READ THIS NEXT {{displayTitle}} READ Maybe you’ve noticed the starting lines at races are a little more crowded. Or the sign-ups have become a bit more competitive. (As one would-be NYC marathoner tweeted, “I’ve never refreshed a page more in my entire life.”) And with reason: We’re in the middle of a boom in terms of runners and races.

According to Running USA’s annual 2014 “State of the Sport” report, the number of road race finishers in America has increased nearly 300 percent since 1990. That’s 19,025,000 runners crossing finish lines in 2013—a record number of participants in organized races around the nation. And with the New York City Marathon's record-breaking 50,530 finishers in 2014, it's safe to say the numbers are only going to grow.

To help you get organize and pick the best course(s) for your 2015 (and 2016!) race calendar, we’ve put together the definitive guide to the best organized runs in every state. Trust us, if you’re going to put in the training, you’ll want to run the best of the best. And if you’re a real racing junkie, you can consider this the ultimate bucket list.

50 Best Races: Alabama, Rocket City Marathon
Photo: Rocket City Marathon

Distance: Marathon
Month: December

The grande dame of southern marathons, the Rocket City Marathon—going on 37 years—is one of the premier running events in the South. The gently rolling and fast trek through Huntsville is a Boston Qualifier. In 2014, an updated course took runners through Historic Downtown Hunstville, the Huntsville Botanical Gardens, and the Space and Rocket Center. Kiddos are also invited to participate in their own marathon program that has children from kindergarten through 8th grade run a marathon course over the span of 13 weeks. To pump up the excitement for both runners and spectators, race organizers invite "spirit teams" made up of participants’ family, friends, and coworkers to host cheering stations at different mile markers. And get rowdy! There’s cash rewards for the team that makes the most noise!

Distance: Marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 4 miles
Month: June

With glaciers, northern lights, and 20-plus hours of functional daylight, Alaska is nature’s beauty in overdrive. And all that daylight is put to good use with the annual Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, Half Marathon, and Marathon Relay. Held on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice, this running event has been a tradition in Anchorage for more than 40 years. Hosting roughly 4,000 runners from all 50 states and some 15 countries, this U.S. Track and Field (USATF)-certified marathon is a Boston Qualifier and literally takes runners off the beaten path. The course begins along the Chugach Range in east Anchorage and runs through the forest to the Chester Creek Trail to the Coastal Trail before finishing in downtown Anchorage along the Delaney Park Strip. A marathon relay, half marathon, 4-mile race, and 1.6-mile youth race serve as alternative options to non-marathoners, but all runners are invited to dress in crazy costumes. And don’t worry about Arctic Circle weather: In June runners can bask in ideal marathon temps (between 55 and 70 degrees).

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10K
Month: February

Speed demons, get ready for a fast course at the Phoenix Marathon. Perfect for pushing the pace, the course has an almost steady elevation drop netting nearly 1,000 feet from start to finish. The race begins under the large, white “Phoenix” sign painted on Usery Mountain and offers sweeping desert views. And to give runners the boost they need to get that Boston qualifying time, those who finish within their age group's qualifying time limit can collect a commemorative visor. (Trust us, in Arizona you’ll want all the sun protection you can get!) But runners aren’t the only ones that get extra incentive: Spectators can participate in the Cheer Challenge, which gives onlookers the chance to win prize money for motivating runners. Building up to a full marathon? Shorter race options include a half marathon and 10K course.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K
Month: March

Want to really bling-out your medal display? The Little Rock Marathon—known for its famous finisher’s medal—will add a hulking slab of metal to your collection. Held annually on the first Sunday in March, this marathon brings a playful spirit to the course with yearly themes (2015 was “pirates”) and an all-inclusive atmosphere (half marathon, 10K, 5K fun run, and a Little Rockers Kids Marathon bring every kind of runner to the course). The USATF-certified marathon course gives participants a tour of the state’s capital with sights like the Capital building (a replica of D.C.’s, commonly used as a stand-in in movies). If you’re more tortoise than hare, take note: There’s no time limit, unlike most marathons that close the course after six hours.

