The World's Top 10 Marathons

1. London Marathon

Posted: 8 July 2000

1. London Marathon

The Flora London Marathon is genuinely a marathon for every runner. The huge field, large, enthusiastic crowds and party atmosphere appeal to first-timers, while the speed of the course and faultless organisation continue to draw seasoned marathon veterans. Even the armchair fan is catered for with the kind of elite field that even the Olympics or World Championships envy. The inaugural event in 1981 was inspired by the New York City Marathon, but its ongoing success has made it the benchmark against which all others are now judged.

The course: The point-to-point route starts in Blackheath and Greenwich Park in South-East London and finishes beside St James’s Park on the Mall. Along the way it takes in many of the city’s famous historic sights, and although the route twists, turns and narrows in places there are no notable hills.
Highs: The last three miles along the Embankment, passing the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace on the way to the finish.
Lows: Narrow streets around the Isle of Dogs and the dour loop of Docklands.
Watch out for: The cobblestone footpath beside the Tower of London.
Contact: tel 020 7902 0200; web
Size: 30,000+
Month: April

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London Marathon

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A RW Article on this site rates the London Marathon as number one in the world and "the benchmark against which all others are now judged ". Even though I've never run London, and that has to be said up front, I can't believe that this can be true. The course is far from ideal, and that's even recognised in the article in question, the field is far too large for racing comfort. The running 'Rhinos' and people pushing wheelbarrows too have their place but London seems to attract very much more than it's fair share of this type of runner. The true value of the opinions expressed in the article are made clear when we see that Boston, which I have run, is rated as only fifth. I really don't mean to denigrade what is obviously a very well run race which has become hugely popular, but the best marathon in the world, not a chance.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 15:37

But as its impossible to be empirical on something like this if RW have that opinion (and thats what it is, an opinion) then it can't really be contradicted?

I have no desire to run London for many of the reasons you say but I think 30,000 or so people might disagree with you.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 16:01

That's exactly point. Can a race that many fairly serious marathon runners '...have no desire to run..." really call itself the best in the world.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 16:03

Mick, don't knock it until you've done it. The atmosphere, the event organisation and everything else connected with the event does make it the top marathon. It's maybe not the ideal scenario for everyone but that all depends on what you're looking for from a marathon.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 16:44

I agree totally with Drew. I did it this year after trying to get in for 4 years. It was my 3rd marathon and I can safely say that regardless of the fantastic marathon locations that I WILL do in the future if given the opportunity I'd run London every year. It's a fantastic city, the crowd support is amazing and the enthusiasm and commitment of all those people (marshalls and police etc) that help to make the day a success is great.

I got a PB despite having an additional 28500 people running around me!
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 16:59

I would agree that it is the best "event", although possibly not the best "race". In terms of inclusion, it would be very hard to beat, but for serious runners, perhaps the crowds would get in the way of a good time (if you aren't in the elite start), and racing against rhinos perhaps doesn't feel quite serious enough.

Posted: 15/08/2002 at 17:04

Nessie hits the nail on the head. London as an 'event' cannot be beaten but as a 'race' its just an also ran. The crowds, the course, the atmosphere and that undescribable feeling that you have because millions of people are watching on tv and cheering on the streets. You are of course also running against the best in the world. I won the Robin Hood Marathon last year but it was not a patch on London. London is only a 'race' for the top 50 or so. Over the last few years the quality has dropped through the floor. (Just compare the number of sub 2:20's this year to 10 years ago. This has created big gaps between runners at the front end and the average Joe). But just take London for what it is - a great opportunity for anybody in the country to run against the worlds elite.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 17:30

I guess it depends on how fast you run - I did 3:24 last year and found it a pain (though I didn't spot any indigenous African wildlife) but did 2:55 this year and had lots more room to make a decent race of it than I've experienced in your average 10K. Maybe those who look down on hippos should just try to run it quicker!?? I have to say running in the same field as Kannouchi setting a new world record and Paula doing her extraordinary and inspirational "thang" is a pretty amazing experience, which you won't find in many other races in the world. And isn't the point about running for most of us that you're racing against yourself???? s.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 20:58

I've started both my London marathon's from the championship start. It's still very crowded. London is great for the masses who just want to run 'The London Marathon' with all the crowd support & atmosphere, but it's not for me. I shall be elsewhere next April.
Posted: 15/08/2002 at 21:04

Oops! Rereading my message makes me look like a right prat! After a long training run I realised what I think I was trying to say was that every time I have run London I have never had anybody to race against. The gaps in the field just tend to be too big 'nearer the front' as the race progresses. But I think Achilles has a good point in that most of us are racing against ourselves. Anyway I will now hide my head in the sand and continue training for London anyway! PS Cheers to Runners World for improving this website beyond recognition.
Posted: 16/08/2002 at 07:53

I got a PB of 5hrs 17mins. at this years FLM (Well it was my firstt marathon)

Even I found a problem getting round some runners. The 'Rainforest' was one notable one which some way into the race was uncomfortable to get past!

