A Fall Marathon Planning Guide
by Steve Sisson
If the Beastie Boys reference above is lost on you, no worries…we at Rogue just want to make sure you know where you get your information from, huh? OK. I’ll stop with the early-90’s hip-hop references already, but it’s almost April & if you’re racing a fall marathon in 2014, you need to get movin’. While the NYC & Chicago Marathons are the most popular fall marathons, it’s easier to break into Fort Knox than to get your entry punched into either. Of course, that is one of the reasons those two races are so amazing: anything hard to get must be worth the chase, right? In this case, the answer is a resounding “YES!” But there is a cost to it, as well. If racing with 40,000 or 50,000 of your very best friends isn’t your idea of fun, see below. We’ve done some research on nine of the best fall marathons out there. We’ve also provide a series of links to more info on each of these options to help you do further research on your own.
There are many different aspects to consider when choosing a fall marathon, from weather, course, size of race, Boston qualifying window, etc. & we help run through the advantages & disadvantages of the marathons below. If you are still curious about one of the listed options & would like some additional Rogue intel on any of the races below, contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) & we’ll put you in touch with a Rogue who has run the race. With the amazing amount of experience that the coaches & athletes of Rogue bring to the table, we thought we’d share the wealth. We have also linked each race with the latest info at www.marathonguide.com, which includes participant reviews on each. This can also be helpful as you choose your fall marathon challenge. If you think we missed the coolest race, or just want to pipe in to concur or refute a race we’ve highlighted, please tell us about it in the comments section.
Next week we’ll share the race Rogue has selected as the fall marathon we’re most excited about. We’ll be sending a cadre of coaches & athletes out to this race with an official pre-race talk, including course description, strategy & motivation; amazing course support with Rogue cheer stations, hydration drops & in-race adjustments & an epic post-race celebration that you won’t want to miss.
Date – August 24, 2014
Location – Santa Rosa, California
While this race is earlier than all the others on this list & is a full month before fall officially begins, it has the added bonus of being prior to the Boston Marathon qualifying window closure & the start of race registration. Several Rogues have raced other late summer/early fall races & found them either to have poor weather or a less than ideal course. We only have one Rogue report about this marathon but it was very positive. The weather in Northern California in August is downright chilly compared to Austin. With a race start time of 6AM, the event is started in the dark but the temperature is usually in the low to mid 50’s with a low humidity/dew point. Though the highs are typically in the mid-80’s, these numbers aren’t reached until mid-afternoon.
The course is relatively flat, with some moderate hills as the course winds through a winery. One major criticism of the race seems to be that the first six miles are run on a concrete path that is only 7-8 feet wide which made passing difficult. Of course, this is easily fixed by positioning yourself correctly at the start. With pace groups between 3:00 – 4:30, this is easily accomplished.
September 12-14, 2014
Location – South Lake Tahoe, CA
The Lake Tahoe Marathon is one of the most unique events in the country & has been a Rogue staple for multiple years. In fact, co-owner & coach Carolyn Mangold can’t get enough of the fun; she has led a Rogue group to the race for the last four years. Here is what she had to say about the events: “Lake Tahoe is unique in that this race weekend of Sept 12th to 14th 2014 has something for everyone, from the 10k to the marathon, or a single day race to triples. This year (2014) 10 Rogues have committed to the triple challenge, some returning from last year, others new to the event. The hilly course around the lake keeps the PR time-goal pressure off and allows the runner to enjoy the beautiful scenery. Each day’s course starts and finishes at a different point around the lake. The course is run on the roads that circle the lake, another plus for those who do not like trail running. Try the triple half or triple full for to set a new goal and accomplishment for yourself!”
Shout out here to longtime Rogue Michael Wedel who won the Tahoe Triple in 2013. Whoop! Whoop!
Date – October 4, 2014
Location – St. George, UT
The St. George Marathon is an anomaly. It has developed a reputation in its 38 years of running for being a fast, downhill course but if you know anyone who has raced the event, they’ll tell you that it certainly doesn’t FEEL downhill. Many folks hear about it being a downhill course & think, “BOOM! BQ, baby!”, only to wonder where their legs went the final 8-10 miles. Though I have not personally run this race, I have coached many athletes for the event. If you are trained to run downhill, by systematically working downhill-specific training sessions into your training cycle, then you’ll have an amazing race. If not, you’ll swear this race was all uphill in the first half then have your quads blow out so bad that you may not be able to run the final downhill miles. Reports of the altitude’s effect have been minimal, the weather is usually perfect & an event with this history has logistics down pat. If you decide to do St. George, make friends with Lost Creek to get the most out of the race.
