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Your Guide to the World Marathon Majors

The World Marathon Majors are back! Over the course of seven weeks, five of the six marathons will be run for the first time since 2019.

BERLIN | LONDON | CHICAGO | BOSTON | TOKYO | NEW YORK

The World Marathon Majors are back! Over the course of seven weeks, five of the six World Marathon Majors will be run for the first time since 2019. COVID-19 forced the entire world to a halt for over a year, but throughout the pandemic, runners never gave up. While running may seem like a solitary sport, at its core, running is all about community.

The BMW Berlin Marathon kicks off this weekend, and runners will finally be able to come back and show the world they’ve persevered, they’re stronger, and they’re more dedicated than ever. Competitive marathons might be back, but there are still travel restrictions and health protocols in place, so we’re covering each of the World Marathon Majors – from their history and courses to what you can expect to see on race day – so that you can join in on the celebration, no matter where you are. You might be headed to the race, or you might be watching from home – either way we’ll have you covered with the best experience possible. 

9.26 BMW Berlin Marathon

The Berlin Marathon is a shining example of what running can accomplish. It was founded in 1974 by a local baker, Horst Milde, who simply loved running and wanted to share that joy with the city. That first marathon had 244 finishers. The 2019 marathon had over 44,000. The Milde family still coordinates the Berlin Marathon as part of SCC Running, and through the decades, the race has never lost the pure joy that sparked its creation and brought so many people together.

If you were to travel to Berlin today, you would find a true melting pot of languages, cultures, and backgrounds. But that wasn’t always the case. It was once a city divided, and when the physical representation of that division came down in 1989 and the city of Berlin was officially reunited in 1990, that year’s Berlin Marathon was a symbol of how far the country and the city had come. For the first time, runners made their way through the Brandenburg Gate into East Germany, and once again, running brought people together.

So it’s no surprise that after a year that kept us all apart, the Berlin Marathon is what brings us back together. That’s why this year’s theme is Run For Joy.

If you’re running the Berlin Marathon this year, or if you’ll be there cheering someone on, here’s what you can expect from the course and the vibrant city that hosts it.

The Fastest Course In The World

The Berlin Marathon boasts an incredible 11 World Records. In 2018, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won the race and set the current record of 2:01:39, shocking the world and inching dangerously close to what was one thought impossible – a sub-two-hour marathon time.

What makes this marathon course so fast? A combination of ideal fall temps, wide, flat roads, and exceptional pacers.

Before The Race

The Berlin Marathon is a week-long celebration with multiple events you can attend before your race. As you prepare for your marathon, make sure to check out the Marathon Expo and Inline Skating Marathon. 

Marathon Expo

Before the race, make sure you stop by the Marathon Expo. Held at the former Airport Tempelhof, one of Berlin’s first airports, the Expo is where you can pick up your race number and shop from exhibitors that are entirely focused on running, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Entry is free, and the Expo is expecting over 90,000 visitors. If you plan to attend, you can find hours, bag restrictions, and other information here.

Inline Skating Marathon

On Saturday afternoon, head down to the marathon course to cheer on the inline skaters who will be racing. The event starts at 3:30pm and will give you a great opportunity to scout the course, support the competitors, and find the best locations to watch the marathon on Sunday.

Race Day

It’s been a long time since runners were able to come together to compete and celebrate. So, soak it all up and enjoy every moment of the 2021 Berlin Marathon. There are expected to be about one million spectators cheering you on along the course and 70 live bands to keep the celebration going. The marathon course loops through the city and will take you past some of Berlin’s most famous monuments and attractions along with less touristy neighborhoods. Here are some historic sights you can expect to see during your race:

Brandenburg Gate

The historic Brandenburg Gate stands near the start and finish of the Berlin Marathon. The gate was built between 1788 and 1791 and during the Cold War it served as part of the border between East and West Germany. Today, it symbolizes unity and healing, and running through the columns as you finish your race is an incredibly emotional experience, especially after a pandemic year spent running alone.

