12 Flattest & Fastest Fall Marathons in the U.S.

Many marathon runners want fast times even more than an amazing race day experience. I did the research to find the 12 best fall marathons that have both–flat, fast courses and a great race experience. My three top fall marathons are the Wineglass Marathon, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, and the Marine Corps Marathon. Read on for the complete list with all the race details.  

Whitney running the Carmel marathon
These below marathons are the fastest marathons in the US to run this fall!

I am currently on a mission to find the flattest and fastest fall marathons in the U.S. Why? Well, I am on a mission to run a 2:40-something marathon and I need all the help I can get to do that! And, currently, I am taking time off from marathon training to get a handle on a quad and hip injury. Therefore, I am lining up contingent fall marathons (plans A-D) that align with my healing process.

While running is so much more than fast times, for many of us, the fast marathon times excite us. And it excites me for now. I want to reach my potential while I can (I am about to turn 42) and I want/need the best marathon course to do so.

Related: 13 Race Day Tips to Nail Your Marathon PR

So, I asked around and round up a dozen of the best marathon (and half marathon) courses to run this fall in the U.S.a

All of the fall marathons below check the boxes of:

  • Flat
  • Fast
  • Boston Marathon qualifying course
  • Well-organized
  • Fun
  • Good weather

You’ll notice the TCS New York City Marathon and Chicago Marathon aren’t on there. Well, while these major marathons bring much of their own appeal, they aren’t the best fall marathons for running personal records. Plus, you must get into them.

Fastest fall marathons IG list
Here are the 12 fastest fall marathons to run in the US.

The flat marathons on my list are smaller, and much easier to register for. Oh, and they are flatter and less crowded, too (no offense to Chicago or New York!). Some of these marathons I have run and others I know people who have run (big thanks to my runner friends Jen Weston and Mary Alex Gary for their insights).

Related: Best Marathons & Best Half Marathons in the Spring List

I also looked at race reviews to create this “best fall marathons” list. Below are my top picks of fast marathons for the glorious autumn season.
  • Wineglass Marathon & Half Marathon
  • Mo Cowbell Marathon & Half Marathon
  • Steamtown Marathon
  • Columbus Marathon & Half Marathon
  • Baystate Marathon & Half Marathon
  • Marine Corps Marathon
  • Indy Monumental Marathon & Half Marathon
  • White River Marathon
  • Philadelphia Marathon & Half Marathon
  • California International Marathon
  • Kiawah Island Marathon & Half Marathon
  • Rocket City Marathon & Half Marathon

So, let’s go!

Related: Do Carbon Fiber Shoes Make You Faster?

fastest fall marathons pin
Pin these fast fall marathons list for later!

12 Flattest & Fastest Fall Marathons in the U.S.

1. Wineglass Marathon – Oct. 1 – Corning, New York

The Wineglass Marathon and half marathon have been voted the best marathon in New York twice by Race Raves and there’s no wonder! This downhill point to point course is fast and beautiful. I know several people who have walked away (okay, limped away) with shiny new marathon PRs from this downhill course (including Jen Weston who ran a blazing 2:52!).

Wineglass is a flat marathon that goes from Bath to Corning, New York, running you on mostly flat streets through bucolic small towns and the country, dotted with changing leaves and gorgeous trees. This race has a small-town marathon feel with only a few thousand runners participating in the marathon, half-marathon, and 5k. Indeed, it often sells out.

If you want to take the family to your marathon or plan a trip with friends (aka racecation) the Wineglass marathon is a great one to do so. Between wine tasting, local breweries, shopping, and museums, there is plenty to do race weekend, and no one this is a popular race! It is definitely on my radar!

Course: Downhill point to point race with an elevation loss of 200 feet

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes

Weather: High 60/Low 39, rains 9 days in October

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Pretty course with fall foliage
  • Personal feeling
  • Ideal running temps
  • Great special guests like Meb, Deena Kastor and Bart Yasso

Cons:

  • Can be hard to get to! Most people fly into Rochester or Syracuse and drive, 90 or 60 minutes respectively
  • Point-to-point course means you must take race transportation to the start line or from the finish line.
  • Spectators can be sparse at times. 

