What are the different types of marathons? A detailed explanation

What are the different types of marathons? A detailed explanation

Kevin Omuya
November 18, 2023 at 1:37 PM

A marathon is a long-distance race which requires weeks of extensive training. If you are a runner planning to run a marathon, there are a few things you need to keep in mind before signing up for a race. Runners can choose from different types of marathons based on factors such as runners’ training schedule, marathon distance, terrain, and more.

types of marathons
Participants participate during the 2023 Sydney Marathon on September 17, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Norvik Alaverdian
Source: Getty Images

A "run marathon" typically refers to all types of marathons and covers 42.195 kilometres (26.2 miles). Participants, often called runners, complete the specified distance within a defined course and time frame for different types of run marathons. This article provides what types of marathons there are.

How many types of marathons are there?

Types of marathons
Britain's Mo Farah competes in 'The Big Half' half marathon in London on September 3, 2023. Photo: Justin Tallis
Source: Getty Images

They are of various forms, each offering a distinct experience for runners. Here are some of the different types of marathons:

1. Traditional

This is the classic marathon distance that most people are familiar with. It is the standard distance for the Olympics and many other major competitions.

2. Trail

Run on off-road trails and often include challenging terrains like hills, mountains, and varying surfaces. They provide a different experience compared to road runs.

3. Ultra

different types of marathons
Male and female athletes running through forest trail during ultramarathon race. Photo: Simonkr
Source: Getty Images

These races exceed the standard distance, pushing runners to cover longer distances. It can occur on roads or trails and requires significant endurance and mental toughness. Here are some types of ultra marathons:

a) 50K: Distance: Approximately 50 kilometres (31 miles)

A common entry point into ultra running, the 50K ultra marathon is a stepping stone for those looking to go beyond the standard distance.

b) 50-Mile: Distance: Approximately 50 miles (80.5 kilometers)

This distance introduces runners to longer ultras, often involving diverse terrains and more demanding elevation changes.

c) 100-Mile: Distance: Approximately 100 miles (160.9 kilometers)

Regarded as one of the ultimate challenges in ultra running, it requires exceptional physical and mental strength. Courses often traverse mountains, deserts, or other challenging landscapes.

different types of marathons
Ultra-trailer Francesca Canepa from Italy runs towards the finish line during the 170 km Mount Blanc Ultra Trail (UTMB) women's race on September 1, 2018, in Chamonix Mont-Blanc. Photo: Jean Pierre
Source: Getty Images

d) 100K: Distance: Approximately 100 kilometres (62 miles)

It is a significant milestone, testing endurance and mental resilience. Courses may include both road and trail sections.

e) 24-Hour Distance: Variable, based on the runner's ability to cover the maximum distance in 24 hours

In this format, participants aim to cover as much distance as possible within a 24-hour. The winner is the runner who covers the most significant distance.

f) Stage Races: Distance: Varies, typically covering long distances over several consecutive days

Stage races involve running significant distances over multiple days. Participants cover a specific distance daily, increasing the total race distance throughout the event.

g) Self-Supported or Unsupported: Distance: Variable, but often longer distances

In these ultras, runners must carry their supplies, including food and equipment, adding an extra layer of self-sufficiency to the challenge.

different types of run marathons
French long-distance runner Xavier Thevenard competes during the 170 km Mount Blanc Ultra Trail (UTMB) race on September 1, 2018, in Col de la Forclaz. Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot
Source: Getty Images

h) Mountain: Distance: Variable, often with significant elevation gain

Courses in mountain ultras take runners through challenging mountainous terrain, testing their endurance on steep ascents and descents.

i) Multi-Terrain: Distance: Variable, combining various terrains

These ultras incorporate a mix of surfaces, such as roads, trails, and even water crossings, adding a dynamic and unpredictable element to the race.

j) Adventure: Distance: Variable, often in extreme or remote locations

Adventure ultras are designed to test runners in unique and challenging environments, such as deserts, jungles, or the Arctic, requiring not only endurance but also survival skills.

4. Adventure

These are designed to test runners in extreme conditions, such as freezing temperatures, scorching deserts, or dense jungles. They often incorporate elements of survival and adventure racing.

5. Charity

types of ultra marathons
Ultra-athlete, campaigner and TV personality Josh Patterson arriving at Buckingham Palace, London, to complete 76 marathons in consecutive days to raise money for the Samaritans. Photo: Yui Mok
Source: Getty Images

Many marathons are organized to raise funds for charitable purposes. Participants often run to support specific causes, and the events serve as a platform to raise awareness and donations for various charities.

6. Virtual

Especially popular recently, virtual marathons allow participants to run the marathon on their own, tracking their progress using GPS devices or running apps. Participants can complete the race at their own pace and location.

7. Relay

different types of marathons
Brazil and Venezuela compete during the 4x400 Relay at Maximo Viloria Stadium on June 08, 2012, in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Photo; Edixon Gamez/LatinContent
Source: Getty Images

In relay marathons, a team of runners covers the marathon distance by dividing it into segments. Each team member runs a portion of the distance, passing a baton or a timing chip to the next runner.

8. Night

Some marathons are organized at night, giving runners a unique and different atmosphere. These events often involve creative lighting and special effects along the course.

9. Themed

These marathons focus on the entertainment aspect. Participants often dress up in costumes, and themed elements like colour stations (where runners are showered with coloured powders) add a fun and festive atmosphere.

What are the 7 marathon majors?

what are the major marathons
Ashton Kutcher runs in New York City during the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon on November 06, 2022. Photo: Roy Rochlin
Source: Getty Images

The Seven Major Marathons represent the pinnacle of competitive marathon running. These prestigious events attract elite athletes worldwide and capture the imagination of seasoned runners and passionate spectators. Here is a closer look at each of the Seven Major Marathons:

1. Boston

Established in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon and one of the most iconic races globally. Known for its challenging course, including the infamous Heartbreak Hill, it is held on Patriots' Day in April.

2. New York City

The New York City Marathon, first held in 1970, has become the largest marathon in the world in terms of participants. The course takes runners through all five city boroughs, finishing in Central Park.

3. Berlin

all types of marathons
Pace runners surround Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge (2nd L) as he passes the 22km mark to win the men's race of the Berlin Marathon on September 24, 2023, in Berlin, Germany. Photo: Odd Andersen
Source: Getty Images

Established in 1974, it is known for its flat and fast course. It gained international attention when several world records, including the current men's world record, were set on its route.

4. Chicago

It was inaugurated in 1977, is renowned for its fast and flat course. It attracts elite runners aiming for personal bests and is one of the six significant ones that make up the World Marathon Majors.

5. London

First held in 1981, it is known for its scenic route that passes by famous landmarks such as the Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace. It is one of the Abbott World Marathon Majors.

6. Tokyo

Established in 2007,it is the newest addition to the World Marathon Majors. It has gained popularity for its unique course that combines modern and traditional elements, showcasing Tokyo's vibrant culture.

7. Olympic games

what types of marathons are there?
Peres Jepchirchir of Team Kenya celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the gold medal in Japan's Women's Marathon Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on August 7, 2021. Photo: Asahi Shimbun
Source: Getty Images

It is a historic event dating back to the 1896 Athens Olympics. It is unique as it is not held annually but in the host city of the Summer Olympic Games, showcasing the best runners on the global stage.

Final word

Each type of marathon offers a distinct experience, catering to different interests, preferences, and fitness levels. Whether you are seeking a challenging trail run, an adventurous race in extreme conditions, or a fun-themed event, there's a marathon out there for everyone!

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Kevin Omuya
Sports Facts Writer