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 >>
New York City Marathon (New York, NY)
Just as golf has the PGA Championship and tennis has Wimbledon, elite marathoning has its major championships, also known as the World Marathon Majors. The competition's members include Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York City, which finishes off the season in November every year. In 2011, New York's event set the world record for the largest number of finishers at 46,795. That's an awful lot of runners. The high-energy race attracts everyone from the fastest distance runners in the world to celebrities like P. Diddy, Christy Turlington Burns, and Mike Huckabee (okay, minor celebrities).
New York is the ideal city for marathoners who perform best with lots of attention. More than 2 million spectators line the course, which in its current form – it was redrawn by co-founder Fred Lebow in 1976 – touches all five boroughs and crosses five bridges, the most difficult of which is the Queensboro, connecting Queens and Manhattan around the halfway point and going uphill forever before it starts to go down. Screaming fans await in Central Park, not to mention at after-parties all over the city.
More Information: Qualify with a 2:45:00 marathon time (ages 18–39), lottery or by partnering with a charity. [First Sunday in November; nycmarathon.org]
Credit: Timoth A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images