Top U.S. Marathons & Marathon Lottery Guide 2016 – 2017

Finding the right marathon to run is not easy. Gone are the days where you can just go to the race website with $50 in hand and hit “register” and you’re done. Marathons cost more than ever now and a $200 registration fee is just the beginning.

There are a few questions runners have to ask themselves before deciding on a marathon like: What marathon do you want to run? What city can you get to? What time of year do you want to train? How much money do you have to throw at your crazy plan? And can you even get into the marathon in the first place? Oh and did I mention you have to have this plan put together almost a year out? That’s right, because you totally know what your knees and work schedule will be like 10 months from now. Too bad! If you have even the slightest inkling you might want to run a big marathon, start looking as soon as the clock strikes 12:01 on January 1st of the year you want to run! (Chicago isn’t even letting you get to New Years Eve of that year – see below!). And many of the big marathons sell out quickly, if they haven’t gone to lottery. But even the lottery can be a blink-and-you-missed-it event.

NYC MarathonThere are still some last minute exceptions for registrations to the top marathons though. Turns out not all of them are by lottery with a 0.005% chance of getting in or a $4,000 entry fee. But prices still start adding up when you take into consideration other costs like how much airfare might be and the fact that hotel prices might soar for race weekend.

I’ve run a couple of the big marathons and I can say that just because they are some of the biggest marathons in the country doesn’t mean they all feel overwhelming. For instance, Disney and Marine Corps feel pretty medium-sized when you’re actually in the thick of it. And some of my run buddies have said that Chicago feels only a little bigger than that. But everyone I know who has run New York agrees that it is ginormous and intense in both size and staggered race start, with some people only starting to run at 11am due to the sheer size of the event. Yikes!

I hope this list helps some of you decide which of the top U.S. marathons you want to run this season. Good luck!!

Chicago Marathon






Top U.S. Marathons listed by race date, with size/rank in (#’s):


Twin Cities Marathon (#9)

  • October 1, 2017
  • $105 – $165
  • Registration opens February 2, 2016
  • BONUS – registration stays open late! Spots still open now even 20 days before race day!
  • Charity entry – yes, if you choose to raise money for your entry vs pay outright

Chicago Marathon (#3): UPDATE!!

  • October 8, 2017
  • $185 race entry
  • Normally lottery opens in March but opened early this year, maybe having to do with it being the race’s 40th Anniversary. If you want to register, do it soon! Lottery closes November 29th!
  • Lottery acceptance rate, aprox 63%
  • Charity entry – yes, aprox $1000 minimum (this is pre lotto, many prices go up after lotto results come back)

MCM lottoMarine Corps Marathon (#4):

  • October 22, 2017
  • $135 race entry
  • Lottery begins March
  • Lottery acceptance rate, aprox 85%
  • Charity entry – yes, aprox $350 minimum
  • Guaranteed Entry #1 – run the Marine Corps 17.75k, March 25, 2017 – race completion gets you a ticket to the MCM (must still pay for both race entries), sells out FAST. Read about it here.
  • Guaranteed Entry #2 – Runner’s World VIP entry, $325 includes entry and more. Check out my experience with them here.

New York City Marathon (#1):

  • November 5, 2017
  • $255 + $11 processing; non-U.S. residents $347
  • Lottery begins mid January
  • Lottery acceptance rate, aprox 18% (OUCH! check out the # breakdown at Runner’s World)
  • Charity entry – yes, $2,500 minimum

Philadelphia Marathon (#8)

  • November 20, 2016
  • $85 – $155
  • Registration opens April 1, 2016
  • BONUS – registration stays open late! Spots still open even 50 days before race day!

Honolulu Marathon (#5):

  • December 11, 2016
  • $64 (pre registration rate for U.S. entries, international entries start in April)
  • Early registration ends January 31st, 2016, total registration ends in early November
  • No cap on entries

Disney World Marathon (#6):

  • January 8, 2017
  • $175
  • On sale in May
  • Marathon sells out in 4-5 months, but Dopey Challenge sells out in hours (or minutes this year?)
  • Charity entry – yes, $600 minimum for marathon (minimal charities at this rate, average is $1,000+)

Houston Marathon (#10)

  • January 15, 2017
  • $135
  • 27,000 runners; 13,500 for the marathon, 13,500 for the half marathon
  • Registration begins January 17 and closes January 21 – but closes as soon as it reaches 10,000 entries!
  • Charity entry – yes, $500+ dependent upon individual charity
  • Guaranteed entry – yes, through HERO entry, a direct donation site of $350 plus race entry fee.