The FLM is a great event, I don't think I would have even tried to do a marathon if I hadn't had some first hand experience of it as a result of my, very fit!, son runniing twice. i made postive efforts to saty out of other runners way, most noticeably by starting in Pen 9 i.e. right at the back! Undoubtedly some 'runners' are way too optimstic in stating at time on their entry forms. However for the elite runners it didn't stop Khalid Kannouchi and Paula Radcliffe having absolutely stunning results. So the course can't be that bad!, can it?

The FLM is for everyone. If you are really 'elite' you get you own start!. The rest of us get spectators who are there to watch me (and others like me) set my PB 5hrs 17mins, or about 3hrs 12mins after Kannouchi finished.
I'm out of running because of injury for at least another 4 months. My target is FLM 2004 and a PB of 5hrs 16mins!!
Posted: 16/08/2002 at 09:35

Undoubtedly London is a good, well organised, positive event, with a place in it's large and welcoming heart for all runners from the Rhino to the Record Breaker. My point however in starting this thread was that I couldn't believe how anyone could seriously suggest it as the number one marathon in the world and the standard against which all others are judged given the shortcommings that all but the most enthusiastic recognise.
Posted: 16/08/2002 at 09:41

Obviously the number one marathon in the world is a pretty subjective statement. However, having done several of the big city marathons each one has their own particular positives and negatives. Boston has the history and the small field of good athletes, New York has crowds to match London and a city that really gets behind the marathon, Paris has a very interesting route and (apparently as I haven't done it) the Big Sur has the most beautiful route. I could recommend the Reykjavik marathon to anyone because it is a great ego boost to finish 6th in a capital city marathon when you are used to struggling into the top 1000!

However, I think London has got the balance between the elite race (and this year's was incredible), the club runners and the 'fun' runners absolutely right. The organisation is the best of any of the big races, New York is terrible and Paris is worse. But the feelgood factor involved in running a race that raises millions of pounds every year for charity, far more than any other race, surely make it number one. Can't wait for April.
Posted: 16/08/2002 at 09:58

Agree with the last post.
Ive done London 5 times and NY once before.
Course wise I don't think there is a lot to choose between them, but in terms of organisation London far surpasses NY. In my time I've started at the back with the Mr Men and in pen 3 this year (where it took less than 45 seconds to cross the line), so as long as you're in the right place the crowds shouldn't slow you down.
London is as much an event as a race but surely isn't that part of it?
The fact that it is 4-5 times oversubscribed every year says it all really.
However I will say the same polls say the GNR is the best halfM in the world, having done it once I'd never do it again and never recommend it to anyone.

Personal opinion I guess.
Posted: 19/08/2002 at 08:44

I totally agree with Dustin and I find Sheila Annes comments interesting. I've run 18 marathons (soon to be 19 in Florence) and among those there are 2 in Frankfurt, 1 in Berlin, 1 in Perth, Australia a couple of Potteries a couple of Lutons and a Manchester, but what makes the bulk of my efforts are 8 (EIGHT) FLMs. If it was crap (I'm a blunt talking Yorkshireman!!) I certainly wouldn't go back year after year. My PB is 3hrs and 3 minutes gained at guess where - London!!. Last year I ran in 3hrs 15mins so you can get a reasonably fast time if you want. If you're a slower runner than these times then its inevitable that you are going to be running with thousands more. If you want to try for a faster time then enter a race with a smaller field. Shiela I find your comments about Berlin amusing because I thought it was absolutely terrible. The organisation wasn't up to its usual German best (I lived in Germany for 6 years) and the course itself was awful - going through many of the former East Berlin drab housing estates.

What this thread shows after 16 postings is that there are 16 opinions!!! - ain't democracy great!