Distance: 12K
Month: May

The phrase “Only in San Francisco” gets used a lot when describing this race, and with good reason. The wacky 12K distance is your first hint that this is far from your typical footrace. But really it’s the costumed madness (and occasional nudity) more akin to Mardi Gras than marathons that really earns its storied reputation. The oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world, Bay to Breakers brings 50,000 runners, walkers, and centipedes (three runners and/or walkers linked together) to one place. Decked out in whatever they please, runners and walkers line up to complete the roughly 7.5-mile route from the San Francisco Bay to the breakers on Ocean Beach. To make things even more interesting, participants are invited to suggest a “World Record” they’d like to break during the race or post-race festival. “Most People to Take a Selfie With a Port-o-Potty” was the suggested record from the race organizers, and things are bound to get sillier from there.

Distance: Half marathon
Month: September

Chosen by Trail Runner Magazine as one of “America’s 14 most scenic races” and voted by Colorado Runner as Best Half Marathon, the Golden Leaf Half Marathon may have picturesque Rocky Mountain views, but they come with a price: steep, steep elevation. The 13.3-mile route winds from Snowmass Village to the heart of Aspen through a course featuring mountainous trails and roads. Designed to challenge even the most seasoned runners, the race begins with a bang: a 680-foot elevation climb in the first 1.5 miles. Race organizers recommend adding 30 minutes to a participant’s normal half-marathon pace when estimating their finish time. Capped at 1,000 entries, runners can enjoy an intimate race and a clear view of the scenery on this serene course.

50 Best Races: Connecticut, Manchester Road Race
Photo: Manchester Road Race

Distance: 4.7 miles
Month: November

This race had a modest start—just 12 runners hoofed it across the inaugural Manchester Road Race course back in 1927. Today it’s one of New England’s most popular road races and the largest race in Connecticut, with registration open to 15,000 runners. That number doesn’t count the party-crashers, though: Roughly 1,250 bandits (unregistered runners) snuck into the race in 2014 (and the number is usually double that). It also attracts elite runners, locals, and nearly 20,000 spectators annually. Held on Thanksgiving morning every year, the 4.7-mile course is basically the ultimate turkey trot. And in the spirit of saying thanks, race proceeds are donated each year to muscular dystrophy research, along with a variety of other local charities.

Distance: 5K
Month: May

History buffs, this one’s for you. This 5K takes 200 runners on a trip back through colonial times as they make their way through the historic area of Old New Castle along the Delaware River. During the flat, fast, 3.1-mile course, runners will pass momentous sites like Delaware’s first capitol and courthouse, and the exact spot where William Penn (founder of the British colony that later became Pennsylvania), landed in the New World. Aside from time traveling through America’s early days, the other thing that separates this race from other 5Ks is its start time: Rather than starting at the crack of dawn, the Old to New Castle Run kicks off at 6:30 p.m., just in time for twilight skies, making the already picturesque route even more scenic.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 6K, 5K
Month: February

Florida beaches conjure visions of resting in a hammock, tropical drink in hand. And the public beaches of Fort Lauderdale are a mighty fine place to put your feet up—especially after 26.2 miles. A quieter and less crowded alternative to Florida’s popular Miami Marathon and Walt Disney World Marathon, the Fort Lauderdale Marathon attracts a smaller pool of 4,000 runners. All the better to enjoy unfiltered ocean views. (#wishyouwerehere) It's an ideal winter destination running event that ends in a festive post-race beach party with food, beer, and live music. The fast and flat course is a Boston Qualifier, and race organizers offer a half marathon, 6K breast cancer awareness run, 5K, and kids’ fun run, making it all the easier to rope in friends at all running levels to join you.

Distance: 10K
Month: July

If 10K is your racing sweet spot and your philosophy is “The more, the merrier!” come to Georgia where you’ll find the largest 10K race in the world. You’ll run this course with 60,000 of your closest friends (and maybe a stranger or two) on Independence Day with patriotic fanfare. The 6.2-mile course takes participants through the streets of Buckhead to the corners of Midtown, finishing in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. Organized by the Atlanta Track Club, the Peachtree Road Race is popular with elite athletes, casual runners, and walkers alike; so popular, in fact, you’ll need to join a lottery in order to register. But don’t let that intimidate you. If you get a spot, you’ll have the support of nearly 150,000 spectators on race day.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: Self-scheduled

