As a marathoner you probably have heard the phrase “the big 5” before. It refers to the biggest 5 marathon races in the world: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York City. These big 5 are about so much more than just the race themselves. They are about the camaraderie, the event itself, and the enthusiasm of people from all around the world.
These marathons are the epitome of people from all walks of life coming together for a common cause, to push their own limits and collectively to push each other. There is nothing that is more inspirational than to go to these 5 marathons and take the sights, sounds and excitement in the air.
Setting new goals after your 1st marathon
Can you remember back to when you ran your first marathon? There was nothing better than the hard training paying off, pushing yourself to the limits, or reaching a goal you set out for yourself? The problem is that once you crossed it off of your list and completed it, it may have left you feeling goalless. If you think that there will never be a greater pinnacle to your running career, you are wrong. There are many new goals that you can set for yourself, ones that will have you feeling that anticipation and rush again. If you have finished your first, and subsequent marathons, you may want to up the ante and consider your new goal running the big 5.
There is a reason why these 5 inspire so many people to hit the pavement and to train for months on end. Whether they are running for a cause, or just for their own personal desire for accomplishment, everyone there is committed to seeing the finish line. That finish line has become so much more than just a marker to the people who are running these 5, they signify something much more life affirming. If you want to make the big 5 your new goal, you should know a little about each of them and decide which ones are best for you, or devise a plan to be at all five.
The Berlin Marathon
The Berlin Marathon in Germany is the largest marathon in the world. Held in the final week of September, over 40,000 runners from around the world are waiting at the starting line to run over 26 miles through the streets to make it to the finish line. Although being a marathon that is enjoyed by novice and advanced marathoners across the board, it is a favorite for first timers specifically because it is held in the cooler months of September. It is also a course that is categorized by flatter lands without the obstacles of hills or other physical challenges.
Those who have run it before enjoy the final length of the marathon when the runners pass the Brandenburg Gate just after the sights of the Avenue Unter den Linden. That is where the spectators all align to show their support for the runners and to cheer them on to cross the finish line.
Aside from the logistical facts of the course itself, the thing that marathoners take home with them is the experience of being in Berlin and connected to something so fantastical. The marathon is not just about the race day events, it is an entire two day program that brings the city alive with excitement. Families and runners from around the world have time to mingle, see the sights of Germany’s epicenter, and enjoy seeing runners from other nations.
The Boston Marathon
The Boston marathon is often thought of by most as the first and best of the 5 biggest marathons. Held on Patriots’ Day for a reason, it has been in existence for 117 years, making it the longest running marathon in history. “Marathon Monday” is the most highly anticipated sporting event in the Boston area, and beyond. It is also considered one of the most grueling which makes it the one you may want to put on the last of your list. The course runs from Hopkington and through eight separate towns, until it finally comes to an end in the downtown center of Copley Square in the heart of the financial district of Boston. Unlike the Berlin marathon, there are 4 hills that are encountered on the path. This “heartbreak hill” is considered one of the biggest hurdles to completing the marathon. It is not uncommon for many who are even at the most advanced stages of marathon runners to have to stop to walk up the 88 vertical feet of the trail. They term the portion of the course that challenges runners the most “as the point where runners hit the wall”.
Unpredictable weather in Boston has many runners wondering whether they will be wearing a tank top or thermal underwear. In Boston the climate is very unpredictable, and in the transitioning season that it is held, you just never know what you will encounter.
It is host to almost 25,000 runners each year. Extending the fun of the marathon, the Boston Red Sox extend the excitement by having a home game at the famous Fenway Park, starting at 10:05. Once the game is over, the people who are there to root for the Red Sox switch gears to stand at attention to observe the end of the race.
The New York City Marathon
This is the best of the big apple at its finest. The New York City marathon encompasses all the five New York boroughs. Starting in Staten Island you are encouraged to appear long before the race begins. Due to the in climate weather that November can bring there is a “warm up period” in advance. The race runs from State Island to Brooklyn and then around to the Queens area. If you are someone who is not accustomed to big city living, you had better hold onto your hat. The hustle and bustle of the city never takes a rest for the marathon. That lends to the thrill, and the stress, of race day. So much going on, racing buses, and people, it is truly a new experience and something to behold.
Experience all of New York
The best part about the marathon is the way that you travel through the many different sites of the city. Each of the villages that you pass through give you a different cultural feel and experience. It is more than just running through a marathon trail, it is like running through the heritage of the people who have come to America to find freedom. The race finally resumes at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Over the years the path has changed where once it was held solely in Central Park alone.
The festivities of the marathon don’t end or begin with the race alone. There are over 100 bands that come out to play and support the runners and their spectators. Erected at Columbus is an honorary stage that cheers on the final few paces for the racers. One of the largest of the marathons, an estimated 42,000 runners will participate this year.
The Chicago Marathon
The Chicago Marathon is a great coming out platform for the novice marathon runner. Having a course which is just about as flat as the Berlin marathon, it is held in the downtown area of the City of Chicago. Growing every year, it was originally name the Mayor Daley Marathon, and started with a humble origins of just 4200 runners. It has grown in participation to an anticipated 48,000+ this year. Not just for runners, the marathon is an icon for the city of Chicago and its inhabitants.
The course runs around the city and ends at Grant Park which is in the heart of the historic district of the city of Chicago. The thing that sets the Chicago Marathon apart from the rest is the aspect of the CEO Marathon Challenge. Starting in 2007, the Marathon introduced a competition between the highest ranking CEOs around the nation. It set in motion a very competitive nature to this marathon that may not be felt in others like it.
There is a huge party that is thrown for the participants and their accompaniments in Grant Park’s Butler. There is food, entertainment and lots of beverages that run until 3pm. Another unique part to the Chicago Marathon is the free beer that is given at the markers of the 18, 19 and 20th mile to keep the marathons well hydrated, and well, to warm up for the after party. The 27th mile party is perhaps as exciting as the marathon itself. The party then moves into the city where the night comes alive.
The London Marathon
The London Marathon is a great one for the new marathonist. There is so much to see as you are racing along the old streets of London. The race begins in Greenwich and Blackheath and goes on to cover the most iconic streets in London. The runners move through Cutty Sark, City Hall, then onto Canary Wharf, then Cleopatra’s Needle, the London Eye and finally finishing near Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament at the Mall.
Being a huge event across London, it is highly celebrated and attended by spectators around the city. The non-participants are there to cheer on the runners with music and singing. A spectacle of musicians and other arts abound. There are many traditions that make the London Marathon spectacular. Many participants will dress up in costume to attend. Mixed among the serious runners are those who are there to not only run, but to entertain the runners and masses around them by wearing character costumes like Spiderman.
Because of the large number of people who run this marathon there are three separate starting points. They all meet at the Woolwich near the Royal Artillery Barracks, which is a really cool thing to see them all reunite. The traditions withheld like breaking into sound make this the most bonding marathon of the big 5.
If you are ready to start on a new venture, or running goal, make a new course to finish some, or all of the big 5. So much more than just about the race, these are marathons that are an event onto themselves. Each unique, it is truly an experience of a lifetime.