10 Fast and Flat Marathons to Run in 2023 | Fastest Marathons – Runner’s World

10 Fast and Flat Marathons to Run in 2023 | Fastest Marathons  Runner’s World

The marathon is a long, painful, grueling race in and of itself. We do not need to get hills involved. Running 26.2 miles in one go is a feat that many wouldn’t even dream of completing. It can take upwards of five hours, especially for beginners. The marathon also requires months of training, and can leave you hobbling around for days after. And while some repeat marathoners are looking for a challenge (and we love them for it), many without the glutton-for-punishment gene are just trying to complete the momentous task without making it any harder for themselves. For those people, selecting a flat course without too many uphill stretches is key.

On a flat course, you can focus on pacing, on your body, and on finishing without having to strategize about a monstrous incline at mile 16 or a series of “rolling hills” in the back half that will feel like traversing the Pyrenees.

One of marathon running’s great feats is qualifying for the Boston Marathon, a task that requires a blisteringly fast pace in a qualifying marathon. If getting a BQ is your aim, then opting for a hilly course might be unwise. A flat course will certainly require less effort.

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And so whether you’re a first time marathoner or a seasoned pro, there are plenty of reasons to opt for a flat and fast course, and since we’re here to help, we’ve compiled a list of options. These ten marathons (and their counterpart shorter distances) are flat, fast, and should get you to the finish line as quickly as possible.

Houston Marathon

houston marathon

Courtesy Houston Marathon

    Location: Houston
    Sunday, January 14, 2024
    Available Races:
    Marathon, Half Marathon

    Texas is a state known for being flat, and the Houston Marathon certainly doesn’t disappoint. The circular course, which begins and ends downtown with a big loop around H-Town in the middle, is a flat and fast course through the city’s diverse neighborhoods. The is 61 feet between the course’s highest and lowest points, with one small hill and dip. In fact, it’s so flat and fast that in , 17 percent of finishers qualified for Boston. Another perk of this rare January race is that it gives you the ideal training window of late fall into early winter where you can avoid both the blistering sun and freezing cold while you prep.

    Mesa Marathon

    mesa phoenix marathon on february 25, 2017 in mesa, arizona ©2017 michael der

    Courtesy Mesa Marathon

    Location: Mesa, Arizona
    Saturday, February 4, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K

    Running through the desert may not seem like the fastest way to a PR, but the Mesa Marathon is here to prove you wrong. Set in the dead of winter, the point-to-point, net downhill race starts outside of the Phoenix suburbs and heads straight for the city. The is 803 feet, but it’s almost entirely downhill. Bonus, the race begins well before sunrise at 6:30 a.m., allowing runners to get in a few miles before the day begins to heat up and providing some spectacular desert sunrise views. Even the slowest finisher can hope to be done by noon (and in some races they aren’t even starting until close to then.)

    Maui Marathon

    view from up high of beach, palms and blue hawaiian waters

    Barry Winiker//Getty Images

    Location: Maui, Hawaii
    Sunday, April 23, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Marathon Relay, Half Marathon, 10K, 5K

    I have to go to Hawaii in order to qualify for Boston? Oh darn. Twist my arm. I guess I better get on the plane. Easily one of the United States’s most beautiful marathons is this one on the lush volcanic island in the Pacific. While perhaps not the most convenient to get to, it does provide runners with a scenic, flat course with views of both the ocean and the mountains. The course has one slight uphill in the first half, but it’s all downhill from there. (The is 150 feet—there’s one hill in the middle of the course.) For eco-friendly runners, the Maui Marathon is also , providing runners with a reusable cup to cut back on waste. We love to see runners supporting our beautiful planet.

    Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon

    lake wobegon trail marathon runners cross a covered bridge

    Courtesy Dane Nelson / Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon

    Location: Holdingford, Minnesota
    Saturday, May 6, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon

    Most people looking for a PR don’t expect to find one when they sign up for a trail marathon. This picturesque race through rural Minnesota, however, defies expectations. The trail, which is paved and follows an old railroad line, is far from muddy forest paths trail runners often traverse, and Minnesota’s lake-filled countryside is not especially hilly. (The is 175 feet, but the back half is mostly downhill.) The course is quiet and beautiful without many interruptions. And those looking for a zen run through nature (there were under 200 finishers last year) will find this race highly satisfying.

    Fargo Marathon

    runners in the fargo marathon pass in front of a movie theater

    Courtesy Fargo Marathon

    Location: Fargo, North Dakota
    Saturday, May 20, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K

    While Fargo may be the most populous city in North Dakota, its marathon still feels like a small-town race, with all the charm and local pride that comes with it. The flat course with an of a mere 34 feet, zig-zags around the city with several out-and-backs in the mix—great for people watching! And the race passes through many residential areas. In addition to the 50-plus official on-course entertainment sites, expect to see plenty of locals out in their yards cheering, playing music, and passing out snacks. If you’re looking for a race that’s a bit off the beaten path, this is a great one to try.

