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Marathon Madness: The 6 World Marathon Majors Over the Course of 6 Weeks

If you’ve been dreaming of all the major races you want to do once big in-person events become a thing again, then you might want to mark your calendar for late September through early November 2021. That’s when we’re going to be looking at the six high-profile races that make up the World Marathon Majors all taking place over the course of six weeks.

Here’s the lineup:

  • Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany – Sunday, September 26

  • Virgin Monday London Marathon in London, United Kingdom – Sunday, October 3

  • Chicago Marathon in Chicago, IL, USA – Sunday, October 10

  • Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, USA – Monday, October 11

  • Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan — Sunday, October 17

  • TCS New York City Marathon in New York, NY, USA – Sunday, November 7

While small to moderate-sized races will be able to move forward this spring, these races that draw tens of thousands of runners need to postpone until a later date if they’re going to happen at the same scale they traditionally do. That’s because each of the World Marathon Majors is the type of huge event that involves people traveling from all over the world, staying at hotels, and gathering in massive crowds at packet pickup, the starting line, and the afterparty. On top of that, there are the thousands of people who gather on the streets to cheer for the participants. Not to mention the tourism boom it brings to these large cities.

Let’s face it: Running a marathon is exciting because, yes, you undertake the challenge of running 26.2 miles, but it’s also exciting because of the chance to mingle with runners from all over the world and experience a new city you’ve never been to. In the face of trying to do all of this while observing pandemic restrictions…well, it makes sense why some of these big races are making the choice to postpone.

Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany – Sunday, September 26 Virgin Monday London Marathon in London, United Kingdom – Sunday, October 3 Chicago Marathon in Chicago, IL, USA – Sunday, October 10 Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, USA – Monday, October 11 Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan — Sunday, October 17 TCS New York City Marathon in New York, NY, USA – Sunday, November 7

So while we’re on the subject, let’s say you made a resolution to do each of the six major races this fall. What could you expect? Here’s what you could look forward to at each of these prestigious races.

First up on Sunday, September 26, is the Berlin Marathon, which has been an annual event since 1974, when it was established with a route primarily through the densely wooded area of the borough of Grunewald. Five years later, it moved to the city, and with the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the ‘80s, it was able to expand its route across the entire city. Nearly 1.5 million runners participate every year and enjoy a mostly flat, fast course with views of breathtaking historic architecture, such as the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical military monument from the 18th century.

After finishing up Berlin, head over to the United Kingdom to become one of nearly 37,000 participants in the London Marathon on Sunday, October 3. Like Berlin, this is another race that takes you through the historic sites of a European capital. Now in its 40th year, the London Marathon begins in Greenwich Park before tracing a mostly flat route past major landmarks: the Tower of London, the House of Parliament, Canary Wharf, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and others.

The next marathon on the list brings you stateside for the famous Chicago Marathon, set this year for Sunday, October 10. Chicago is a great choice for runners who want to focus on speed, as it’s a flat, expansive course with plenty to see around the city — so is it any surprise that nearly 45,000 runners from about 100 different countries come to participate?

Be sure to rest well after you finish up Chicago, as your next race will be the very next day. The Boston Marathon, which is typically held on Patriots Day, will retain its unusual Monday date and will take place this year on October 11. While Boston is the oldest (held since 1897) and the most prestigious of the races, it’s also the smallest in terms of participation — only 25,000 are able to run the race, so all runners must make a qualifying time.

Unlike the other courses, which have been mostly flat up until this point, Boston is known for being a much more intense race. The hardest part is what’s known as Heartbreak Hill, a nearly half-mile of uphill slope that rises by 88 vertical feet of elevation, all between miles 20 and 21, when most marathoners are “hitting the wall” (in other words, running out of energy).

Next on your schedule will be the Tokyo Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, October 17. Although this is the most recently established of the major races (since 2007), it’s by no means small. Millions of spectators line the racecourse to watch the competition, and it’s broadcast by the Fuji Television Network. The race starts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building before tracing its way through such bustling districts as Iidabashi, Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Koto, Ginza, and Shinagawa, then across the famous Hibiya Park before ending at Tokyo Station.

If you’ve still got energy after all those races, you’ll finish up the season with the New York City Marathon, scheduled this year for Sunday, November 7. The New York City Marathon traces through all five boroughs — Staten Island, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx — before concluding at Central Park. What makes this marathon especially significant is that it’s a major televised event, and millions of people tune in to watch the media coverage.

So, what marathon would you choose to run if money for registration and travel weren’t an object? No matter what, you can count on getting a unique experience with the chance to visit a major city, overcome a monumental challenge, and meet people from all over the world. And if this year feels as if it’s a little late for training and fundraising…well, there’s always next year, too! 

 

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Dylan Roche

Dylan Roche

Dylan Roche is an Annapolis-based writer and marathon runner. As a journalist focused on everything from fitness to arts and culture, he has written for a variety of publications, including Livestrong, What’s Up Annapolis, OurHealth Virginia, UpstART and Chesapeake Family Life. His first novel, “The Purple Bird,” came out in 2019. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @DylanIsWriting

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