DIY is certainly #trending (just look at Pinterest), so why not try a DIY race? Born out of the idea that race registration fees have gotten excessively expensive, this “non-race” can be run by anyone at any time. Putting complete control of the course, time, date, and experience in the hands (and legs) of the runner, the race website provides a variety of scenic course suggestions at both 26.2- and 13.1-mile distances. And it’s basically choose-your-own-adventure from there! However, it’s also up to the runner to provide his/her own fuel and water throughout the course. The payoff? There's no need to schedule your vacation around a race day. Anytime you find yourself on the beautiful island of Maui, you can run The Maui Marathon or Aloha Half Marathon. But if you are craving camaraderie, there are a few non-official race days where you can explore the route with other runners. And while there’s no official registration fee, finishers can email the race founder and, for a small price, he’ll send them a finisher's T-shirt and medal.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: August

The Mesa Falls Marathon has given new meaning to the words “running wild.” Fauna like elk, deer, moose, bison, cougars, wolves, and bears have all been known to cross paths with racers. And yes, runners are warned to give these animals the “right of way”! That’s what happens when a race course cuts through Yellowstone National Park. Both the marathon and half marathon races are point-to-point courses, starting in the Targhee National Forest and ending in the city of Ashton. Marathon runners will cover a blend of running surfaces (gravel, packed trails, and pavement) along picturesque views of the Targhee National Forest, the Teton Mountains, Lower Mesa Falls on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, and Warm River. But perhaps the best part is the huckleberry milkshake all runners get past the finish line.

Distance: Marathon
Month: October

Since its debut as “The Mayor Daley Marathon” in 1977, this race has been known as one of the most prestigious in the world. One of the six World Marathon Majors, this race takes roughly 45,000 runners on a tour of the Windy City through a course known for being flat and fast. And given its reputation, it’s no wonder both elite and casual runners flock to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. In 2014, the high volume of interested participants spurred race organizers to make registration occur through a lottery (versus the first-come, first-served online process that was used before). But you'll be swayed to add your name to the lottery when you consider the course highlights: the Chicago Board of Trade, Lincoln Park Zoo, Willis Tower, the Chinatown Gate, 29 official Chicago neighborhoods, and 1.7 million spectators. Plus you can treat yourself to a victorious Chicago-style hot dog post-race.

50 Best Races: Indiana, OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon
Photo: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon

Distance: Half marathon, 5K
Month: May

Runners! Start your engines! This race takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—the world’s largest spectator sporting facility—drawing 40,000 participants. The OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon is the nation’s biggest half marathon, and it gives runners the opportunity to complete 2.5 miles of the course on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, home to the world-famous Indianapolis 500 car race. The epic “mini marathon,” now in its 39th year, could be considered a pre-game ritual to the Indy 500. (It’s held during the weeks leading up to the sporting event.) Festivities include an accompanying 5K race, more than 80 live bands along the course, and a huge post-race festival in downtown Indianapolis' Military Park.

Distance: 7 miles
Month: November

Long before obstacle courses like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race hit the racing scene, the Living History Farms Race took the concept of a trail run and set it over super demanding farmland terrain. Participants must wade through creeks (there are nine total water crossings), dodge livestock, and climb gullies throughout the seven-mile course. Instead of the typical post-race banana and/or beer, finishers receive a hot meal courtesy of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. If this sounds like a fringe event, keep in mind it’s been going strong for 36 years and draws a crowd of 7,600 runners. Participants are invited to get festive with costumesbut don’t forget to dress in warm, wicking layers for the wet and demanding landscape.

Distance: 100 Miles
Month: July

In honor of the most badass animal on earth, the Honey Badger, this endurance challenge presents runners with a 5.75-mile out and back in Cheney State Park before they move on to a 92.9-mile asphalt loop contained entirely within Kingman County, Kansas. And if you thought the distance was the hard part, think again. While the point-to-point loop features very little elevation, no major highways, and minimal traffic, it's the brutal summer heat that will really test you. (Read: get your hydration needs sorted before you toe this starting line!) That's part of the reason race organizers require all runners to bring their own support crew. But there are three stationary water/ice stations and a roving replenishment vehicle on the course too.

Distance: 200 miles (relay)
Month: October

Both casual joggers (and drinkers!) and serious athletes (and drinkers!) are invited to join in on the fun at the Bourbon Chase. Just save the drinks for after the finish line! Teams of six to 12 unite to cross the Bluegrass State in a 200-mile relay race along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The race begins near Bardstown, the bourbon capital of the world, then winds through horse farms, historic bourbon distilleries, and hilly countryside landscapes, all leading up to a finish line in downtown Lexington. Teams can celebrate post-race at a festival with live music, food, and celebratory drinks (bourbon, of course).