The Reichstag

Also visible near the marathon start, the Reichstag is the current home of Berlin’s parliament. It is the second most visited attraction in Germany, and its 360-degree glass dome delivers an unmatched view of the city.

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz was also once part of the border between East and West Germany that was rejuvenated after reconciliation. Today, it’s a major shopping and business center that represents the vibrant, cutting-edge city Berlin has become.

Siegessäule: The Victory Column

The Victory Column was constructed in the late 1800s and originally stood at the end of Victory Avenue (Siegesallee). It’s topped by a bronze sculpture of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. In 1939, the column was moved to its current location near the Brandenburg Gate. The column is open to the public, so after the marathon, think about purchasing a ticket and enjoying views of Berlin from just underneath Victoria’s statue.

All these incredible monuments are visible near the start of the marathon. As you progress through the course, you’ll also see the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), the Konzerthaus Berlin (home of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra), the Bundeskanzleramt (the German Chancellery and office of Angela Merkel), and Staatsoper Unter den Linden (the Berlin State Opera House). The full marathon course will take you through ten neighborhoods, giving you a true taste of all the city has to offer.

The Berlin Marathon is a dream come true for runners across the world. A beacon of unity and togetherness, it’s the perfect race to kick off the 2021 World Marathon Majors.

10.3 Virgin Money London Marathon

Race No. 2 in the World Marathon Majors is the London Marathon. Traditionally, the race has been held in April, but in 2020 it shifted to October in hopes of creating a safer running environment during COVID. Last year’s race was also held on a modified course looping around St. James’s Park, but was only open to elite runners.

But this year, London is expecting record-setting participation, with an estimated 50,000 runners set to compete. There will also be 23 elite runners in the mix, and with 6 World Records already set on the London Marathon course, chances are good for some extremely fast times.

The London Marathon was founded in 1981 by Chris Brasher and John Disley, who were so impressed by the sense of community they felt at the New York City Marathon that they wanted to bring that same experience to London. Brasher was a former Olympic gold medalist, one of the pacers for Roger Bannister’s historic sub-four-minute mile, and a sports journalist, and Disley was an Olympic bronze medalist and British and Welsh record holder for multiple distance-running events. It’s safe to say they both had a huge passion for the sport, and they wanted to share that passion with the city.

Race Day

Just like the Berlin Marathon, London’s course snakes through multiple neighborhoods and past some of the city’s most famous tourist attractions. Here’s a bird’s eye view of what you can expect to see along the route.

There are three start lines for this year’s race, and runners will begin in multiple waves. All the starting points are in Greenwich, which is home to The Meridian Line, representing a longitude of zero degrees, and the starting point for the world’s time. Every single place on earth is measured in relation to this point. Can you think of a better place to start such an iconic race?

Cutty Sark

It’s only fitting that the Cutty Sark would be a landmark along the London Marathon route. Built in the mid 1800’s for tea trade, she was considered one of the fastest clipper ships of her time. After retiring from trade routes after the rise of steamships, the Cutty Sark served as a training ship for auxiliary cadets before moving to Greenwich as a museum in 1954.

The Cutty Sark is located at mile six and is one of the most popular areas of the marathon course, so get ready for cheering!

The Shard 

The Shard, located at mile 12, is the tallest building in the UK at 72 stories or 1,016 feet high. Construction didn’t begin on The Shard until 2009, making it the newest landmark addition to the skyline along the marathon route. If you want to experience some incredible views of the city (or the race), check out The View from The Shard, complete with two observation decks at levels 69 and 72 (this one is open air, so you can experience the sights AND sounds of London), gift shops, and champagne bar to help you celebrate a successful marathon.

Tower Bridge

Also at mile 12 is Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic sights in the entire city. Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge will carry you over the Thames, delivering unparalleled views as you approach and cross. At this point, you’re almost halfway through the race, so it’s time to check in with your race goals and make sure you’re keeping pace. Tower Bridge is also open to the public, with a museum, shop, and glass walkway for 360-degree views of the bridge and Thames.

London Eye

On the south bank of the Thames, you’ll see the famous London Eye. When the Eye first opened in 2000, it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. While it’s not the tallest anymore, it is still the most popular paid tourist attraction in the entire UK.