See you in April (those taking part of course)
Posted: 10/09/2002 at 08:11

I think putting an automatic qualification time of 3:15 (good for your age) and 3:45 for men and women respectively redresses the balance a bit. It means more faster runners will be there, and slightly fewer slower runners, preventing the bottle-neck at the finish at around 4 - 4:30hrs.
This is a way of 'engineering' the field that is no doubt neccessary considering the huge demand for places. It was my debut this year as a marathon runner, and I'll be gutted if I don't get a place next year, either throught the ballot, a 3:15 qualifying time, a club place or a charity place. I love it !

Posted: 10/09/2002 at 09:09


How could I forget New York?!!! (98)
Posted: 10/09/2002 at 12:31

Ok so it's hard to rate one Marathon against another....fair enough. Hopefully after next year I'll have actually run London and will have a more informed opinion....BUT in the meantime....if you leave out London....what do you think is the 'best of the rest'?
Posted: 10/09/2002 at 13:24

The best marathon ever done would be reyjkavic in Iceland. The scenery is fantastic with great bars too and surely the most beutiful woman on this planet are here!!!
Posted: 13/04/2004 at 17:12

But 10 squid a pint!!!!

You're having us on son!
Posted: 13/04/2004 at 17:28

Making lists seems to be a pretty irresistible urge these days, and as long as we treat them as a bit of fun, I suppose they're harmless.

My reaction is always the same. How can you say which is the best marathon in the world unless you've run at least the best known 100?

I read quite a lot about marathon running, and I could easily name 20 or 30 marathons that people have described in superlatives. Unless you've run them all, and more, how can you judge which is best?

And even if you have run scores of marathons, that is going to be over a long period of time during which things will have changed. Who's to say that that fantastic Madrid marathon (say) that someone did in 1991 is still fantastic today?

And the other obvious point is: what are the criteria? Someone who runs sub 2:30 marathons is likely to have different benchmarks than a plodder like me. A festive atmosphere, plenty of Lucozade Sport and a chunky finisher's medal might make me mark a race highly, while the other guy would be more interested in having plenty of room, PB potential, and a top-class field.

My view, for what it's worth, is that the London Marathon is a great day out and I'm very glad I did it (in 2002). I might even do it again some day. But for most ordinary runners, there are so few opportunities to do a marathon (perhaps 2 a year max for the mortal runner), it seems a shame to do the same one year after year. Seems much better to sample some of the others. There's so much information out there that it's easy to identify a longish short list of good races.

I've done only one other marathon - Chicago, which was also a superbly organised event with great support, atmosphere and facilities. Wouldn't really like to say London was better or worse. They were both really good, though London was definitely better value for money as it was less than half the price to enter.

Isn't part of the appeal of running seeing new places? Maybe it helps to love travelling, but give me variety and different surrroundings any day.


Posted: 13/04/2004 at 21:13

I will run them all
and ill tell you in a few years

lets just say, im doing londodn again, not to lay ghosts, but cos it was a BLOODY good day out
Posted: 13/04/2004 at 21:23

That's fair enough, Hippo but if "a BLOODY good day out" is the main thing (and why not?) then you're one kind of runner. If impressing the Olympic selectors, or getting an alternative perspective on a big foreign capital city, or running at high altitude (etc etc), then you're one of a whole load of other types of runner with different needs. And that's why a list of the World's Best Marathons doesn't make much sense.

I thought RW used to split their marathon survey into different categories? Most scenic, best PB potential etc. Would make more sense.


Posted: 13/04/2004 at 23:37

It would Rc
I thought they did do that

well, they did two years ago
Posted: 13/04/2004 at 23:41

I ran FLM and NYC. In my opinion FLM is nowhere near as good as NYC. The support in FLM is okay, but people only clap a bit, in NYC people fully engage and participate with the event. Personally, I think it's aweful to run along lads with pint glasses in their hands! There is nothing along FLM like the huge roar you get after Queensboro Bridge or the stretch along First Avenue. The course itself is much more demanding, London is flat as a pancake, really everybody can run there, NYC requires a bit more careful judgement. The whole weekend in NYC focusses on running, there is a friendship run, FLM doesn't have this at all, no global sense of running community, NYC has a strong emphasis on global running. FLM expo is amateurish compared to NYC. FLM is too much charity centric, which in my opinion strongly devalues it as sports event. Of course it is a fast course and world bests have been achieved in FLM, but Chicago and especially Berlin are now the top choice for world best attempt.