Distance: 10K
Date: Saturday before Easter Sunday

Given the city’s other signature events—Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest—it makes sense that this race would be a true party in the streets. And according to the race brochure, this 10K was the first of its kind to have live music on the course and a post-race festival with all-you-can-eat (and drink) tickets. (We believe it!) That first Crescent City Classic in 1979 had only 902 participants, but now it’s one of the biggest fitness events in Louisiana, attracting elite runners, fun runners, and beer chuggers to the tune of more than 20,000 participants. Drinks are served at unofficial beer stations throughout the 6.2-mile flat course and in unlimited quantities at the after party—where you can also get your hands on local creole cuisine. (Hello, post-race po’boy!)

Distance: Marathon, 15K
Month: May

Despite the surrounding elements—like, you know, a mountain—the Sugarloaf Marathon is a surprisingly fast course. In fact, the final 16 miles of the marathon have an elevation loss of 980 feet, making it common for runners to set a new personal best time here. That’s good news for anyone looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon, as the race is an official qualifier and USATF-certified. But the Sugarloaf Marathon is more than just a speedy course. Starting in Eustis near Flagstaff Lake, the roughly 1,600 runners can catch breathtaking views of the mountains of western Maine throughout the course. For a shorter, less hilly option, individuals can opt for the 15K, which follows the last part of the marathon course sans elevation.

Maryland: JFK 50 Miler

Distance: 50 miles
Month: November

Ever wonder what madman kicked off the ultramarathon trend? Well, the first person to bring ultramarathons (i.e. endurance challenges more than 26.2 miles in length) to the U.S. was actually good old J.F.K. Yes, really! President John F. Kennedy’s push to reinvigorate physical fitness throughout America sparked a series of 50-mile running events held across the country. Called the JFK 50 Mile Challenge, one such race was held in Washington County, Maryland. And while the majority of these events ended after Kennedy’s assassination, the Washington County event was renamed the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964 and became the only original race to be held every year since. Mileage aside, the 50-mile course is no easy feat; it follows the Appalachian Trail to the C&O Canal towpath. And while the race is open to the public, it remains a military race in spirit.

Distance: Marathon
Month: April

Debatably the most prestigious marathon in the United States, the Boston Marathon is for many runners the ultimate bucket list course. It caught widespread media attention in recent years due to the bombings of 2013, but even before that awful tragedy, Boston was still the most talked-about race in the nation. Every year on Patriot’s Day in April, also known as Marathon Monday, the city swings into full marathon mode, bringing together elite runners, fun runners, parents, college students, and kids to celebrate those making the 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston. And it’s not just one of the most prestigious footraces, it’s also the world's oldest annual marathon. The 26.2-mile course has been run consistently for well over 100 years. Alas, runners must qualify for Boston (see other race listings for qualifying events) or run in honor of a charity. While scoring a bib is no easy feat, runners who make it to the starting line will be treated to a course crossing charming small towns, the Wellesley student “scream tunnel,” and the infamous climb up Heartbreak Hill on the way to the finish line.

Distance: 100 miles, 100K, 50 miles, 50K, marathon, half marathon, 5 miles, 5K
Month: September

One part music festival, one part running festival, Run Woodstock is a three-day celebration of peace, love, and locomotion. Hosting Michigan’s only 100-mile race, the weekend also offers other distance like a 100K, 50-miler, 50K, marathon, half marathon, and 5-mile race. The weekend kicks off with the main event: the 100-miler. And while the ultra runners inch their way through the course, other festival-goers can indulge in music, other races or “fun runs,” and active events like yoga sessions, hikes, and more. Despite the laid-back crowd, organizers ensure races are professionally timed and seriously monitored. Our suggestion: the half marathon, a course featuring a mixture of single-track, rail trail, and horse trail surfaces that loops from Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney. Do the run, then relax and enjoy the rest of the festival.

Distance: Half marathon, 5K
Month: May

For runners who want to unplug and abstain from the post-finish-line selfie, the Ham Run Half Marathon is for you. Deep in the Superior National Forest, there's no cell service along the course, so it’s just 200 runners sweating it out in nature, no hashtags needed. The race follows the same route the Ham Lake Fire burned through in 2007, and it’s miles from civilization—quite the change-up from Minnesota’s more well-known Twin Cities Marathon. Even if you’re deeply attached to your iPhone, it’s worth trekking into the wilderness for the race’s scenic views. The fire route passes through the Gunflint Trail and ends at the Way of the Wilderness Canoe Outfitters, where finishers are offered all the ham and fixings their hearts desire.