Approaching the final mile of the London Marathon, runners pass some more classic monuments to the city’s history, including Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace itself. After rounding the final curve in front of the palace, there are only a few hundred yards left along The Mall before hitting the finish line.

In past years, volunteers were waiting to drape each runner with their hard-earned medal. But this year, to limit crowding at the finish when there are still COVID concerns, runners’ medals and race t-shirts have been packed into their kitbags ahead of time, along with any recovery items or warmer clothes runners knew they would need after the race.

So, while runners will have to quickly move away from the marathon’s finish, you can be sure that celebrations will still be taking place across the city, honoring that spirit of community Brasher and Disley first envisioned. 

10.10 Bank Of America Chicago Marathon

The first Chicago Marathon was in 1905, only nine years after the very first modern marathon race and first Olympics. Only seven runners finished on that first course, but there was a standing room-only crowd of 100,000 spectators waiting at the finish. These races continued every year, but the Chicago Marathon as we picture it today didn’t truly start until 1977 as a way to compete with the New York City Marathon.

The race was immediately one of the biggest in the country, and this year will be no exception. On Sunday, 35,000 participants will hit the streets of Chicago for the first time since 2019.

Race Day

The Chicago Marathon course is a large loop that takes runners through 29 different neighborhoods. Even more than the landmarks and tourist attraction along the route, these neighborhoods are the real draw of the race. Each one contributes to what makes Chicago such a unique and vibrant city, and as runners cover the 26.2 miles, they get a chance to celebrate what makes each one so special.

Grant Park

The marathon starts and ends in Grant Park, right off Lakeshore Drive. Spectators aren’t allowed in this area, but energy is still high, with 35,000 participants getting ready to start their race. Grant Park is home to some of Chicago’s most recognizable landmarks, like Millennium Park and the Bean. This first mile of the race also takes runners near The Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier.

The Loop & Lincoln Park

Next, runners enter The Loop, one of Chicago’s most popular shopping areas. This stretch of the race crosses the Chicago River twice, passing the Chicago Theater on the corner of State and Lake Streets before heading north towards Lincoln Park. As runners trade the skyscrapers, restaurants, and shops of the first few miles for the greenery and early fall colors of the park, they pass the Lincoln Park Zoo and Diversey Harbor. At this point, the sun should definitely be up over Lake Michigan, and for a second you just might forget that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the United States.

Wrigleyville & Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood

At its most northern point, the marathon course runs just a few blocks from Wrigley Field before heading back south. Beyond just game days, Wrigleyville is full of sports bars and shops that are fun for both casual and serious fans, and there are tons of phot ops for spectators or runners after the race. The Wrigley Field marquee is always a favorite, but if you’re looking for something more unique, head to the Harry Caray statue near the center field bleachers. If you’ve ever sung “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, you can thank Harry for that tradition. Now, he sings it to everyone who passes by from his permanent spot at the stadium.  

After Wrigleyville, runners pass into boisterous Boystown. Earlier this year, the neighborhood changed its name from Boystown to Northalsted to be more inclusive to the vibrant and wide-ranging identities of the people who live there. Northalsted is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the Midwest and has hosted Chicago’s Pride Parade since 1971. It’s safe to say this neighborhood knows how to throw a party – it’s extremely upbeat, full of small businesses, boutiques, theaters, and coffee shops. This area draws huge crowds for the marathon, complete with music, dancing, and costumes. One of the most popular aid stations is located here, and it feels like the entire neighborhood shows up for marathon morning.

Greektown & The Charity Block Party

After doubling back through the Lincoln Park and West Loop neighborhoods, runners are approaching the halfway mark and heading into Greektown. Supporters will be at the corner of Gladys and Halsted Streets from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. along with free pastries and coffee and a DJ playing Greek music. The course loops through Greektown twice, which is pretty fitting considering the first modern marathon was held in Greece at the 1896 Summer Olympics.