I am running Boston this year. Boston is now running for 108th time, whereas London was only started in the 70s. There is much more tradition and prestige. You need a qualification time in order to participate, this is not about how much money you raise. It's a downhill course though technically more demanding than FLM. Olympic champions have failed so far to win Boston (Bikila,Abera, etc.).
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 00:03

I think you'll raise a few hackles there, URR, but your message is a great example of different people looking for different things from a marathon. Plodders like don't need a "demanding course" to add to the distance!

Well done on qualifying for Boston. Something I'll never do.
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 07:57

this plodder has Ny on her list

and Berlin, once i get faster

Boston is obviously one ill never do
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 07:58

Plodders like ME that should say...
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 07:58

no, no
you meant HIPPOS!
i know it:)
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 07:59

I've run the FLM once and "a bloody good day out" sums it up nicely. Like RC says, how can we compare. Now if I had the money......
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 08:09

Dirt Tracker - haven't they changed it to a 3 hour GFA qualification? Unless maybe you are a veteran?

Anyway I've never run London and used to think I wasn't bothered - until watching it on TV last year and the crowds and atmosphere really made me wish I was there.
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 09:00

I met a bloke in Malta when i did the Malta international marathon over 3 days and he'd run over 300 marathons and 500 halfs so we should ask him. Think his name was Brian and he lived in that place where they do the race the train.

Anyway all you "London's not the best" miseries stop trying to spoil the day for those that are doing London. You should listen to yourselves !! Not everyone has the opportunity or finances to travel the world in search of the best marathon. Be encouraging !
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 09:01

Good God where did you resurrect this thread from?

Mr Bobolink is right....Good Vibes to all doing London!

Have a great time!
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 09:10

I've run 15 Marathons including London and have to agree with Mick's original posting, London isn't bad, but it's certainly not the best Marathon by a long way. Aside from the elite race, it's basically a fun run and if you look at it like that then it's worth doing. It also has the advantage of being the only big Marathon in Britain so is bound to be hyped up as much as possible and will inevitably attract most British runners who want to run a Marathon (in contrast to other countries that have more, Germany for instance where the big Marathons have to compete with several others).
Before I'm set upon by the entire British running establishment for daring to break the first commandment of running, "thou shalt not criticise the infallible London Marathon", let me stress that I'm not saying London is a bad event, it's just you have to take it for what it is - a bit of fun, an opportunity for non-runners to be encouraged to have a go at running & sample the Marathon experience (if they can get in of course!) and a much needed pay-day for numerous charities. Fat Face called it "a good a day out" - I can't think of a better description for it.

Posted: 14/04/2004 at 10:24


An interesting question might be...What happens when all of the once-in-a-while runners, who want to take part in the FLM 'for the experience', and are attracted by what they see as a really challenging athletic event, drive out dedicated or club runners to such a degree that they have the event almost to themselves and the quality and nature of the event changes fundamentally.

If you think that can't happen look at the change in GFA times as an indication of how the organisers view club runners.
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 10:31

I think that's already happening to a certain extent, but serious / club runners do have a vast array of events to choose from so I wouldn't object for this one big event of the year being given over to the fun runners, new runners & off-one Marathoners. If you're a serious runner looking for a top class Marathon & fast times, London probably wouldn't be top of your list anyway.
Posted: 14/04/2004 at 10:37

Aehm? - FLM can't even sort out their web site and result service. I suggest a look at how other organisers do that. I remember Chicago results could be checked in real-time. Clearly, zero points for FLM in the department "information services"!
Posted: 18/04/2004 at 21:54

Who gives a monkeys what the "best" is?

"Best" in anything normally relates to "most popular".

If people get excited by doing the FLM, great for them. Anyone who completes 26.2 miles has my respect, it's a complete sod!

However, there's a lot to be said for going off the beaten track. The more obscure the better (I'm talking races in general).
Posted: 18/04/2004 at 22:11

Sorry, pressed "submit" too soon.

Meant to say: "The more obscure the better as far as I'm concerned ..."

Ranking, compiling lists, etc, leave it to train-spotters!
Posted: 18/04/2004 at 22:13

I remember reading an RW article about 4 years ago that admited you can't rank marathons of all types because they mostly very different.

However at the time, New Forest was teh author's favourite, I seem to remember.
Posted: 19/04/2004 at 02:22

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