Back in April, our very own George Sullivan took on the Virgin London Marathon to challenge himself and raise money for Alzheimer’s and Dementia charities.
But what if you aren’t lucky enough to secure a place at one of “the big five” races or fancy travelling a bit further afield?
There’s an ever-growing list of great marathons out there but with so much choice, it can be tricky to pick one.
At The Sole Supplier we’ve tried to make things simpler, scoring 81 IAAF-certified marathon courses around the world to find the best…and the ones to avoid.
The world’s best marathons
By crunching data on the courses (like average finish times, medical stations, toilets, entry fees and how good local hotels are) and environmental conditions (like air quality, temperature, rainfall and altitude), we’ve named the world’s 10 best marathons:
Germany’s Haspa Marathon Hamburg takes the top spot, scoring 7.57 out of 10 thanks to its low starting entry fee (€66) and favourable altitude (8 metres above sea level).
It also has lots of toilet stations (42 along the course) and an average temperature of 12.3°C, which according to experts, is only 1.8°C higher than the ideal running temperature of 10.5 °C.
In second place is the International Vienna City Marathon, scoring 7.45 out of 10. The course gets a perfect 10 for its number of toilet stations (43) and you have a low risk of getting soaked too (8.32/10).
Vienna is also the fifth-fastest marathon in the world with an impressive average finish time of 4:00:01, thanks to its favourable environmental conditions. It’s no wonder pro-athlete Eliud Kipchoge recently chose the city to run the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.
Cracovia Marathon in Poland (7.02/10), Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon in Lithuania (6.93/10) and Wizz Air Cluj Marathon in Romania (6.89/10) complete the top five.
But what about the ones to avoid? If you’re considering entering these 10 marathons, think again…
The worst marathon in the world is the Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon, scoring just 3.69/10 overall, let down by the city’s air pollution levels, hot climate, slow average finish time and lack of medical aid along the course.
City marathons in Delhi (4/10), Singapore (4.18/10), Nairobi (4.24/10) and Ho Chi Minh City (4.3/10) should also be approached with caution.
The world’s fastest marathons
If you’re aiming for a new PB, these are the world’s fastest marathons…
The fastest marathon in the world is the H C Anderson Marathon in Denmark, where runners finish (on average) in 3:51:22 – just 8 minutes 50 seconds a mile.
Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne (3:51:33), AG Antwerpen Marathon (3:52:12), Kleine Zeitung Graz Marathon (3:54:13) and International Vienna City Marathon (4:00:01) make up the rest of the top five.
Christchurch in New Zealand is the only non-European race to make the world’s top 10 fastest marathons list, with an average finish time of 4:00:42.
What these marathons all have in common are clean air, mild temperatures and low altitudes.
Asia is where you can find many of the world’s slowest marathons.
The Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon is the slowest of them all, with an average finish time of 5:41:47, closely followed by BDMS Bangkok Marathon in Thailand (5:21:18), Angkor Empire Marathon in Cambodia (5:13:28) and Skechers Performance Chennai Marathon in India (5:11:27).
It’s no coincidence that these marathons all have high temperatures, putting extra pressure on your body to stay hydrated. As if 26.2 miles wasn’t difficult enough!
Marathons with the cleanest air
You might not think about air pollution because it’s usually invisible, but poor air quality can negatively affect running performance by preventing enough oxygen reaching the muscles, leading to painful lactic acid build-up.
The marathon with the cleanest (and safest air) is the H C Anderson Marathon in Denmark (2), followed by EMF Edinburgh Marathon Festival (5), Cracovia Marathon (5), ASB Auckland Marathon (6) and Osaka Marathon (7).
Last in the rankings is the IDBI Federal Life Insurance New Delhi Marathon in India which has an Air Pollution Score of 152. To put this into perspective, the top 10 marathons with the cleanest air all have scores under 15.
City marathons in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City also have Air Pollution Scores above 100.
The world’s safest marathons
There’s no denying it, marathon running can be dangerous.
The human body is put through its paces running 42.2km, so safety standards are also an important factor to consider when choosing a race.
The Danske Bank Vilnius Marathon in Lithuania has been crowned the world’s safest marathon, boasting 84 medical stations along the course - almost two and half times more than the Volkswagen Prague Marathon in second place:
At the other end of the table, three world marathons have just one recorded medical station – the Logicom Cyprus Marathon, Calgary Marathon and Plovdiv Marathon - meaning runners are largely left to fend for themselves.
If you want to find out more about how all 81 marathons in the study performed, here’s the complete list with courses ranked from best to worst:
How did we pick the marathons for the study?
All IAAF-certified marathons (476) were considered for the index. In order to refine the list, each country featuring in the list were allowed up to three marathons for inclusion. These were decided by taking city population size into account (http://worldpopulationreview.com). The marathons taking place in each country’s three “largest cities” were included in the study. During the data collection phase, any marathons missing more than 1 data point (due to no data available) were removed, leaving a final list of 81 global marathon courses.
What data did we analyse?
Each ranking category consists of the latest data available from reputable sources, and is standardised using minmax normalisation:
This results in a score between 0 and 10 for each data point, and each marathon is ranked accordingly based on their overall average score. A higher score (from 0-10) indicates a better performance in each category. If the category is negative, such as air pollution scores, scoring a 10 would mean a marathon has the cleanest air.
The index is created using both city and official marathon course data:
IAAF-certified marathon courses (42.4km), last updated 5th October 2018
Altitude data recorded for the city in which each marathon takes place
Oxygen levels in the air are lower in higher altitudes, making aerobic exercise more difficult
Air quality data (levels of air pollution) recorded for the city in which each marathon takes place. Data recorded 23/09/19
Average Finish Times
Average finish time data for both men and women compiled using existing studies/lists, or by visiting the official results pages of each marathon and calculating the average finish time (AVERAGE=X:X)
Average Temperature and Rainfall
Average temperature (celsius) and rainfall (mm) recorded using World Meteorological Organisation data for the month the annual marathon takes place in each city.
Optimum long distance running temperature of 10.5 degrees celsius (10 for men, 11 for women) determined by researchers from the University of Tulsa.
Starting Entry Fees
Starting entry fees collected from the official website of each marathon, selecting price for overseas entrants if specified. All entry fees converted from local currency to Euros (€) on 23/09/19
Data captured from official marathon websites for the last available marathon year. Refreshments refers to water, energy drinks, gels and food – counted as one station if multiple refreshments provided.
Data captured from official marathon websites for the last available marathon year. Medical aid refers to the number of fixed first aid stations along the marathon course.
Data captured from official marathon websites for the last available marathon year. Toilets refer to the number of temporary toilet stations set up along the marathon course.
Quality of City Accommodation
The average rating out of ten for up to 100 inner-city accommodation close to the marathon course. Data recorded 24/09/19