Between the two loops of Greektown, runners will find the Charity Block Party. Most of the World Marathon Majors have a huge charity component – a crucial part of the spirit of community that running fosters across the world. So the Chicago Marathon sponsors this party to celebrate those efforts. Spectators, supporters, and members of the different charities that benefit from the marathon will be there cheering on the runners and giving them the energy they need for the back half of the race.

Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bronzeville

As runners start pushing their pace in an effort to hit their race plans, they move through some of the most unique and diverse neighborhoods in the city. For the residents here, marathon Sunday isn’t just a day to celebrate the runners, it’s a day to showcase their neighborhoods’ histories and cultures. So, runners and spectators can expect live music, authentic food, bright and colorful murals, live performers, and even parades. This is the stretch when the race really starts to hurt, and these celebrations are just what runners need to power through to the finish back at Grant Park.

After the race, runners and their families and friends can celebrate at the Abbott 27.2 Fest, located near the marathon start, or they can head to any of the six Goose Island Post-Race Participant Celebrations throughout the city. Or maybe they’ll head back to Wrigleyville or Greektown for a closer look at what makes Chicago such a memorable city.

10.11 John Hancock Boston Marathon

Until 2020, the Boston Marathon was the oldest annual marathon in the world. The first race was in 1897, the year after the first Olympic Games, and the marathon has been physically run in some form every year since, even though The Great Depression and two World Wars. COVID derailed that streak, and it’s been 2.5 years since the last Boston Marathon.

Even though the marathon is moving from April to October this year, it will still be run on a Monday. The race has traditionally been held on Patriots’ Day (April 19), a holiday only recognized in Massachusetts and Maine, to commemorate the start of the Revolutionary War. Even when Patriots’ Day fell on a Sunday, the Boston Marathon was still held the next day, and eventually, the holiday itself was moved to the third Monday in April to match the marathon. This officially carved out its own unique day of celebration that sets it apart from other marathon weekends around the world.

This year will be the smallest field since 2002, with 20,000 runners participating. There will be 41 charity teams with about 2,400 runners, and a virtual version of the marathon will also bring in about 27,000 more participants. The energy at the marathon will still be off the charts, though, with 500,000 spectators expected to line the course.

Because of COVID, some pre-race activities are canceled this year, like the Athlete Village and pasta dinner. To limit crowding at the start in Hopkinton, things will kick off with the first rolling start in Boston Marathon history, and busses will bring runners to Hopkinton for their assigned time.

Instead of the traditional pre-race pasta dinner, Boston is holding a restaurant week all this week, with food and drink specials that encourage runners and spectators to get out in the city and support some of the local businesses that have been impacted most by the pandemic.

The 125th Race

After a long hiatus, this marks the 125th Boston Marathon, and the B.A.A. is ready to celebrate. The first ever Opening Celebration will take place in Copley Square on Friday at 6 pm. The ceremony will celebrate key moments in the marathon’s history and honor Sara Mae Berman on the 50th anniversary of her final marathon victory. Berman unofficially won three consecutive Boston Marathons at a time when women weren’t actually allowed to compete.

Race Day

While the Boston Marathon won’t be held on Patriots’ Day this year, October 11 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the B.A.A. will be recognizing runners from the Native community, including Narragansett tribe member Ellison Brown, who won the marathon in 1936 and 1939. The B.A.A. will also be donating to Wings of America, an organization that seeks to empower Native youth and their families through running.

Traditionally, the Red Sox play at home on Marathon Monday, and loud, rowdy fans spill out of Fenway Park after the game to cheer on the runners in Kenmore Square. For the past two years, COVID made this impossible, but this year just might make up for it. If the Red Sox manage to avoid a sweep this week against Tampa Bay, Boston will have playoff baseball at Fenway Park and Marathon Monday. For sports fans, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Hopkinton

Since 1925, Hopkinton has been the starting point of the Boston Marathon. Lots of spectators gather here at the town Common to see off the runners as they start their journey to the heart of Boston. In the town center, you’ll find The Starter statue honoring George V. Brown, who started the race from 1905 to 1937 and was responsible for helping to bring the starting point from Ashland to Hopkinton.

