If you are an avid runner or a fan of marathons in general, then you know how marathons are a pillar in the athletic world. As a subject of many quotes, euphemisms, and examples of extreme endurance, a marathon is the ultimate test of strength and stamina. These 26-mile races play a big part in athletic culture all over the world, with hundreds of thousands of runners and even more supporters. The largest marathons held on a global stage are part of what is called the World Marathon Majors (WMM). The most high-profile marathons are included in a championship-style competition that has reached global acclaim. Every race we discuss in this article is a World Marathon Major race. So, here is some information on the five largest marathons in the world:
The first marathon that may come to mind when you think about major races is the annual Boston Marathon. This marathon is held every year on the third Monday in April. It is one of the oldest and most revered marathons in the world, with a history of over 120 years. It was established in 1897 after the first Olympic marathon took place in 1896. This race has been a part of Boston’s history and growth just as much as any other historical event. The Boston Marathon features an average of 30,000 runners and over 500,000 supporters. This marathon was also one of the first to incorporate a wheelchair division and welcome female runners to participate.
Entering this marathon is almost as difficult as running the race itself. To even be considered a runner, you must first compete in a previous marathon and finish with what is known as a ‘Boston Qualifying Time’ of between 3 hours and 5 hours, depending on your age and gender. There are no pacesetters in this marathon to encourage faster times, and it is also a point-to-point and net-downhill race, so no world records can be recorded and set. To date, the fastest male time is 2:03:02, set by Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai. And the fastest female time is 2:19:56, set by Bezunesh Deba of Ethiopia.
The next major marathon to note is the annual London Marathon. This race is known as the most competitive global marathon in the racing world, and it tends to draw in the best runners from all over the globe. Around 45,000 people compete in this race every year, and it has been the location of one women’s world record time set by Kenya’s Mary Keitany. The London Marathon became a more recent establishment in the racing scene when the first event was held in 1981, and the race has been held in the spring every year since.
For the city of London, this marathon is so much more than simply an athletic event. The London Marathon is the biggest annual fundraising event in the world. The original goal of the event was to create a global community while donating funds to local communities to support athleticism and active lifestyles. Pacesetters are included in this race to increase the difficulty and encourage faster paces. The fastest male time is 2:03:05, set by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. And the fastest female time is 2:15:25, set by Great Britain’s Paula Radcliff.
The third major marathon included here is the New York Marathon. This race was established in 1970, shortly before the London Marathon, and is held every first Sunday of November. The New York Marathon grew from a paltry 127 runners in 1970 to an astounding average of 50,000 runners today. This race is officially the world’s largest marathon, with the most entrants and highest percentage of finishers. It is also one of the most difficult marathons to qualify for. To be selected as a runner, you must have also completed previous marathons within the qualifying time limit for your age and gender group and pay the nearly $300 entrance fee.
The New York Marathon quickly outgrew its original location in Central Park and now runs through all five boroughs of New York City. The course is rather difficult, with many inclines, hills, and bridges, as it traverses the entirety of the city. There are no pace setters included in this marathon. The fastest time set by a male to date is 2:05:06, set by Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai. And the fastest female time to date is 2:22:31, set by Kenya’s Margaret Ogayo.
The fourth major world marathon to note is the Chicago Marathon. This race is almost as old as the Boston Marathon, as it was established well over a hundred years ago in 1905. It is the fourth-largest race in the world by the number of runners and finishers. However, Chicago was forced to put the race on hold in the 1920s due to the economic crisis. The annual race took a fifty-year break and only resumed in 1977 in response to the New York City Marathon being established and hailed as a “Big City Marathon.” Now, nearly 40,000 runners participate in the race every year.
The marathon course is known to be flat and fast, which means it is a great place for runners to set their personal best times. Four world records have been made and broken during the Chicago Marathon. The current fastest male time is 2:03:45, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. And the current fastest female time is 2:17:18, set by Paula Radcliff of Great Britain.
And finally, the last of the five largest marathons in the world and the most recent addition to the World Marathon Majors is the annual Tokyo Marathon. This is the newest major marathon to be held globally, established in February of 2007. It has the shortest tenure on the major race scene, but it is quickly becoming one of the largest in the world, with over 25,000 runners participating in the very first race in 2007. The Tokyo Marathon is substantially less difficult to enter, with the qualifying time requirement being 6 hours and 30 minutes. However, the course can be difficult for some runners as it incorporates several hills and 180-degree turns. The fastest male time to date is 2:03:58, set by Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang. And the fastest female time to date is 2:19:47, set by Kenya’s Sarah Jepchirchir.
The incorporation of the Tokyo Marathon into the World Marathon Majors just goes to show that marathon culture is an ever-growing global phenomenon. The power these races hold to bring together a worldwide community through a single event is astounding. It certainly is a great thing to be a part of.