Distance: Marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 10K
Month: January

As rich in music history as it is in swag, this 26.2-mile trot packs in a lot of tunes at every marker. Runners race along the Mississippi Blues Trail as well as popular blues venues and the state's original capitol. Live music plays along the course, and each Mississippi Blues Marathon finisher takes home a hefty swag bag, including a harmonica and a blinged-out music-themed finisher's medal. Those who aren't quite ready for a marathon but still want to enjoy the festival-like atmosphere (start and finish lines double as a concert space) can choose between a half marathon, a “Quarter Note” (roughly a 10K), or marathon relay. And for runners who really want to celebrate their finish, there's a post-race bar "Blues Crawl" available.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 5K
Month: October

As Christopher Walken said on Saturday Night Live, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.” Clearly the MO' Cowbell Marathon organizers caught the same bug, because they created a whole marathon around these obtrusive noisemakers. But aside from the copious use of cowbells, the race itself is a flat, fast course that starts and finishes in Frontier Park. Runners wind through New Town St. Charles, looping around the neighborhood, then pass by the original starting point before heading north for an out-and-back stretch along the Katy Trail. Participants can also opt for a half marathon or a 5K, and everyone gets treated to the race’s “High-Five Zone,” a cheer area at mile five equipped with entertainment, activities, and—you guessed it!—cowbells for spectators.

50 Best Races: Montana, The Missoula Marathon
Photo: The Missoula Marathon

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 5K
Month: July

In 2010, Runner’s World magazine named the Missoula Marathon the “Best Marathon in the United States,” beating out other well-known city races. Surprised? Well consider the fact that this point-to-point course travels through the scenic countryside surrounding the Rocky Mountain town of Missoula. Then take into account that the marathon registration is capped at 1,750 entries, giving it an intimate feel and clear sightlines. Finally, consider that it’s both a Boston Qualifier and walker-friendly, making it beloved by elite runners and beginners alike. And while it’s mainly fast and flat, the USATF-certified course does have one significant hill at the halfway point, but with that effort comes epic views.

Distance: Half marathon
Month: November

With the tagline, “Halfsy the distance, double the fun,” Nebraska’s Good Life Halfsy promises a playful half marathon. The Halfsy goal is to use its racing event as a weekend-long tribute to Nebraska and its people, landmarks, icons, and culture. Approximately 6,000 runners take over the streets of Lincoln, racing the point-to-point course and covering city streets and trails alike, soaking in the views of Lincoln’s favorite landmarks like Holmes Lake, the State Capitol, and the Haymarket Ballpark trail. At the finish, runners can catch a glimpse of themselves on a giant screen nicknamed the "Cube" as they head through the Haymarket District for the finish line. And it wouldn’t be a “good life” if the race didn’t end with an epic after-party.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: November

You’ve heard of a shotgun wedding, but have you ever heard of a run-through wedding? This only-in-Vegas feature at the city's Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon allows runners to stop by a chapel to tie the knot or renew their vows mid-race before 30,000 spectators. Held along The Strip at night under the legendary casino lights, this extraordinary race shuts down Las Vegas Boulevard and turns it into racing lanes exclusively for runners. And as expected, live music and a raging after-party await all participants just past the finish line. Whether runners pick the marathon or half marathon option, it’s a win-win scenario that hopefully carries over to the roulette table.

Distance: 7.6 miles
Month: June

Instead of passing tourist attractions along the route, the Mount Washington Road Race actually runs up one: Mount Washington itself. The 7.6-mile race is more climb than run, as the course rises 4,650 vertical feet from the base of the mountain to the summit (located at 6,288 feet above sea level) via the Mount Washington Auto Road. Though the steep course proves difficult terrain for even the most seasoned runners—the average elevation grade is 11 percent—the novelty of an uphill race triggers a strong demand for bibs across New England, the U.S., and even globally. A lottery system is used to determine the lucky 1,100 non-elite participants. The reward for this treacherous climb? A post-race festival featuring lunch and a full turkey dinner... because why not?

