17 Fastest Marathons in the U.S. to Race in 2021

Some people choose marathons for the scenery, while others want a marathon with a course that's flat and fast. In particular, those who are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon (BQ) seek out fast marathon courses.

If you're one of those people who wants to set a marathon personal record (PR) or run a fast time for your first marathon, these U.S. marathons are known for being fast. Keep in mind however, that field size may be very limited in 2021 and 2022 for many of these events.

There were many race cancellations in 2020 due to COVID-19. Some race organizers gave their 2020 runners the option to defer to a future race, which means that the number of available spots in these races may be extremely small. Be sure to check the FAQ page or registration details before entering a race to see how your fee may be managed in the event of a future cancellation.

A1A Marathon

When: February 14, 2021

Where: Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Why run it: If you want a fast course but don't like downhill running, the flat and scenic A1A Marathon might be the one for you. You'll feel the ocean breezes and see the palm trees as you run along one of the most famous roads in America. The race features plenty of on-course entertainment, a beach-themed finisher medal, and a post-race beach party with food, beverages, beer, and live music.

Mesa Marathon

When: February 13, 2021

Where: Mesa, Arizona

Why run it: The Sprouts Mesa Marathon (sometimes called the Phoenix Marathon) is a fast net downhill, point-to-point course which drops nearly 1000 feet from start to finish. The last 10K of the race is almost completely downhill. The course and favorable running weather make this a favorite race among those seeking a PR or BQ.

Due to concerns over COVID-19, the 2020 event was cancelled. If the 2021 race is cancelled, race organizers have already outlined a contingency plan that includes three options for runners. They can choose to run a virtual race, defer to the 2022 race for free, or participate in a different future race (possibly in the fall of 2021).

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon

When: May 16, 2021

Where: Cleveland, Ohio

Why run it: The Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon course is relatively flat, and it's not boring. The marathon route goes past the Cleveland Browns Stadium, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and Lake Erie. The race is held in mid-May, so you won't have to worry about running in the sweltering heat.

Since the 2020 race was cancelled, registered participants for that event were given the option to defer to 2021. If the 2021 event is cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all participants will be automatically converted to the equivalent virtual event.

Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon

When: May 16, 2021

Where: Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

Why run it: Don't let the word "mountain" in the marathon's name steer you away. The Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon happens to be one of the fastest marathon courses in the country.

The course begins at roughly 1946 feet above sea level—the highest point on the 26.2-mile route. From there, it's smooth sailing down the mountain, where you'll finish at an elevation of 400 feet. The marathon is held every May when trees and flowers are starting to bloom, making this course scenic.

The 2020 event, originally scheduled for May 17th, was cancelled. Those who were registered were not automatically deferred to the 2021 event. Instead, they were encouraged to donate their fee to the American Red Cross in the Poconos or request a refund.

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon

When: May 30, 2021

Where: Ventura, California

Why run it: The Mountains 2 Beach Marathon is one of the fastest marathon courses in the United States. This point to point race winds through the Ventura River Valley as it makes its way to the beautiful beaches of Ventura.

Runners will love that 18 of the first 20 miles have a net downhill of over 700 feet, which is prime to make you faster, but not hurt the knees. After a 6-mile pancake flat tour of Ventura, runners and their families are treated to a finish line party only steps away from the surf and the shops and restaurants of historic downtown Ventura.

After the 2020 race was cancelled, the 2021 race was tentatively scheduled for May 30th of the following year. Those who were registered in 2020 were given the option to defer to the 2021 event. They could also choose to donate their registration fee, or request a refund.

Newport Marathon

When: June 5, 2021

Where: Newport, Oregon

Why run it: The Newport Marathon starts about 60 feet above sea level and has few gently rolling hills through a residential neighborhood. The steepest hill you'll encounter is 40 feet at mile four.

The flat marathon route hugs the Yaquina Bay for much of the race, providing you with stunning views of the water. Make sure you register early—the Newport Marathon limits the number of entries in an effort to keep the race more intimate and fun. All registered participants for the cancelled 2020 marathon were automatically transferred to the June 5, 2021 event.

Grandma's Marathon

When: June 19, 2021

Where: Duluth, Minnesota

Why run itGrandma's Marathon is ideal for first-time participants as the terrain is relatively flat with some gently rolling hills and a larger incline just before mile 22. The race is in June, but because it's in Minnesota, the weather is usually cool.

When the June 20, 2020 race was cancelled, participants were automatically registered for the virtual race. Runners were able to run a course of their choice any time between May 4 to July 31 and submit their results online to earn a finisher shirt and medal. Registered runners were also provided with a discount code to use toward the 2021 or 2022 marathon (scheduled for June 18, 2022).

Via Marathon

When: September 13, 2020

Where Allentown, Pennsylvania

Why run it:  With a net descent course designed by Runner's World's Bart Yasso, the Via Marathon is one of the fastest marathons in the U.S. In 2014, it had the third fastest (after Boston and Bay State) median marathon time (3:54:42) in the U.S., according to Running USA. The race is scenic, shady, well-marked, and not crowded, making it a great course to PR on.

Since the 2020 race was cancelled, runners had the option to run a virtual course and submit their results any time between July 1 and Sept. 13, 2020. Runners can also convert their registration fee to a tax-deductible donation or defer their entry to 2021. No date for the 2021 event has been provided.

