Commentary

World's best marathons: Honorable mention of notable 26.2-mile races

Originally Published: April 12, 2017
By Doug Williams and Aishwarya Kumar

San Francisco marathonEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesA chance to run across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the things that makes the San Francisco Marathon special.

We asked 14 marathon experts -- nine elite athletes and five ardent amateurs who've each run more than 100 marathons -- to pick the world's best 26.2-mile races. In addition to the top 10 (which you can find here), we compiled this list of honorable mentions that also received much love from our polling group:

The big ones

Walt Disney World Marathon: A favorite of family-oriented runners who can spend four days each January doing everything from a 5K to a 26.2-miler. It had 17,700 finishers this year.

Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon: Almost 20,000 runners this year went from Dodger Stadium to the pier at Santa Monica while cruising past the sights in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and downtown L.A. "I can't believe they hit all of the attractions and the sights ... into 26.2 miles, because sometimes it takes three hours to drive from one place to another," said Deena Kastor, an Olympic bronze medalist.

San Francisco Marathon: As good as it gets for views, with a jaunt over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Golden Gate Park, the Presidio of San Francisco and past AT&T Park, with some serious hills.

Old Mutual Soweto Marathon: The run through South Africa's largest township, one of Africa's largest marathons, began in 1992 and is referred to as "The People's Race," attracting 25,000 runners in 2016. South African Olympian Irvette van Zyl called it "the hardest course I've run," but she said the atmosphere and crowd support make it special.

The Unusual

Antarctica: There have been a variety of venues and courses, mostly targeted to runners eager to claim they're run marathons on all seven continents. It's cold, for sure, but runners often get to see thousands of penguins on their routes.

penguinJoel Estay/AFP/Getty ImagesThere aren't a lot spectators at marathons in Antarctica, but the ones that show up are pretty cool.

Big Five: Steve and Paula Boone of Humble, Texas, have done a combined 1,002 marathons. One they relished was the Big Five in the Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa, where runners see five notable African species as they run through unfenced areas (patrolled by security): elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.

Easter Island: The Rapa Nui Marathon is a steep, 13.1-mile out-and-back course over the small Pacific Island dotted with giant stone statues. "I was overwhelmed," said Ginny Turner of Hillsboro, Oregon, who's done 208 marathons. "The Moai statues are so big, and how in the world did they do that, I don't know."

Marathon du Medoc: Since 1984, runners (it's limited to 8,500) have gathered in France to run, eat and drink over 26.2 miles. Many runners wear costumes and stop along the route to consume fine wine and food. "[The] course traverses 59 vineyards where each one offers an aid station where you can drink as much wine as you want and where overzealous drinkers collapse in the vineyard fields," said Jerry Lopez of Whidbey Island, Washington, who has 201 marathons to his credit. Finishers receive a bottle of wine with their medal. Kastor, the U.S. women's record holder, says it's on her bucket list: "My husband said I could own a world record for the biggest discrepancy from slowest to fastest marathon."

Pikes Peak: Want a workout? The altitude and ascent to the top of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs will give it to you. "There's a little bit of what people call a flat spot, but it's not really flat, so yeah, it's perpetually uphill until you turn around at 13.1 miles," said Kevin Brosi of Dallas, who counts it among the most memorable of his 443 marathons.

Doug Williams

Special to ESPN.com

Aishwarya Kumar

ESPN.com

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