Related: How to Predict Your Marathon Race Pace

2. Mo Cowbell Marathon – Oct. 2 – St. Charles, MO

The Mo Cowbell Marathon and half marathon is a scenic, mostly flat course that starts and ends along the Missouri River in historic St. Charles, Missouri, near where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark began their discovery of the West. About half of the marathon course is paved roads winding through historic districts and the other half is an out and back on dirt trails. Runners rave about the finish line festivities and treats.

Course: multiple loops and out-and-back with an elevation gain of about 120 feet

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes

Weather: High 69/Low 44, rains about 6 days in October

Pros:
  • Friendly race with good communication and organization
  • Hotels are walking distance to the start
  • Fun party and awards at the finish

Cons:

  • Some desolate parts, including some parts near highways
  • Somewhat hilly near mile 20, near the wall
  • Expo is 20 minutes away from the course and hotel

Related: How to Recover Faster from the Marathon

3. Steamtown Marathon – Oct. 8 – Scranton, PA

The Steamtown Marathon is a net downhill marathon that runs point-to-point through 14 communities and 4.2 miles of paved rails to trails along the Lackawanna River. It has been rated among the nation’s top ten marathons by Runner’s World. The Steamtown marathon has also been rated one of the nation’s fastest marathon courses with about a quarter of runners running Boston qualifying times.

The first half of the marathon features the downhill portion which can help you stay on pace but also shred your quads if you don’t train for it. Despite being a small-town race with a cap of 3,000 runners, the crowd support is strong except for serene stretches along the river. This race does sell out so if you plan to do it, register soon!

Course: point to point with a net loss 955 feet

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: no

Weather: High 61/Low 42, rains about 7 days in October

Pros:
  • Smooth logistics and great organization
  • Peaceful parts of course mixed with crowds
  • Amazing afterparty with great food and enthusiasm
  • Benefits the local children’s hospital

Cons:

  • Downhill race can toast the legs, need to race smart

Related: How to Strength Train for the Marathon

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Pin these fastest marathons to run this fall for later!

4. Columbus Marathon – Oct. 15 – Columbus, OH

The Columbus Marathon gives runners a tour of Columbus winding past local landmarks such as the Ohio Statehouse, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and historic German Village, and The Ohio State University. The race benefits Nationwide Children’s Hospital with a patient at 24 of the 26 miles. The other two miles feature one dedicated as an Angel Mile for the special children who have been taken too soon, and one mile is an “alumni mile” for Marathon Mile Champions from past years.

The patients and their families cheer on runners and serve as a powerful reminder as to how your run is helping sick and injured children. Runners also can raise money as a Children’s Champion for these kids. The marathon course is pancake flat with a downhill finish. I am signed up to run it this year but may not be able to do with my hip injury—and it totally bums me out. If not this year, next!

Course: loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes plus other distances

Weather: High 66/Low 43, rains about 6 days in October

Pros:
  • Inspiring purpose with children’s hospital patients and their families along the way
  • Well organized with incredible crowd support and funny signs
  • Fireworks at the start line
  • Great expo and afterparty

Cons:

  • Some runners didn’t like the shirt or medal very much
  • Elevation gain of 571 feet is more than others on this list

5. Baystate Marathon – Oct. 15 – Lowell, MA

The goal of the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, MA is to help runners run Boston qualifying times. That’s why this race is no-frills, but flat and well-organized. In fact, about a quarter of runners qualify each year. The course is fast, and is mostly urban, taking you through city streets over many canals. There’s nothing special about the course and the crowd support is lackluster but despite that, the route sets you up for success to run a fast time.

Course: double loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes

Weather: High 63/Low 39, rains about 8 days in October

Pros:
  • Well organized
  • Mostly flat
  • Double loop allows spectators to see you multiple times

Cons:

  • Has been a bit windy on some race days
  • Not a very scenic route
  • Little crowd support
  • Roads not closed to cars

Related: Are Downhill Marathons Easier?

6. Indy Monumental — Oct. 28 – Indianapolis, IN

It doesn’t get much flatter than the Indy Monumental Marathon. I ran the Indy Marathon in 2019 with the hopes of running a sub 2:45 and qualifying for the Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, I ran with a torn hamstring and missed—but still ran a 5-minute PR!

Whitney with her husband holding racing bids
Indy was the last marathon I ran before taking a 3-year break from running. It is a FAST and FRIENDLY race.