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, half marathon relay
Month: April

The New Jersey Marathon has a lot of winning features: It’s a completely flat race held in the cool portion of spring, plus it ends very close to the beach. The point-to-point marathon course is also a Boston Qualifier and takes runners through the scenic streets of the Jersey Shore (no, not the one from MTV) and along the Asbury Park boardwalk (yes, the one from Bruce Springsteen’s album). Half marathoners experience the same oceanfront finish as those running the full course. And for those who want to make their experience a team effort, there’s a half marathon relay.

Distance: Marathon, 14.2 miles
Month: March

Consider this another way to honor our troops: The challenging Bataan Memorial Death March race crosses through the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range to commemorate American and Filipino P.O.W.s in WWII who were forced to march for days through the Philippines jungle. Participants can choose to either march, run, or walk one of two distances. The green route is the full 26.2-mile course, designed so participants can appreciate some of what soldiers endured during their long, forced trek. The blue route is a shorter 14.2-mile course designed for those who wish to participate without enduring the entire marathon-length course. Whichever distance you choose, be prepared to face a supremely challenging route with steep elevation climbs and difficult sand pits that will test your determination. But the obstacles only add to your pride once you cross the finish line.

50 Best Races: New York, The New York City Marathon
Photo: The New York City Marathon

Distance: Marathon
Month: November

Arguably the second-most prestigious marathon behind the Boston Marathon (remember, we said arguably), the New York City Marathon begins at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with a rousing rendition of "New York, New York." In 2014, the race recorded a record-breaking 50,530 runners who made the 26.2-mile trek from Staten Island through Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx and finally into Manhattan. Throughout the course, each borough carries a certain Big Apple energy, whether that’s from live musicians peppering the route, the fellow racers checking off their bucket list, or the boisterous 2.5-million spectators cheering from sidelines. However, this event isn't open to just anyone! Participating runners must qualify, win a spot in the lottery, run in honor of a charity, or complete New York Road Runner's longstanding 9+1 program.

Distance: 5 miles
Month: February

Now here’s a race measured in distance—and doughnuts. What began as a dare among 10 North Carolina State University Park students has grown into a nationally recognized eat-and-run challenge. Roughly 8,000 participants race through five miles, 12 doughnuts, and one doughnut shop. The course cuts through 2.5 miles of historic downtown Raleigh to the Krispy Kreme, where runners consume a dozen original glazed doughnuts, then run the 2.5 miles back to their starting point. It’s a test of both physical fitness and gastrointestinal fortitude. If just the idea of wolfing down 12 doughnuts makes you sick, know it’s all for a good cause: The 2014 Krispy Kreme Challenge raised $200,000 for the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K
Month: May

Runners who thrive off the energy of a cheering crowd could reach their personal best in Fargo, where the starting line for the city's marathon is the ultimate pep rally. Racers begin inside the Fargodome, an indoor athletic stadium on North Dakota State University’s campus, surrounded by 15,000 cheering fans and spectators sure to amp up the excitement. Once the timer begins, though, runners spill out into the quiet, tree-lined streets of north Fargo. The annual event, now in its 11th year, covers three college campuses and even ventures into Moorhead, Minnesota, along the mostly flat marathon route. Varying race distances include a half marathon and 10K, which also begin inside the Fargodome, and a tailgate 5K to kick off the race weekend.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, beer mile
Month: May

Never say never. That’s goes both for running marathons and for saying “when pigs fly.” Because the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and Half happens every spring, and it’s come to be known as a “must-run” Midwest race for runners. Participants get breathtaking views of the Ohio River at both the start and end of the marathon route. In between, they’ll travel through a number of diverse neighborhoods. The course can get quite hilly at times (mostly between miles five and nine), but the taxing climb pays off with gorgeous views. For less ascent, runners can register for the half marathon, and for more booze, there’s an accompanying one-mile beer run.

Distance: Marathon, marathon relay, half marathon, 5K
Month: November

Held annually the week before Thanksgiving, you could say the Williams Route 66 Marathon is just a really early turkey trot—but that wouldn’t do justice to this two-day festival in Tulsa. The 7,500 runners taking on the marathon can visit a little spot on the course called the Center of the Universe—well, according to race organizers. Run an extra 0.3 miles right through this sweet spot, and you’ll technically have the bragging rights of completing an ultramarathon. (Hey, the definition is any length over a marathon, so those three-tenths of a mile count!) Plus you'll earn an extra medallion to go along with your race medal. Specially designed medals honor the antique autos that used to travel Route 66. Those who want an alternative distance can sign up for the half marathon, marathon relay, or 5K.

