There's something soulful, primal, and downright animal-like about running alone in the woods or on a marathon course with thousands of other racers. It sure as hell beats running on the treadmill. So we considered a large number of America's foot races – trail runs, marathons, ultras, obstacle courses, local races – and picked the best 15. What makes these the best? In each case it's different. They range from the most prestigious (Boston) to the most difficult (Badwater) to the most-likely-to-include-nude-runners (Bay to Breakers), and everything in between. Whether you're an accomplished ultrarunner or simply training for your first marathon, this list has something for everyone who thinks running is more than just exercise. Launch Gallery >>
Big Sur International Marathon (Big Sur to Carmel, CA)
In 'Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch,' Henry Miller described Big Sur as the "California that men dreamed of" and "the face of the earth as the Creator intended it to look." Jack Kerouac spent time in a cabin in Bixby Canyon and wrote about it in a book called 'Big Sur.' The nebulously defined stretch of California's Central Coast only has 1,000 residents, but its reputation for natural beauty and serenity for vacationers is outsize.
The marathon there is no different. Along the 26.2-mile route, runners encounter redwoods, gently flowing streams, the occasional wild turkey, live Taiko drummers, wildflowers, and ranches. The most stunning part of the race is right around mile 13, when runners cross Bixby Creek Bridge, a California landmark with open views of the Pacific. Be sure to stop and smell the roses, so to speak; this is one of the most scenic marathon courses in the U.S.
More Information: There's no qualifying time for Big Sur, but space is limited to 4,500. [Late April; bsim.org]
Credit: David Royal / AP