Flat courses are often quick. A downhill course might be quicker.
The race you choose counts if you want to achieve that coveted Boston qualifying time. Many athletes look for flat courses, such as those at the Chicago and Philadelphia marathons, in the belief that the absence of significant hills will result in speedier finishing times.
Beyond flat, however, there is a whole different kind of marathon that promises speed and to which athletes are flocked: downhill marathons.
According to Mike Sohaskey, cofounder of RaceRaves, “As the Boston-qualifying frenzy has heated up in recent years, so has the search for downhill marathons.”
There are some significant cautions to be aware of before you get too excited about flying down these courses. One: You should unquestionably include downhill running in your training regimen if you plan to compete in a downhill marathon.
According to Jessica Murphy, cofounder of BibRave, “Many of the courses with 5,000 feet of drop [several are on this list] will absolutely crush your quads.” “While you may benefit from the elevation drop early on, you may overly fatigue your legs later on if they’re not used to the pounding.”
Another piece of advice, according to Murphy, is to run downhill in your race shoes before you step across the starting line. Why? “Running downhill can give you different hot spots on your feet, and if you haven’t practiced for it, you may be in for some race day foot pain or blisters, especially with some of the newer shoes that have a more significant heel-toe drop.”
Last but not least, keep in mind that a downhill track is typically elevated above sea level. Running at high altitudes can be difficult, especially if you live and train at a lower elevation. Sohaskey notes that the simplicity of jogging downhill might help offset the height. In any event, when choosing a downhill race, be sure to take note of the beginning height.
Continue reading for a list of nine downhill marathons that could help you fulfill your dream of running in Boston while keeping these suggestions in mind. With advice from Sohaskey and Murphy as well as information taken from the Boston Marathon website, we put these recommendations together. When you receive your BQ, please accept our thanks.
Location: Mesa, Arizona
Date: February 8, 2020 (February 13, 2021)
Number of Finishers (2019): 2,208
Percentage of BQ (2019): 20.98%
As it winds from Usery Mountain Regional Park to the town of Mesa, the event, formerly known as the Phoenix Marathon, offers a gradual net elevation reduction of approximately 1,000 feet while passing through cactus-desert beauty and valley views.
Fair warning: The first half of the race has a lot of downhill, particularly from the beginning to mile 4, and then again from miles 6 to 7.5. You should plan properly (and conserve your strength). Fortunately, there is only one rise in the race, and it comes early (shortly before mile 5). It’s a hill that increases around 225 feet over about a mile.
Revel Mt. Charleston
Location: Mt. Charleston to Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: April 4, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 1,880
Percentage of BQs (2019): 21 percent
Expect modest dips in height; the race in Nevada has a remarkable net elevation loss of 5,126 feet. The average grade of the drop is 3.7 percent along the trip, which is very even.
Your descent starts at 7,633 feet above sea level on Mt. Charleston in the Kyle Canyon woods, and it continues through the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest until it reaches the 2,507-foot finish line in Sin City. The height reduction does slow down over the final 5 to 6 miles, but there are no substantial hills along the route. It is still downhill; it’s just not quite as steep. Create a race plan based on this.
Mountains 2 Beach
Location: Ojai to Ventura, California
Date: May 24, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 1,723
Percentage of BQ (2019): 31.2%
Don’t be deceived by the course’s initial three miles of beachfront and rugged terrain. Although they are a little steep (you’ll climb approximately 250 feet in total), they are not typical of the rest of the largely downhill race, which runs from Ojai’s downtown to Ventura’s oceanfront finish.
With the exception of a few minor ascents, such as one that is around a 3-percent incline for a third of a mile at mile 15, the course gradually descends between miles 3 and 20. Before the flat, beachside finish, there is another minor hill at mile 24 (around 1.5 percent slope for approximately.6 miles).
Location: Squaw Mountain to Morrison, Colorado (Denver area)
Date: June 6, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 611
Percentage of BQ (2019): 19.2%
About: There is a big height decline on this route. Starting at 10,510 feet in the Rocky Mountains, you’ll descend to 5,802 feet in the foothills of Denver. You’ll pass through some seriously relaxing views along the route (think: pine forests, canyons, rock formations, streams, creeks, and Colorado foliage).
About halfway through the route, as you navigate through Evergreen Parkway, the only rises on the course occur. There are three of them, located at miles 11.6, 13.3, and 14.1, and each climbs between.3 and.5 miles by around 50 feet. After that, the final stretch is relatively flat.
Location: Hyak to North Bend, Washington
Date: June 28, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 341
Percentage of BQ (2019): 27.9%
One very significant benefit of this short race—400 racers are allowed—is that there are virtually no climbs. The point-to-point course’s first 7.5 miles are flat, and the final 18.5 miles accelerate even further after a gentle downhill that loses nearly 100 feet per mile all the way to the finish line in North Bend (net elevation loss from start to finish is roughly 1,500 feet).
Try to take in your surroundings as you navigate the dirt course. The Cascade Mountains, railroad trestles, waterfalls, and the shores of Keechelus Lake are some of the area’s scenic highlights.
Revel Big Cottonwood
Location: Guardsman Pass to Cottonwood Heights, Utah (Salt Lake City area)
Date: September 12, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 1,072
Percentage of BQ (2019): 19.1%
This race starts off incredibly high, at a height of 9,696 feet above sea level. The first three miles will be primarily downhill as you fly down Guardsman Pass to Brighton, losing more than 1,000 feet in the process. Enjoy the extra oxygen you get since you’ll need it to climb a 100-foot-high hill in.4 miles at mile 3.
After that, you’ll travel for over 15 miles at an average downward gradient of 5% before arriving at a roughly 5-mile out-and-back portion at mile 18, which, fair warning, some race critics did not love. However, during the final two kilometers, which dip 300 feet to the finish line at 4,441 feet, things start to look up again (actual words: “wicked” and “boring”).
Location: Huntsville, Utah
Date: September 19, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 381
Percentage of BQ (2019): 21%
You have many strong incentives to register for this race. One benefit of the course is that there are no hills at all; instead, it slowly descends 3,812 feet from the start on Monte Cristo Road to the finish line in Huntsville Town Park.
If that’s still not enough, there’s a tempting deal that guarantees Boston aspirants a qualifying time or their money back (on the condition that they haven’t run in the prior two years within ten minutes of a BQ and have never toed the line in Hopkinton). Another interesting fact: The race is a nonprofit that has given $500,000 to regional groups in the state over the previous eight years.
World’s Fastest Marathon
Location: Sierra Nevada Mountains to Granada, Spain
Date: TBD (likely October 2020)
Number of Finishers (2019): 95
Percentage of BQ (2019): 27%
Although the name of this event is exceedingly brash, there is a good reason for it. Anthony Karinga, a Kenyan runner, finished the first event in 2:09:38 after recording one of the fastest 30K marathon splits in history (1:25:40).
The fact that the race descends a staggering 6,358 feet from the start in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the finish in the historic city of Grenada may help to explain why it moves along at such a breakneck pace.
St. George Marathon
Location: St. George, Utah
Date: October 3, 2020
Number of Finishers (2019): 3,967
Percentage of BQ (2019): 15.7%
Starting at 5,240 feet in the Pine Valley Mountains of Utah, this point-to-point race slopes down about 2,600 feet to the finish line at St. George’s Vernon Worthen Park (elevation: 2,680 feet).
No, the course is not entirely downhill. Throughout, there are a few uphill sections that total around 190 net feet gained, including numerous rises between miles 7 and 11. But overall, there are more descents than ascents, and race reviews laud the course’s speed and stunning desert panoramas.