Distance: 197 miles (relay)
Month: August

Don’t freak out. We aren’t suggesting you run 197 miles by yourself. But you could go the distance with 11 of your closest friends—or even team up with total strangers! Known as the "Mother of All Relays,” the nearly 200-mile Hood to Coast Relay is the largest relay in the world, hosting a capped limit of 1,050 teams. The course, which travels from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast, is broken up into 36 legs of roughly four to six miles, meaning each team member runs about 13 to 20 miles over the span of a weekend. Once teams reach the coast, they’re invited to shake their legs out at what race organizers call “a beach party like no other.”

50 Best Races: Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Marathon
Photo: The Philadelphia Marathon

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: November

If you’ve ever dreamed of climbing those epic Rocky steps as spectators cheer you on, the Philadelphia Marathon is the race for you. And apart from that cinematic scene, it’s also one of the most exciting races in the nation that doesn’t require a lottery or qualifying time to register. All that inclusiveness means an impressive field size capacity of 30,000 runners (and 60,000-plus spectators!). Beginning at the Rocky steps, the marathon course passes the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, as well as the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. You’ll basically get a lesson in American history as you race—and a high five from the mayor at the finish line, if you’re lucky.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 5K
Month: May

With more than 5,000 participants, 10,000 spectators, and an entire weekend of race-related festivities, the annual Cox Providence Rhode Races are quickly becoming one of the fastest growing—and most affordableraces in the Northeast. The eighth annual race weekend, happening in May, features a full USATF-certified marathon, a half marathon, and a 5K for runners of varying degrees and skill levels. The marathon course is mostly flat with gradual elevation changes—but runners should save some gas in the tank for a hilly climb at approximately mile 23. All races share the same starting line, and all runners can celebrate past the finish line with food, beverages, music, and a beer garden at the post-race festival in Burnside Park.

Distance: 10K
Month: April

Since its inaugural debut, the Cooper River Bridge Run has been the largest race in the Carolinas, with a field of 40,000 runners and walkers. And it has quite the history: After beginning on the Silas Pearman Bridge in 1978, the race has outlasted two other bridges that once crossed the Cooper River. It currently runs over the Ravenel Bridge, a 2.5-mile-long structure with two diamond-shaped towers and a manageable incline, providing participants with sweet views of Charleston. Open to elite runners, casual joggers, and walkers, the event also has an element for non-runners: a T-shirt and poster design contest, so bring along that artsy friend.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: October

The new kid on the block, the Run Crazy Horse Half Marathon has only been around since 2010, but that doesn’t make it any less spirited. Founded by veteran marathoner and race organizer Jerry Dunn, this footrace is on a point-to-point course that begins at the Visitor’s Center at the momentous Crazy Horse Memorial—a mountain monument depicting Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior. Runners then travel over both paved and gravel roads before venturing to the Mickelson Trail, where they can enjoy a mix of downhill and flat terrain. And whether you do the half or full marathon, all runners can enjoy the Native American-inspired drum ceremony that kicks off the start of the race.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: April

Celebrating cowboy boots, Southern drawls, and the best of country music, this marathon is recognized as the ultimate tour of Music City. The full course takes 30,000 runners past historic sites like the Parthenon, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville’s world-famous Music Row, and through the finish line just outside the LP Field stadium. Those looking for a shorter distance can opt to run the half marathon, but both courses feature the same rolling hills. (Read: Your calves won't get much of a break.) As expected, there’s plenty of live music on the course, and participants also have the option to attend a post-race concert. Past performers include Sara Evans, Brad Paisley, Phil Vassar, Jo Dee Messina, Diamond Rio, Martina McBride, and Kenny Rogers.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: January

Promising a “fast, flat, and friendly” running experience through America’s fourth largest city, the Houston Marathon brags that many runners qualify for Boston on their course. In 2016, the annual event plans to accept its largest field size ever: 27,000 runners. (Each race, marathon and half marathon, will be capped at 13,500 entries.) The steady climb of participants—up from less than 100 runners in 1972, its inaugural year—proves just how popular this big-city race has become. The course winds from downtown Houston to Montrose, past Rice University and Memorial Field, and eventually ends back in Houston for sustenance, beer, and much celebrating.

