Tag Archives: Canyon City Marathon

The Hardest Marathons in the United States

Blue Ridge Parkway Marathon
The challenging Blue Ridge Parkway Marathon in Roanoke, Virginia is one of the most difficult marathon courses in the United States

For most marathoners the quest is to set Personal Records (PRs) or qualify for the Boston Marathon. Often these journeys include finding the fastest marathon courses with the most favorable running weather.  For some runners, however, the goal is to challenge themselves on the most difficult marathon courses. These runners seek out the hardest courses in terms of elevation change, warm, humid weather, or run at a consistently high altitude.

We’ve listed the four most challenging marathons in the United States and Canada based on the race’s Personal Record (PR) Score*, elevation change, median finish times, and the lowest percentage of finishers running Boston Marathon qualifying times.

All races on the list are certified by The USATF and are Boston Marathon qualifiers.

Race Personal Record Score Percentage of Boston Marathon qualifiers Median Finish Times High/Low Elevation Difference
Black Mountain Marathon 90.85 0% 5:40:08 (2015) 2,879’
Blue Ridge Parkway Marathon 92.61 1.7% 5:11:45 (2015) 1,230’
Red Rock Canyon Marathon 90.81 3.9% 4:37:28 (2015) 1,107’
Kauai Marathon 89.12 3.1% 5:02:37 (2015) 803’

* PR Score utilizes the course profile, elevation, and typical race day weather to create a score that can be compared to other marathons to determine at which race you could expect to run faster. The higher the score, the faster the race.  Read more on our FAQ page.

Best Boston Marathon Qualifiers

In a previous article we detailed marathons in the United States and Canada with the most runners finishing under the Boston Marathon qualifying standard for their age group.  Predictably, the three largest marathons (New York City, Chicago, and Boston) topped this list in 2014, priBostonMarathonMedalmarily on the sheer number of runners competing in the races.  However, when you compare the New York City and Chicago Marathons to the more than 500 certified Boston qualifying races, the percentage of finishers qualifying in those two races is quite average.  New York City, for example, had 7.2% of the 50,564 finishers qualify and Chicago had 9.9% of runners qualify. Both of these percentages are less than the average of 10.2% of qualifiers among all runners who completed certified marathons in 2014.

The following table lists the marathons with the highest percentage of Boston Marathon qualifying runners.  The list only includes marathons with at least 100 finishers achieving BQs.  Therefore, a few smaller races with a high percentage of qualifiers did not make the list such as the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon in Grand Rapids, MI (56.7%), LOCO Marathon (40.9%), and Two Rivers Marathon (36.0%).

A calendar of the marathons where runners can qualify for the Boston Marathon, as well as the percentage of qualifiers in these races can be found at FindMyMarathon.com.

Marathon Percentage of Boston Qualifiers Number of Qualifiers
Last Chance BQ Marathon (Geneva, IL) 62.5% 115
Boston Marathon 34.6% 11,046
Erie Marathon at Presque Isle 33.0% 316
Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon 29.1% 182
Sugarloaf Marathon 26.2% 132
Baystate Marathon 25.2% 385
Mountains 2 Beach Marathon 24.6% 399
Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope 23.6% 211
Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon 23.2% 208
Canyon City Marathon 22.4% 140
Via Marathon 22.2% 236
California International Marathon 22.0% 1,270

 

It’s All Downhill from Here: Ten Options for Downhill Marathons

Over the past few years, the running community has witnessed a significant increase in the number of downhill marathons – races with a net elevation loss over the length of the course.  Whether it is just a result of the increase in the overall number of marathons in the last decade or an increased interest in runners seeking Boston Marathon qualifying-friendly races, there are more choices than ever for this type of marathon.

 

We’ve compiled a list of ten of these downhill courses.  The list includes a mix of new and well-established races, large and small marathons, as well as races with gradual and significant elevation losses.  In addition to these races, a comprehensive list of downhill marathons, as well as elevation charts for each can be found at FindMyMarathon.com.

All courses on our list are certified by the USATF and can be used to qualify for the Boston and New York City Marathons.

slow-steep-hill-ahead-sign-k-0471 - adjusted2
Canyon City Marathon

Azusa, CA
November 7, 2015

High/Low Elevation: 5,816′ / 605′
Net Elevation Loss from Start to Finish: 5,211′
Finishers (2014): 624
Percent of Finishers Achieving Boston Qualifying Times (2014): 22.4%

The first on our list is the Canyon City Marathon.  The course starts in the Crystal Lake Recreational Area in the Angeles National Forest, winds its way through the canyon and finishes at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in Azusa, east of Los Angeles.

The course boasts a dramatic drop in elevation – nearly a vertical mile from start to finish.  This elevation loss equates to an average downhill slope of 3.8% – approximately the same as the incline for Boston’s famed Heartbreak Hill.

In addition, for those not yet willing to take on the challenge of 26 downhill miles, the race has a companion half marathon starting at the marathon halfway point.

