More than 2 million runners finished a half marathon in the U.S. in 2014, a stunning figure that quadrupled half marathon participation from just 15 years earlier. Those 2 million had about 2,200 half marathon races to choose from across the country, with participation numbers at those races ranging from a few hundred to more than 25,000.
So how do you take 2,200 races and pick 13 as “bucket list” half marathons? We weighed several factors—popularity, history, scenery, competitiveness and uniqueness—to put together the ultimate list of half marathons you need to run. They are all over the country—from Vermont to Florida to Indiana to Hawaii—and bring something to the table that’s hard to replicate.
Here’s our list. How many have you checked off?
It’s a relatively new race (starting in 2006), but the NYC Half has quickly become one of the most in-demand half marathons in the country. Unlike the five-borough NYC Marathon, the NYC Half is entirely in Manhattan. It starts with the famous Central Park loop before heading toward the Hudson River and then taking runners down to lower Manhattan with a finish on Wall Street. The race is each March and also has a sparkling elite field. Photo: PhotoRun.net
500 Festival Mini-Marathon
This popular race in Indianapolis is consistently one of the largest half marathons in the country, with more than 25,000 finishers. It’s known (besides its size) for the 2.5-mile loop around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track from miles 6-8.
Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas
A chance to run on the Las Vegas Strip at night is one you cannot miss. It is the only time the Strip closes for runners, and the event turns into a part-race, part-party. Truly a one-of-a-kind event. It takes place annually in November.
Covered Bridges Half Marathon
Dubbed “The Best 13.1 miles in New England,” this 25-year-old race in Vermont caps the field at 2,300 and is famous for the covered bridges participants run through. The non-profit race donates more than $50,000 a year to various youth causes.
La Jolla Half Marathon
An incredible point-to-point course—but not an easy one. The April race starts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and takes runners south along the Pacific coastline with the finish line near La Jolla Cove. It’s 13.1 miles of San Diego’s most stunning coastline, but it comes with several challenging hills so train accordingly!
Brooklyn Half Marathon
This is one of the New York Road Runners' most popular races, taking runners from the Brooklyn Museum to the famous Coney Island boardwalk. It takes place each year in May. Photo: Courtesy of NYRR
Starting and finishing in Waikiki and running along the Oahu coastline and into downtown Honolulu, this April race has been dubbed “Hawaii’s Half Marathon.” Running vacation, anyone?
Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon
A summertime race in the popular California destination, this half marathon features a fast and scenic course starting at Cuvaison Carneros Winery and finishing in historic Sonoma Plaza in front of City Hall. Race organizers make a weekend out of it—besides the race, a welcome reception (at a winery, of course), a pre-race dinner and a wine & music festival are also offered. You may also bump into an elite runner—Ryan Hall and Magdalena Boulet are just a couple of past participants. Photo: Lucid Images UT
Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia
A fast race through one of America’s most historic cities, runners race along the scenic Schuylkill River, finishing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (near the Rocky Steps!). The race is typically in September. Photo: PhotoRun.net
BAA Half Marathon
This October race attracts more than 6,000 runners to Boston, and they get a great tour of the city's favorite running spots. The course winds along Boston’s famed Emerald Necklace, finishing at the White Stadium track in Franklin Park.
Key West Half Marathon
A classic destination race, runners race through Old Town and the waterfront areas of Key West in this point-to-point, relatively flat race in the Florida vacation spot. The race takes place annually in January.
Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon
The “miniMarathon” takes place in Louisville the weekend before the iconic horse race. Of course, you can’t have a Kentucky Derby Festival race without runners seeing Churchill Downs, and this race visits the historic site at mile 8. Photo: Marvin Young/KDF.