50 Best Races: Utah, St George Marathon
Photo: St George Marathon

Distance: Marathon
Month: October

According to race organizers, October is the most beautiful month in St. George. All the more reason to run a marathon there. Temperatures range from 38 to 44 degrees at the starting line to 65 to 85 degrees at the finish line—so as your legs warm up, so will the weather. St. George Marathaon runners begin in the majestic Pine Valley mountains, and it’s all downhill from there—literally—making it a great race to chase a personal record. Continuing through southwest Utah, the route descends nearly 2,600 feet to Worthern Park. And if the downhill slope isn’t enough of a treat, the scenic views don’t stop for the entirety of the USATF-certified course. With a field cap at 7,800 runners, race bibs are in high demand, but they're doled out fairly via a lottery.

Distance: Half marathon
Month: June

To keep its quaint, small-town feel, race organizers cap this half marathon at fewer than 2,500 runners every year. With an inaugural race in 1992, the Covered Bridges Half marathon course has changed slightly over the years, but it continues to run along some of the most scenic running routes in and around Woodstock, Vermont. During the point-to-point course, which includes open farmland and views of the Ottauquechee River, runners cross two bridges and pass two more as they travel from the Suicide Six Ski Area to Quechee Polo Field, where the finish line and beer tent await.

Distance: 10K
Month: March

Named one of the best races in the country by USA Today, this 10K gives runners a striking tour of Richmond. And—bonus—the race weekend doubles as the biggest block party in Virginia. A 6.2-mile course follows Richmond’s historic and architecturally diverse Monument Avenue while giving runners a flat and fast course to set new PRs. Costumed runners, spirit groups (a.k.a. cheering squads), and live music on almost every block make Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K more of a social event than a competition, but race organizers are upping the ante this year with a new-for-2015 feature: the 10K Corporate Fitness Faceoff. To support businesses that prioritize health, this challenge invites runners to sign up with their company and bring a little friendly rivalry between co-workers.

Distance: 12K
Month: May

Despite the fact that Spokane, Washington, isn’t even in the top 100 cities in terms of population, the Lilac Bloomsday Run is one of the largest races in the country, attracting runners from several states and even Canada. Founded in 1977 by Olympic marathoner and Spokane native Don Kardong, this race has grown from 1,000 runners to a record-setting high of 61,298 runners in 1998. (The registration total in 2014 tallied just under 50,000 runners.) The unusual course distance isn’t the only twist: T-shirts are awarded only to finishers, meaning you better be willing to sweat for your swag!

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K
Month: October

Yes, West Virginia is the second most obese state in the nation, but the annual Freedom’s Run race weekend is working to turn that around. The race weekend, which is open to up to 2,500 runners and even more spectators, promotes healthy living and outdoor activity for all ages through its marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K, and kid’s fun run events. The entirety of the point-to-point marathon course is run on national park land, with a few detours through connecting country roads and preserved historic towns. Along the way, runners can spot Harper’s Ferry, the C&O Canal, and Antietam Battlefield before ending in 4.5 miles of flat-to-downhill bliss.

Distance: Marathon, half marathon
Month: May

Here’s a marathon that knows how to greet its finishers—with a massive, tailgate-themed party in the Lambeau Field parking lot. There participants can celebrate their love for running and sports with a live band, brats, and beer. Of course, in order to get there they’ll have to actually run the Green Bay Marathon, which begins in front of Lambeau Field before passing through west Green Bay and the village of Ashwaubenon. Those who choose the half marathon option will split off here, but those committed to the full 26.2-mile course will continue on, crossing two bridges and running along the Fox River Trail. The race ends back at Lambeau Field, where finishers receive a football-emblem medal before getting the party started. Cornhole, anyone?

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10K
Month: August

Sure, energy gels and sports drinks can give you a boost, but that’s nothing compared to the rush you get running alongside majestic wild horses. And that’s exactly what the Green River Chamber of Commerce’s races offer. With a marathon, half marathon, and 10K course, all races begin at Expedition Island on paved city streets. The course eventually turns to a graded dirt road and features quite the climb up Wild Horse Canyon Road to the top of White Mountain, which plateaus at 7,300 feet in elevation. The view from the top, including herds of wild horses, is your payoff for sticking with the challenging Run With the Horses Marathon course. You might want to bring a pocket camera or GoPro, or just leave yourself some time to gawk at the scenic sights (and take a bajillion selfies). After all, the course has no time limit.

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