After leaving Hopkinton, the marathon course moves towards Ashland and Framingham, and runners make their way along Route 135 through gently rolling hills and the beautiful New England countryside. As they near Natick, they’ll run past Lake Cochituate before entering the city’s cultural district. This first half of the marathon is relatively flat, but there are some inclines as runners enter Framingham. There should be plenty of spectators at this stretch, though, cheering and encouraging the runners through this first challenge. There should also be heavier crowds in the Natick city center, giving runners one last boost as they head towards the halfway point.

The Scream Tunnel

You’ll hear Wellesley College long before you see it. Every Marathon Monday, students line up along miles 12 and 13 and create a constant wall of sound. The Scream Tunnel has existed since the very first Boston Marathon, and its energy is contagious. Runners will trade high fives, and sometimes even kisses, with the spectators along the tunnel. Because of COVID, that isn’t allowed this year, but the crowd is sure to find new ways to bring the energy and fortify the runners for what lies ahead.

Newton

This is where the real challenge begins. Entering Newton, runners know they’re about to face four hills that make the Boston Marathon one of the most difficult courses in the world. This next stretch will make or break them. Crowds are thick along this stretch of the course, because runners need the extra encouragement to stay focused and motivated.

Before the final climb up Heartbreak Hill is the Forever Young Statue. It depicts two versions of John Kelley, who completed an amazing 61 Boston Marathons. One version shows Kelley as a young athlete, and the other shows him at 84, the age he was when he completed his last Boston Marathon.

As runners take on that final incline, they can take inspiration from Kelley’s fighting spirit, and hope that strength – and the cheering crowd – is enough to get them through.

All Downhill From Here

After Heartbreak Hill, runners officially make their entrance into Boston and are greeted with their first glimpse of the CITGO sign. Visible from almost anywhere in the city, this sign is a staple of the marathon and lets runners know they’re in the home stretch. For competitors who are feeling depleted after Heartbreak Hill, it’s a lifeline pulling them towards the final mile.

Next, runners pass through Boston College and head down around the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Crowds are still loud here, and you might hear the Boston College Marching Band Screaming Eagles in the mix. This downhill section might sound like it would be a relief, but after 20 miles and the strain of Newton’s inclines, this stretch can feel even more difficult than the hills.

From this point on, runners will have large crowds cheering them all the way to the finish in Copley Square. Fenway Park and Kenmore Square, with the towering CITGO sign, mark the last mile of the race. Things are going to be loud. And with the end in sight, runners will dig deep for that last kick over the blue and yellow finish on Boylston Street.

The Boston Marathon is a true test of will, and it takes every ounce of determination to complete the course. But after 2.5 years of waiting, every mile is worth the fight. 

Tokyo Marathon - Postponed

New Date: 3.6.22

The Tokyo Marathon is a relatively new member of the World Marathon Majors. The first race was held in 2007, and it became part of the Majors in the 2013-2014 scoring period. The mass race portion of the Tokyo Marathon is entered through a lottery, and the race is so popular that over 300,000 runners apply, with roughly 36,000 selected for race day. With entry so limited, running this marathon is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking that the 2021 edition of the Tokyo Marathon has been postponed until March 6, 2022. This race will still be considered the 2021 edition, and 2022’s has been canceled.

The theme of the Tokyo Marathon is “The Day We Unite,” so even though the marathon won’t take place this year, we still want to bring you a course preview and small taste of what runners and spectators can expect from this beautiful city when they’re finally able to return.

Race Day

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The Tokyo Marathon starts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) Building, the tallest city hall in the world. The building is made up of three separate structures: TMG Building No. 1, TMG Building No. 2, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Building.

TMG Building No. 1 is the tallest of the three structures, with 48 levels above ground and three below. It also has two towers, each with an observation deck on the 45th floor. These observatories are temporarily closed because of COVID but are normally open and free to the public and offer a stunning bird’s-eye view of the city. Building 1 was designed to resemble an integrated circuit – basically a microchip – an invention that revolutionized the tech world and the way we live our everyday lives.