The Indy Marathon is incredibly well-organized. There are plenty of nice hotels near the start and finish, which are close to one another.

The people in the city were incredibly friendly and supportive. The after-party is a great celebration. The course is urban running through the streets and neighborhoods of Indy with an elevation gain of 302 feet. There are quite a bit of turns and the crowd isn’t very prominent in a majority of the course outside downtown but you never feel alone. My biggest complaint about Indy is that it can be very COLD and last year runners said they ran in what felt like a wind tunnel.

Course: loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes

Weather: High 65/Low 43, rains about 6 days in October

Pros:
  • Well organized
  • Mostly flat
  • Very convenient start and finish
  • Great expo and after-party

Cons:

  • Can be very cold and WINDY
  • Desolate with not a lot of cheerleaders on some parts
  • Not a very scenic route

Related: Is it Safe to Run Back-to-back Marathons? 

7. Marine Corps Marathon — Oct. 29 – Washington, DC

The Marine Corps Marathon will forever hold a special place in my heart. I grew up watching my dad (former marine) train for the Marine Corps Marathon every year and then it became my first marathon, running it while as a college student in DC, in 2003.

The Marine Marathon takes you through downtown Washington, D.C. past all the national and historic landmarks, buildings, and neighborhoods such as Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown (my alma mater), the Capitol Building, White House, and the National Mall. You finish uphill at the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima statue). Part of the course is also run through the beautiful tree-covered Rock Creek Parkway.

The organization of the event is with military precision and crowd support is strong throughout the majority of the course. The last four miles or so (near the wall) are a bit desolate at the time you need it most. Weather can be dicey—it has been warm and rainy in the past. And the uphill finish hurts!

Course: loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: no but other distances

Weather: High 69/Low 46, rains about 6 days in October

Pros:
  • Well organized
  • Beautiful historic landmarks and course that keeps you engaged
  • Great expo and after-party
  •  “People’s marathon” feel with great race day atmosphere

Cons:

  • Has been warm and rainy
  • Start logistics in the city can be confusing—leave yourself extra time to get to start
  • Difficult for spectators to navigate
  • Some dismal parts
  • Congested
  • 700 feet elevation gain is more than most on this list

Related: How Much Time Should You Take Off After a Marathon?

8.Philadelphia Marathon – Nov. 18 – Philadelphia, PA

The Philadelphia Marathon is a staple for many New England runners as it offers a scenic fast course with great crowd support. The Philadelphia Marathon takes runners on a tour through Philadelphia past centuries of history and architecture like the Liberty Bell, diverse and lively neighborhoods, and views throughout Fairmount Park, along the Schuylkill River, and even past the zoo.

Runners love the energy and race day vibes but say the organization could be better with the inconsistent placing of fluids on the course, a crowded expo, and a confusing start line. If you run this race, leave yourself extra time to navigate the expo and start!

Course: loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes and other distances

Weather: High 56/Low 42, rains about 7 days in November

Pros:
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Great race day energy
  • Fast course ripe for PRs
  • Zero elevation gain with a couple of hills to work different muscle groups

Cons:

  • Logistics at the start and aid stations need improvement
  • Some sparse spots with few spectators
  • A few sharp turns. Get a full review here.

Related: How Far to Run Before a Marathon?

9. White River Marathon – Nov. 18 – Cotter, AR

The White River Marathon is a small-town friendly race in Arkansas capped at under a thousand runners. It’s a great marathon for those looking for a BQ and for those wanting to run a marathon in all 50 states. It’s a no-frills race that starts with a steep downhill so be sure to watch your pacing! Then it’s mostly pancake flat.

There is a family-feel pasta dinner the night before and the town is ready to welcome runners. The course takes you along the White River with pastoral scenic views. There are few spectators except mother nature along the course.

Course: double out and back

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes and 5k

Weather: High 63/Low 41, rains about 7 days in November

Pros:
  • Pretty yet quiet course
  • Small, family-feel race
  • Easy to navigate
  • Spectators can easily see their runner many times

Cons:

  • Little crowd support
  • Downhill start can mess up pacing
  • Not easy to get to –can fly into Little Rock or Memphis

Related: What to Expect After You Run a Marathon

10. California International Marathon – Dec. 3 – Sacramento, CA

I ran CIM in December of 2022. It was my first race back after my 2.5 year hiatus and I wanted a sure thing. I had heard nothing bad about this net downhill course, so I went for it. Even though I didn’t have the day I wanted, CIM didn’t disappoint. The course was mostly flat with gentle rollers to keep it interesting. The crowd support endured the 26.2 miles.

