🙂 i think we share same bucket list.

    Currently in Boston right now. Nope not racing but just to get a glimpse of the event. 🙂 i wish someday i could say that though, ” yes, i signed up for Boston Marathon. ” 🙂

  12. trexrunner says:

    I’m liking the list! As a fan of the smaller marathons, I kind of laughed when you asked if these races are all “so annoyingly popular” as to betray your knowledge of the running world. I don’t necessarily think it’s that. These marathons are popular for a reason, and if you like big races, then you’ve made some great selections. We’ve got some overlap, as I’d love to do Boston (but only if I qualify), Big Sur, London, etc. I want to do one on every continent when I’m done with the states, but for the most part, my bucket list races are smaller U.S. races – things like Grandma’s (I guess that’s not that small), Eugene, Maui Oceanfront, Mount Desert Island, Leading Ladies, stuff like that.

  13. Jay Zeschin says:

    I’d throw the Everest Marathon ( onto that list. If you ever decide to pull the trigger on Midnight Sun, let me know. I’d break my trail-snob streak for that one for sure.

  14. Heather says:

    I ran Marathon du Medoc this year. I will never forget that race – it was amazing! You must add it to your list.

  15. ashhewitson says:

    The Two Oceans Ultra is definitely one of if not, the most, beautiful races you can do in South Africa. It’s on my list for 2016. If you make the great trek down here to Cape Town you won’t be disappointed! Great list and good luck with all of them. See you at the Two Oceans start line 🙂

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