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What are the Biggest Marathons Worldwide?

By Licia Morrow
Updated May 23, 2024
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The world’s largest marathons attract more than 30,000 finishing participants and include races in New York, Berlin, London, Chicago, and Paris. A traditional marathon is a 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometer) foot race, but many of these events have been expanded to include other types of athletic events. Millions of people watch these events each year, and hundreds of thousands worldwide enroll to compete in the events.

The New York City Marathon boasts the highest number of finishers in past years and takes place in November each year. This race is the event upon which many other marathons are modeled. Highlights of the event include separate wheelchair and professional women’s divisions.

The first New York City Marathon was held in Central Park with continuing laps consisting of 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers). This was a simple event, with the 127 runners paying only $1 each to enter the race. Over the decades, the NYC race has expanded drastically and currently receives applications from over 100,00 runners. The course was changed in 1976 to the current configuration, which includes a track through the five boroughs of New York: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan.

The Berlin Marathon, held at the end of September each year, is a 26.2-mile (42.2 kilometer) event that has become one of the biggest international marathons. This road race follows a course through the city that begins and ends at the Brandeburg Gate. Unlike other marathons, this is a two-day event and includes walkers, runners, bikers, wheelchair riders, and children. The highest number of world records has been set in this event, which started in 1974. The Berlin Marathon is part of the larger World Marathon Majors, which combines five different events, and offers a $1 million prize that is shared by the top male and female participants. Over one million people watch the event each year and participants from 107 countries around the world enroll in the race.

Like the Berlin Marathon, the London Marathon is part of the World Marathon Majors. It is held in April each year and boasts one of the largest annual, charitable fundraising efforts in the world. The course begins at Blackheath, sends runners past the Tower of London, St. James Park, and Buckingham Palace, and ends at The Mall. Of the international marathons, the London Marathon is the only course that is run in two hemispheres because in the Greenwich segment of the race, the runners cross the Prime Meridian.

The Paris Marathon also takes place in April each year, begins and ends at the Arc de Triomphe, and charts its course past the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Bastille, and the Louvre. This race is one of the oldest worldwide marathons, begun in 1896 with 191 participants. Currently, the race includes over 30,000 participants and is unique in its use of colored balloons, viewed easily by the runners, to calculate target times.

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