    Hamptons Marathon

    he hamptons marathon is a boston qualifier with a usatf sanctioned and certified course in addition, both the marathon and the half marathon can serve as a great training run for those runners training for the tcg nyc, marine corps or chicago marathonslast year runners from 35 states and 8 countries ran the hamptons runners of the hamptons marathon will start together with those running the half and they will finish at the same finish line the courses provide a flat, fast run through southampton village with views of the atlantic ocean and shinnecock bay

    Courtesy Hamptons Marathon

    Location: Southampton, New York
    Saturday, September 23, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Half Marathon

    With many of New England’s races tending to be hilly, it can be hard to find a flat course for those living in the northeastern portion of the U.S. This marathon, through New York’s swanky resort destination, provides the region with an easy Boston Qualifier (if that is even such a thing). The race, which begins in Southampton and ventures through woodlands, upscale neighborhoods, and shoreline areas, doesn’t have much in the way of elevation changes (a mere ). Plus, when you finish you can cool off in the waves and munch on a lobster roll.

    Chicago Marathon

    bank of america chicago marathon © 2022 bank of america chicago marathonkevin morris

    Courtesy Bank of America Chicago Marathon/Kevin Morris.

    Location: Chicago
    Sunday, October 8, 2023
    Available Races:

    Of the Uniter State’s three world majors, Chicago is certainly the flattest with minimal elevation changes (just in its 26.2-mile survey of the Windy City.) Starting downtown, the race follows a clover-shaped path, returning to the downtown region after treks north, west, and south. With a long chunk running parallel to Lake Michigan and excursions into many of the city’s unique neighborhoods, the marathon provides plenty of sites to see without any of those sites being a giant hill. Plus in 2022 more runners from this marathon than any other. Some grated bridges fitted with carpeting for the race will be the most difficult obstacles you’ll face on the course.

    California International Marathon

    runners at the ca international marathon on sunday, december 8, 2019

    Ryan Young

    Location: Sacramento, California
    Sunday, December 3, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Marathon Relay

    A favorite for those trying to qualify for Boston because of its point-to-point, net downhill course (), the California International Marathon, or CIM as it’s often called, is a marathon runner’s dream. Starting near Folsom Lake, the course is a replica of Boston, with runners beginning in a rural area and venturing into progressively more urban spaces as it winds into the heart of California’s state capital. The course is so fast that last year of finishers qualified for Boston. While Sacramento may not be a hot spot vacation destination, the course is excellent. You’ll finish near the capitol building, and it’s easy to get to and from the race by car from San Francisco.

    Kiawah Island Marathon

    2021 marathon imagesunlimited usephotographer jessica turner

    Courtesy Kiawah Island Marathon

    Location: Kiawah Island, South Carolina
    : Saturday, December 9, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Half Marathon

    Located just south of Charleston, South Carolina is the beautiful Kiawah Island, which juts into the Atlantic Ocean. Kiawah is known primarily for its sandy beaches and elite golf resorts. The marathon, which weaves around the island in a series of gentle twists and turns, is extremely flat with an elevation change of a mere — due to its barrier island locale.

    You’ll criss cross through golf courses, run beneath a canopy of lush trees (where you may see signs warning you of alligators), and along the oceanfront without having many uphill climbs. Since the race is set in December, the weather is usually cool and breezy. Go ahead and stay the week— Kiawah is a resort lovers paradise.

    Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon

    runners in the mississippi gulf coast marathon pass in front of a house

    Courtesy Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon

    Location: Biloxi, Mississippi
    Sunday, December 10, 2023
    Available Races: Marathon, Half Marathon

    If you are looking for shorefront, shorefront, and nothing but shorefront, then I defy you to find a better race than this one along the Gulf of Mexico. Starting along the beach near the Bay of Saint Louis, runners follow the coast for all 26.2 miles, passing through Gulfport on a straight, point-to-point shot to Biloxi. While the race may lack the complexities of some other courses on this list, if you are looking to get in a zone, stay in a zone, and not think about turns for one second, then this is your course. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it will probably get you a new PR. (With only of elevation change from the highest to lowest point, your odds are decent.)

    Headshot of Matthew Huff

    Matthew Huff

    Matthew Huff is a freelance writer and runner, and he is the author of MARATHONER: What to Expect When Training for and Running a Marathon, published by Rizzoli Publications. His writing has appeared in Runner’s World and BuzzFeed among others, and he is the cohost of “P.S. You’re Wrong: A Pop Culture Podcast.” Originally from Michigan, he now lives and runs in New York City, where he is pursuing a career as an expert chicken tender taster.