 

Freakin’ Fast Marathon
Boise, ID
September 5, 2015

High/Low Elevation: 6750′ / 2592′
Net Elevation Loss from Start to Finish: 4155′
Finishers (2014): 65
Percent of Finishers Achieving Boston Qualifying Times (2014): 12.3%

The Freakin’ Fast Marathon the smallest marathon on our list with 65 finishers in its first year.  Formerly known as the Bogus Marathon, it is one of the steepest downhill marathons in the United States with a net elevation drop of over 4,000 feet.

The course starts at the Bogus Basin Recreation Area and winds down the mountain to the finish in Boise, Idaho.  The race features a ten mile stretch from miles five to fifteen where the course loses 2,700 feet, an average downhill grade of 5%.  With most of the elevation loss occurring in the first twenty miles, runners will experience a relatively flat last ten kilometers.

 

Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon
North Bend, WA
July 26, 2015

High/Low Elevation: 2,603 ‘ / 521’
Net Elevation Loss from Start to Finish:  2,028′
Finishers: 2015 Inaugural

The Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon’s name leaves little doubt about what runners will encounter while running this course.  The race starts just south of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, a 2.3 mile railroad tunnel formerly used by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (don’t forget your headlamp).  The course follows the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and finishes on the Snoqualmie Trail in North Bend, Washington.

Lots of downhill races start at very high altitudes to achieve significant changes in elevation.   Fortunately for those runners who are negatively affected by higher altitudes, this is not the case for the Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon.  The course starts at a modest (for downhill races, at least) 2,600 feet and drops 2,000 feet to the finish.

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View from inside the 2.3 mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel just past the start of the Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon.


Peak to Creek Marathon

Morganton, NC
October 24, 2015

High/Low Elevation: 3,786′ / 1104′
Net Elevation Loss from Start to Finish: 2,682′
Finishers (2014): 234
Percent of Finishers Achieving Boston Qualifying Times (2014): 26.9%

Tucked away in the Western North Carolina mountains, the Peak to Creek Marathon has earned a reputation as a fast downhill course despite having a large number of switchbacks and twenty miles of dirt and gravel road.  In addition to over a quarter of finishers running under Boston Marathon qualifying times in 2014, the median finishing time of 3:52 is more than ten minutes faster than any other race on our list.

The course loses most of its elevation in the nine mile stretch between miles six and fifteen.  The average downhill grade is nearly 5% as the course loses 2,200 feet in this section.  This leaves a mostly gentle decline for the last eleven miles.

 

Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon
Stroudsburg, PA
May 17, 2015

High/Low Elevation: 1,837′ / 442′
Net Elevation Loss from Start to Finish: 1,395′
Finishers (2014): 624
Percent of Finishers Achieving Boston Qualifying Times (2014): 29.1%

Of the races on our list, the Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon boasts the highest percentage of finishers achieving Boston Marathon Qualifying times.  Nearly one-third of finishers (29.1%) in the 2014 race finished with times under the Boston Marathon qualifying standard for their age group.  (Update: 19.1% of finishers achieved Boston qualifying times in the 2015 race despite high race day temperatures and high humidity levels.)

Like other Eastern U.S. downhill marathons, the Run for the Red start is at a modest 1,837 feet above sea level.  Runners will experience a few uphills as the course drops 1,395 feet from the start in Pocono Summit down to the finish in Stroudsburg.

Tomorrow we will feature five more downhill marathons.

Fastest Marathons in 2014

Below is our annual list of the fastest marathons in the United States and Canada for 2014.  Seven of the races also appeared on last year’s list along with three newcomers. New marathons to the list include two races in the Revel series – Canyon City Marathon and Big Cottonwood Marathon – in addition to the Tunnel Lite Marathon.

What makes a marathon fast or slow?  We’ve developed an algorithm (Personal Record Score) to measure the relative speed of a marathon course based on several factors based on peer reviewed research as well as our own analysis of hundreds of marathon courses. You can read more about how the algorithm is derived here.

Find out more about each marathon by clicking on the race link.

Race Personal Record Score Boston Qualifiers
Percentage
Median Finish Time
Canyon City Marathon
Azusa, CA
110.80 22.4% 4:10:27
Peak to Creek Marathon*
Morganton, NC
106.04 26.9% 3:51:55
Leavenworth Marathon*
Leavenworth, WA
102.80 14.4% 4:18:38
Tunnel Lite Marathon
North Bend, WA
102.53 26.8% 3:59:10
Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon*
Stroudsburg, PA
102.43 29.1% 3:53:35
St. George Marathon*
St. George, UT
101.81 16.8% 4:12:53
Winthrop Marathon*
Winthrop, WA
101.57 12.1% 4:30:25
Steamtown Marathon*
Scranton, PA
101.22 19.3% 4:02:16
Big Cottonwood Marathon
Cottonwood, UT
100.83 19.4% 4:08:55
Tucson Marathon*
Tucson, AZ
100.73 14.8% 4:16:50

* Included in Fastest Marathons in 2013