St. George Marathon

When: October 2, 2021

Where: St. George, Utah

Why run it: A popular choice for those seeking a fast fall marathon, the St. George Marathon is a net downhill, point-to-point course that starts about a mile up in the Pine Valley Mountains and descends 2600 feet to the finish. Although the course drops nearly a half mile in elevation from start to finish, it does have a few uphills along the course.

Registered participants in 2020 were encouraged to sign up for a future event. Discount details and procedures were provided to each runner. In addition to the 2021 marathon, future races are scheduled for October 1, 2022 and October 7, 2023.

Wineglass Marathon

When: October 4, 2020

Where: Corning, New York

Why run it: Held in beautiful upstate New York, the Wineglass Marathon yields one of the highest percentages of runners qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The course is flat, except for a few small hills and provides you with gorgeous views of the fall foliage. The race starts at about 1050 feet above sea level, finishing 26.2 miles later at an elevation of roughly 940 feet.

The 2020 marathon was transferred to a virtual event. Participants can run or walk their race any time in October. Those registered for the 2020 event can also donate their registration fee or request a refund. Participants also receive a discount to the 2021 event, but a date has not been identified. Registration for the 2021 race will open on December 1, 2020.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

When: October 9, 2021

Where: Chicago, Illinois

Why run it: The Chicago Marathon is a flat, fast marathon, so it's a great one to do if you've never run a marathon or you're trying to run your fastest time ever. The course offers a scenic tour of Chicago as it weaves through numerous diverse neighborhoods and local and historic landmarks. You'll see all that is great about the city of Chicago while being supported by tons of screaming fans.

After cancellation of the 2020 event, race organizers announced that registered participants would have the option to receive a refund for their 2020 race entry or to defer their place and entry fee to a future edition of the Chicago Marathon (2021, 2022 or 2023). Historically the Chicago Marathon has been held the second Sunday of October. 

Steamtown Marathon

When: October 10, 2021

Where: Scranton, Pennsylvania

Why run it: Featuring a 955-foot net elevation drop, Runner's World has called the Steamtown Marathon "One of the nation's 10 fastest marathons." This marathon is said to be one of the best places to qualify for Boston. In fact, in 2006, 28% of all runners qualified.

The race is held every October when temperatures are relatively cool and the fall foliage is beginning to peak. After cancellation of the 2020 race, refunds for registration fees were issued. Runners were encouraged to sign up for the next event in 2021.

Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon

When: October 10, 2021

Where: Albany, New York

Why run itRunning Times magazine calls the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon one of the fastest marathon routes in the country. The course generally follows the Mohawk River, including 13 miles of paved bike trails, then proceeds to the Hudson River, utilizing 5 miles of bike trails. There is a net elevation loss of 370 feet—there's just one uphill between miles 12 and 13.

The race is limited to 800 participants, which helps runners avoid getting slowed down by crowds. The 2020 race was cancelled but runners were given the option to move their registration to the 2021 event or receive a refund.

Baystate Marathon

When: October 18, 2020

Where: Lowell, Massachusetts​

Why run it: Organizers of the Baystate Marathon like to say that "the bridge to Boston runs through Lowell." About one-third of the race participants run a Boston Marathon qualifying time. In 2014, the Baystate Marathon had the second fastest (after Boston) median marathon time (3:53:05) in the U.S., according to Running USA.

Much of the course runs along the beautiful Merrimack River. The marathon is held in mid-October of each year when running temperatures are ideal. It's limited to 2,000 runners and sells out quickly, so be sure to sign up early.

The 2020 Bay State Marathon was turned into a virtual event. Runners were given the option to either run the full distance virtually, switch to a different distance and run it virtually or transfer their registration to another person. Dates for 2021 have not been provided.

Big Bear Marathon

When: Nov. 14, 2020

Where: Big Bear, CA, California

Why run it: The Big Bear Marathon (formerly Canyon City) drops from 6,629 ft at the start to 1546 ft at the finish line, so you'll need to practice your downhill running. Along the way, you'll be treated to beautiful scenery as you travel through the forests and canyons of the Big Bear and the San Bernardino National Forest to the foothills of Redlands.

The 2020 event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The group that organizes the event (REVEL) has a generous deferment policy and in an April 2020 update encouraged runners to use their registration fee to sign up for a future REVEL event.

Philadelphia Marathon

When: November 21, 2021

Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania​

Why run it: If you're looking for a fast big city marathon experience, but don't want to deal with the crowds, the Philadelphia Marathon may be a good option for you. The mostly flat course and almost guaranteed late November cool temperatures make a good combination for fast race times.

Upon cancellation of the 2020 event, organizers chose not to provide a virtual race option. Instead, runners were provided with information to defer to a 2021, 2022, or 2023 race, to donate their registration fee to American Association for Cancer Research, or to request a refund.

California International Marathon

When: December 6, 2020

Where: Sacramento, California

Why run it: The California International Marathon is hailed as "The Fastest Course in the West." The course starts at 366 feet above sea level and finishes at the State Capitol at an elevation of 26 feet.

This marathon is held in early December of each year, when average daytime temperatures are in the mid-50s, allowing for comfortable running conditions. The race is only open to 7,000 runners, so make sure to register before it fills up.

On July 15, 2020, race organizers published a statement saying that they still planned to host the marathon. However, they also acknowledged that circumstances may change and the decision may need to be reversed.

They implemented a Worry-Free Registration Policy. It states that if the race is cancelled due to COVID, all registrants will receive a one-time voucher that will allow them to register for free for any one future race through 2023.

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