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Different Types of Marathons: Format, Length, and Popularity

Sometimes it can be tough to decide which marathon to run. There are a few different types of marathons to choose from, and each offers its own unique set of challenges and rewards.

Running challenges, like marathons, offer many unique opportunities for racers to push themselves and explore new places. The details of the race can be important, however. Some races are longer, competition is tougher, and the routes can vary from city to backcountry trails.

We’ll take a look at the popular marathon types and what unique things they bring to the table. Important details like the length, general fitness level, popularity, and some famous marathons will be covered below.

What Are The Major Types of Marathons?

There are five commom marathons or longer runs that are popular among runners:

  • 5k (3.1 miles)
  • 10k (6.2 miles)
  • Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
  • Marathon (26.2 miles)
  • Ultra Marathon (Greater than 26.2 miles – up to 100 miles or more)

Each of these races offers unique opportunities, challenges, and benefits for the people who run them. They also vary in level of difficulty for runners ranging from beginner or untrained to very highly trained athletes. These are great milestones to train for, track, and mark off as accomplished once completed!

5k – the Fun Run

A 5k race can be very competitive, but many races include a lot of people who aren’t going to be breaking any records. at only 3.1 miles, it’s possible for relatively athletic and completely untrained people to partake and run the whole thing. There is also a lot of walking in 5k races, families do them together, and it’s a good benchmark for new runners.

A 5k is a great way to get outside, spend some time with friends and family, and test your fitness level without it taking too much of a toll on the body or needing to train for an extended period.

10k – A Little More Serious, but Still Fun

10k races are twice as long as 5k races, and they can feel like a lot more work. The extra distance means that people tend to take them a little more seriously, and the runners are generally more fit. 10k’s are still fun races where friends and family can come out and support the runners, but the competitive edge is a little higher. Running an entire 10k without stopping to walk or rest is a great accomplishment for many runners.

People tend to run the whole thing, and there are fewer walkers than in 5k races. Getting into shape to run a 10k will require a bit of training as well as including some other special types of runs, like tempo runs, to help you push through sticking points.

Half Marathon – Getting into the Long Haul

A half marathon is a big step up from a 10k, both in terms of distance and competitiveness. At 13.1 miles, half marathons start to require some serious training and commitment from runners.

There are still plenty of people who walk parts of half marathons, but the vast majority of people try to run the whole thing. The races tend to be well-organized with a lot of support on the course, and there is usually a big party at the finish line.

The distance can be a challenge for new runners, but it’s a great goal to work up to. Half marathons are also a good opportunity to see some amazing places, as many races take place in scenic locations. Training for a half marathon will definitely require some focused work. Various types of running, and making sure you get in enough weekly mileage, will help. Cross training can be beneficial as well.

Marathon – The Big One

A marathon is the ultimate test of endurance for most runners. 26.2 miles is a long way, and it takes a lot of training and commitment to finish a marathon. Most marathon runners are highly experienced, and the races are very competitive. The courses are well-marked and supported, but there are often hills and tough sections that make the race challenging.

Many people walk parts of marathons, but the goal is usually to run the whole thing. The feeling of accomplishment at the end is unmatched, and marathon runners often become addicted to the challenge. Training for a marathon is key. It is not recommended to try a marathon untrained.

There are multiple challenges when running a marathon. Getting your nutrition right, peaking correctly without overtraining, and understanding how it all works are going to be critical for success. There are even some less-talked about things like going to the bathroom during the run that can cause extra stress and worry.

Ultra Marathon – For the Extremely Fit

An ultra-marathon is any race that is longer than a marathon, and they can be much, much longer. Some ultramarathons are only 50 miles, but others are 100 miles or more.

Ultra marathons are only for the most experienced and fit runners. They require an immense amount of training, mental toughness, and physical endurance. The courses are often in remote locations with little support, and runners have to be self-sufficient. Ultra marathons push runners to the height of their physical ability – sometimes seeming superhuman.

Many people walk parts of ultra marathons, but the goal is usually to run the whole thing. These races push runners to their limits, and finishing is an incredible accomplishment. While 100 miles may seem unimaginable, one man actually ran for 350+ miles without stopping. His story is incredible.

Many popular marathons take place in big cities: New York, Boston, Tokyo, Chicago, and more. Ultra-marathons, however, tend to take place in mountainous or more remote areas due to their huge mileage requirements.

Here are some famous marathons and a bit of description for each:

City Marathons – 26.2 Miles of Fun

New York City Marathon – The most popular and well-known marathon in the United States, the NYC Marathon is a world-famous race that takes runners through all five boroughs of New York City.

Boston Marathon – One of the oldest and most prestigious marathons in the world, the Boston Marathon is a legendary race with a rich history.

Chicago Marathon – The Chicago Marathon is one of the largest races in the world, with over 45,000 runners taking on the 26.2-mile course every year.

Los Angeles Marathon – The LA Marathon is a fast and scenic race that takes runners through the streets of Los Angeles.

San Francisco Marathon – The San Francisco Marathon is a hilly and challenging race that starts and finishes at the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Mountain Marathons – Ultra-Marathons

Leadville Trail 100 Marathon: The Leadville Trail 100 is a grueling ultra-marathon that takes place at high altitude in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run: The Wasatch Front 100 is another ultra-marathon, this one taking place in the mountains of Utah.

Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run: The Hardrock Hundred is one of the most difficult and dangerous races in the world, with a course that reaches altitudes of over 14,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

There are so many different types of marathon races to choose from, each with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. Whether you’re looking for a city marathon that takes runners through the streets of a major metropolis or an ultra-marathon that tests your endurance in the great outdoors, there’s something for everyone.

So lace up your shoes and get ready to take on some amazing courses!

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.