Date – October 5, 2014
Location – Portland, OR
This marathon is very close to my heart. I ran this race on my 40th birthday a few years back &, though I was unable to meet my goal time, it certainly was not the race’s fault. This course, which starts in downtown Portland, is a relatively flat course, with a long – over half a mile – hill that climbs to St John’s Bridge. The course then winds through flat neighborhoods that overlook the city before dropping back into a downtown finish. The event is logistically very well supported, though it gets pretty sparse in the middle to late miles in terms of crowd support. The weather is usually perfect, if a bit drizzly, & if you’ve never been to Portland, you’ll love the city itself. This is a great marathon with reasonable crowds. One thing to be aware of is that there are a few trains that occasionally stop participants for less than a minute. If you are concerned with the time loss, contact the race organizers who will spot you the stoppage time & a little “get-back-to-speed” time as well.
Date – October 5, 2014
Location – Minneapolis/St Paul, MN
The Twin Cities Marathon is a hidden gem. The Minneapolis/St Paul area is stunningly beautiful; the fall weather is typically ideal for marathon racing, and the support & logistics are very well handled. The course is flat & very scenic, winding around a few of the 10,000 lakes Minnesota is famous for. Crowd support is reportedly awesome for this event. Scott MacPherson, one of RogueAC’s multiple Olympic Trials Marathon qualifiers, had a PR on this course & raved about the event afterwards. This course is very “BQ friendly”, boasting a net downhill through 20 miles, 3 miles of gradual climbing & a 3 mile drop to the finish line. We cannot recommend this race more highly.
Date – October 12, 2014
Location – Chicago, IL
The second largest marathon in the world, Chicago is a big f^*@ing deal. The winding, city-bound course is fast, fast, fast. The logistics, crowd support, course design & epic field size make this race a MUST RUN on any marathoner’s bucket list. Of course, you’ve got to get in through a lottery, which always has its challenges. But that usually means the wait is worth it for those who make it in. The weather is occasionally iffy, with polar winds or the rare heat wave, but, on average, the weather is great in early October in Chicago. One concern every year is the wind but if you are a 3 hours or slower marathoner the field size should block most of the wind & make it only a minor nuisance. If you are looking for a fast, well-supported BIG race experience, yet still want to run fast, Chicago is the best option in America.
Date – October 19, 2014
Location – Columbus, OH
The Columbus Marathon is probably the biggest marathon you’ve never heard of. With approximately 7,000 marathoners & an additional 11,000 half marathoners, this race isn’t small potatoes. We asked a local to give us a course preview & this is what he said:
“The course winds through Columbus and the close-in suburbs, giving runners a good feel for what all Columbus has to offer. Historic neighborhoods roll right into revitalized areas. Plus, you get the experience of running through one of the most historic and iconic football stadiums in the country: Ohio Stadium. As part of the full marathon, runners cross through one of the end zones, with families in the stands to cheer you on.” He also mentioned that temperatures were usually in the 40’s for most of the race, being a bit cooler at the start. One challenge we heard was that there are no pacers & determining where to place yourself at the start might be a bit of a challenge. Of course, most Rogues only use the pacers as guides so this shouldn’t be a big concern for our athletes.
Date – October 26, 2014
Location – Washington, DC
Well, if you are not in this one already for 2014, you won’t be able to get in, unless you know someone who is willing to transfer his or her registration. In 2013, there were some logistical challenges in terms of entrants securing race bibs so MCM moved to a lottery system for 2014. While sad another beloved event has been forced to resort to the lottery, it is a testimony to the unique race experience (most participants sign up to support the military & are not overly concerned with their race time). The course is beautiful but is pretty narrow for the number of participants, and the energy of the environment leads to more fast-starters who fade in the later miles making the congestion worse. Some years the weather is perfect, others it is hot & humid. This race is best for those who are looking for a unique race experience & not necessarily a fast time.
Date – November 2, 2014
Location – New York, NY
Marathon Guide Link
The Grand Daddy of them all: the New York City Marathon. This is the largest marathon in human history with over 50,000 finishers in the 2013 edition. Less than 500 of those registered did not finish, which is a testament to the tradition, pageantry, & majesty of this race. Of course with any race this large there will be logistical hurdles & crowded streets, but despite the magnitude, the race runs amazingly smooth. The course, on the other hand, is less than smooth. While you wouldn’t think of New York as particularly hilly, there are bridges to climb & the final miles run through a rolling Central Park. With the crowds & course, this is not a recommended PR course, though many Rogues have had stellar PRs here if they followed their training program closely. Of course, the biggest challenge is getting into the race; however, like Chicago, the wait makes the event’s specialness & atmosphere unlike any marathon in the world.
Up next, we announce our pick for the Rogue “race of the fall”. We’ll tell you which of these races we like & why. Check back in seven days.
Steve Sisson is a beer connoisseur (read: snob) and the founder of Rogue Running. To pick his brain on all things running, drop him a line at email@example.com; just expect to buy the beer!