Shinjuku Station

Early in the race, runners pass Shinjuku Station. This is the busiest train station in the world, serving over 3.6 million passengers a day and earning a spot in the Guinness World Records. Shinjuku means “new lodgings”, and since it first opened in 1885, the station has seen Tokyo shift from the feudal system it once was to the ultra-modern city it is today. Because this is so close to the marathon start, crowds are heavy here and energy is high, so runners will soak that up as they start their race through a city that continues to combine both old and new.

Asakusa

While Tokyo is undeniably one of the most modern cities in the world, you can still find older, more traditional areas throughout the city. Around kilometer 15, runners make their way into one of the most recognizable – Asakusa – which sits at the center of Tokyo’s shitamachi, or low city, named for its low elevation. Here, runners trade towering skyscrapers for more traditional architecture and large crowds of dancers and singers that give a small taste of Japan’s history. Asakusa was originally Tokyo’s biggest entertainment district, but today it’s most known for its old-world atmosphere and temples. The most famous is Sensoji, a Buddhist temple where you will find the instantly recognizable Asakusa Kaminarimon, the temple’s main gate. The original gate was built in 941 AD east of Tokyo in Komagata. In 1635 it was reconstructed in Asakusa, and the gods of wind and thunder were enshrined within the gate as protection. Unfortunately, the gate suffered several fires throughout the years and sustained severe damage in WWII, so it was rebuilt and restored multiple times. The current gate was built in 1960 and still houses statues of Fūjin, the god of wind, and Raijin, the god of thunder. A giant red lantern hangs in the center of the gate.

This is also where runners encounter the first out-and-back of the marathon course. This means there are runners headed in both directions, and having runners coming towards you can throw runners off their game. There are a few more of these in the back half of the course, so it’s important for runners to stay focused and stick to their time goals.

Tokyo Skytree

After runners turn back at Asakusa, the Tokyo Skytree becomes visible. Standing at 634 meters, it’s the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world. Completed in 2012, the Skytree is designed to combine Japan’s history and traditions with the country’s future-forward mindset, creating a structure that transcends time. The tower is painted “skytree white” based on the color aijiro, the lightest shade of traditional Japanese indigo.

The tower has two observation decks at 350 and 450 meters. Both give staggering 360-degree views of the city, but on marathon day, the tower itself is the unmatched view, acting as a guidepost runners can see as they make their way through the second out-and-back, past the halfway point, and all the way up to kilometer 25.

Ginza

Around kilometer 30, runners pass through Ginza, an area known for its upscale shopping, fine dining, and art galleries. The course takes them past Ginza 4-chrome, the intersection of Harumi-dori and Chuo-dori, where the landmark Wako building and clock sit on the corner. On weekend afternoons, this area is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian zone, complete with street performers to entertain locals and tourists alike.

Tokyo Tower

After completing the final out-and-back, runners are in the home stretch. And at kilometer 39, Tokyo Tower comes into view. The second tallest structure in Tokyo (second only to the Skytree, of course) was built in 1958 as a radio and television broadcast tower. It’s modeled after the Eiffel Tower and contains two observation decks at 150 and 250 meters. At the base of the tower is FootTown, a building that includes souvenir shops, restaurants, a gallery, and more.

Tokyo Station & The Imperial Palace

The marathon course comes to an end between the Imperial Palace grounds and Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station is Japan’s busiest station (by number of trains – more than 4,000 daily). The building’s western-facing red brick façade is from when the station originally opened in 1914, and it stands out among the skyscrapers and modern architecture of this area. Inside the station is a huge shopping area and one of Japan’s largest underground malls.

Nearby is the home of Japan’s Imperial Family, which sits on a large park surrounded by moats and stone walls that turn it into a quiet oasis in the center of the city. There are daily guided tours of the palace grounds, and the Imperial Palace East Gardens are open to the public year-round.

Even though the Tokyo Marathon is postponed as Japan works to recover from COVID’s delta variant, the passion for this race remains stronger than ever. And when runners, volunteers, and spectators finally get to reunite in March, the experience will be unforgettable. 

New York Marathon

More information coming soon!

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