The energy from start to finish was phenomenal and it was the most well-organized race I had ever been to. It is a fast race so even though I was running a 2:50 marathon pace for the first 16 miles, I still had so many runners in front of me (and then passing me…waa waa).

Whitney approaching CIM finish line
Everything about CIM sets you up for success.

The downhill start makes it easy to go out too fast, so you have to be careful. The course takes you through neighborhoods and down farm-lined roads into historic downtown Sacramento. If you are wanting to nab a PR, CIM is your race.

Course: point-to-point

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: no

Weather: High 56/Low 41, rains about 7 days in December

Pros:
  • Amazing energy
  • So well-organized
  • Fast with a net downhill course
  • Spectators can easily see their runner many times

Cons:

  • You have to take a shuttle to the start
  • Must stay mentally engaged to not go out too fast
  • Downhill with a net elevation loss of about 1,000 feet can be tough on quads

Related: My Experience Running the CIM Marathon

11. Kiawah Island Marathon – Dec. 9 – Kiawah Island, SC

I ran the Kiawah Island half marathon about a dozen years ago. The race was incredibly well-organized and flat, flat, flat, with lots of crowd support. Though, I was sad I never got to see the ocean. Instead, you run through neighborhoods of the quaint island town and past the golf course.

The start and finish are at the beautiful Kiawah Island Resort. If you are looking to make your marathon or half marathon a race-vacation the Kiawah marathon is a great one to choose. You can stay at the luxury resort, go run your 26.2 miles or 13.1 miles, then walk back to your hotel room, dine, and get a massage at their top-notch spa later.

Course: Loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes and 5k

Weather: High 63/Low 46, rains about 7 days in December

Pros:

  • Scenic views of marshes and neighborhoods, and golf course—no ocean
  • Very well-organized
  • Big race in a small town feel
  • Great energy at the start and finish
  • Usually good weather (typically overcast and mild)

Cons:

  • Plan to have to wait for start line shuttles
  • No view of the ocean while running
  • Lots of turns on the course
  • Hard to find a place to stay on Kiawah. Can also stay in Charleston, SC and drive 45 minutes

Related: 8 Fastest Marathons to Run this Spring

12. Rocket City Marathon – Dec. 10 – Huntsville, AL

The Rocket City Marathon is your ticket to running rocket fast. Indeed, my husband ran his fastest marathon time and BQ there (and then passed out, but that’s another story) and my friend Mary Alex won it last year!

The flat and fast marathon course starts at the entertainment venue, Von Braun Arena, then takes you past the University of Alabama at Huntsville Campus, over to the US Space and Rocket Center, through the Botanical Gardens with pretty holiday lights, and back to the Von Braun Arena for a unique indoor finish line. Runners get to celebrate with delicious post-race food and complimentary post-race stretching. (At this juncture, I think Rocket City will be the marathon I run this year!).

Related: 26 Tips for Going 26.2

Course: Loop

Boston qualifier: yes

Half marathon: yes and others

Weather: High 54/Low 39, rains about 8 days in December

Pros:

  • Scenic views of Rocket City, running through quaint neighborhoods
  • Unique indoor finish
  • Mostly flat with one hill
  • Convenient hotels near start and finish
  • Very well-organized
  • Easy for spectators
  • Great crowd support

Cons:

  • One gravel spot made it tricky to run on
  • Weather can be cold and rainy
  • Not a ton of fans on back half (but still lots to see)
  • Gain of about 900 feet (up from 640 after a course update in 2022)

No matter what marathon you choose, all of these are winners–and may just help you nab that PR or Boston qualifying time. 

If you want guidance with your marathon or half marathon running goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

 

2 thoughts on “12 Flattest & Fastest Fall Marathons in the U.S.”

  1. How is Houston not on this list? Please consider for future write-ups regarding fast, flat, well-organized and well-supported marathons. It’s at sea level and is very flat, the largest gain being running over an overpass. And you can’t beat the George R Brown Convention Center for pre and post race resources! The Chevron Houston marathon is a gem!

    Reply

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