LA Marathon (#7):

  • March 19, 2017
  • $200
  • BONUS – registration stays open late! You can practically sign up all the way into February, spots still open
  • Guaranteed Entry – Runner’s World VIP, aprox $350+

Big Sur Marathon:

  • April 30, 2017
  • $160
  • Lottery begins July
  • Lottery chances unknown (2016 was first year with lottery and people can enter multiple lottery categories)
  • Charity entry – yes, $325 minimum
  • Guaranteed Entry – Runner’s World VIP, aprox $350+

Boston Marathon (#2):

  • April 17, 2017 (not yet confirmed but usually on 3rd Monday in April – Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts)
  • $110
  • Registration begins in September, 2016
  • Charity entry – yes, $3,000 minimum + race entry
  • Guaranteed entry – by qualifying time only, varies year to year by Boston Qualifiers standards (registration is staggered with entrants who have qualified by more than 20 min starting first, then -10 min, then -5 min; check it out here)


fingers crossed

What marathon are you running this year? What is the biggest factor for you in deciding what marathon to run? Which lotteries have you entered?

12 responses to “Top U.S. Marathons & Marathon Lottery Guide 2016 – 2017

  1. I put my name in for NYC, and then five seconds later discovered that Wine and Dine was the same weekend. I want to do W&D at least once, so if I don’t get chosen for NYC I’ll probably submit my name in for that. I’m skipping MCM this year.


    • Oh no! I can’t believe they’re on the same weekend this year. I hope you find out about NYC soon so you can be at the ready for the W&D registration. I think that one sells out faster than any other Disney race! And I’m skipping MCM this year too. It’s too close to W&D weekend this year and we are also thinking about doing that one this year. Good luck on all your entries!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I entered the big sur lottery this year but didn’t get in. Like you, I cringe at that big price tag. It’s just too much. Plus, I’ve learned that I absolutely hate large races. So that probably eliminates most of those for me! I think I am probably running the Des Moines marathon this year. I was told it was like a hidden gem!


    • That’s such a bummer you didn’t get in! I really want to do Big Sur but I’m sort of resigned to the fact that I’d have to put down $350 for that guaranteed spot if I really wanted to do it. It really does add up, but some of those races just draw you in. I agree on wanting to do a smaller race this year. I’ve think I’ve heard of that Des Moines one. Didn’t it make one of those “Runner’s World Top 10” lists? I’m sure it’s more peaceful than any on the list above.


  3. Great post! I entered the NYCM lottery so I guess we’ll see. If you end up deciding to do Jacksonville let me know – I have a few friends who have run the Donna breast cancer marathon and loved it. Apparently it’s a great city for a race!


    • Thanks!! I was doing all this marathon research and figured I should write it down so I don’t have to look it up every year! I hope you get into NYCM! I couldn’t believe the lotto had such poor odds though. But guy from my run club put in for the first time 2 years ago and got it the first try, but his wife didn’t make it and ended up shelling out $$$ for a charity entry. They do make it difficult if you want to sign up for one of the big ones with a friend. And that’s good to know about Jacksonville. I’m so undecided about my race lineup right now! Ideal marathon -> Reykjavik Marathon in August! I can dream, right? 🙂


  4. I still don’t understand why someone would pay that much money for a marathon, and then pay the cost to travel ALL THE WAY THERE! The New York or L.A. Marathon would end up costing me an easy thousand all together. I just ran a serene marathon 40 miles from my house for $80. So is all that trouble for 26 miles really worth it?


    • That’s great you found a good marathon close to home for a reasonable price! I imagine people pay the big $$$ because they want to say they ran one of the big marathons like NYC/Chicago/Boston. Or maybe they don’t have a marathon closer to where they live or at the right time of year they want to run. Plus, don’t forget there’s the added benefit of all the sightseeing you get to do in the city you run in. The big races go to a lot of trouble to loop runners past all the amazing art and historic districts. But, yes, it’s totally pricey to do some of these races! That’s probably why so many people choose the fundraising route.


  5. Pingback: I Won The Chicago Marathon Lottery! | ishouldrun·

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