UK marathons to sign up for | London, Manchester, New Forest and more

For a runner, there are few decisions as important as the marathon you choose. From the fastest courses to the most scenic locations to enjoy, we pick some of the UK's top locations for covering 26.2 miles.

Running a marathon is one of the biggest milestone moments in a runner's calendar. Months of training, planning and preparation leading up to a single day that celebrates all the effort you've put in. For some, that achievement may be crossing the finish line for the first time, for others it's grabbing a new personal best. Either way, it's an experience you'll never forget.

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With the popularity of marathons growing every year more and more events are appearing around the UK, so choosing which one to sign up to can be a difficult task. Here, we run through some of our top choices for marathons to work towards, from bucket list options like the London Marathon, to scenic routes around Loch Ness and the New Forest.

Things to consider when choosing a marathon

  • Timing: even if you’re experienced, you need enough time to train. We recommend a minimum 12 week training block, meaning you’ll ideally want at least 12 weeks between signing up and race day
  • Budget: some marathons require a registration fee, even if you’re running for charity. Consider the cost of signing up, travel, and any health and wellbeing expenses you might need to make in the run up to your event
  • Location: where you run matters. If it’s your first marathon, consider staying as local as possible. Minimal travel in the lead up to race day means more home comforts and will hopefully mean you feel fresher at the start line
  • Terrain: no two marathons are the same in terms of terrain. Consider whether you’re comfortable with trails, road running, grass, or a mixture of all three before picking a race
  • Atmosphere: some people prefer to run alone with headphones in. If you’re someone who needs the roar of a crowd to lift you on the way around, consider avoiding smaller events, especially for your first marathon
  • Heat: even the most experienced runners try to avoid running long distances in the heat. Running and training in the colder months is far easier. This is why marathon season kicks off every year in September.

Is flatter always better?

Most marathons are fairly flat with a few uphill sections thrown in. Once you’ve settled on a race, it’s vital that you learn the elevation profile of the course to optimise your preparation. The last thing you want on race day is to hit a hilly section that you weren’t anticipating.

If you’re running a marathon with a high elevation profile, you’re going to need to adapt your training accordingly. Whilst most training plans include some type of hill run, you might want to spend more time doing them to prepare for your race day experience.

Being aware of the exact route you’re going to be running also helps you plan things like the availability of water and aid station supplies, where crowds are likely to be at their peak, and any landmarks that might be worth keeping an eye out for as you’re running.

The TCS London Marathon

When is it? April

There are few races around the world as famous as the London Marathon. Over half a million people entered the 2024 ballot to claim one of around 45,000 successful spots. As a result it's one of the hardest races to participate in, with people entering annually with hopes of making it to the start line.

As far as marathon courses go, there's a good reason why London is such a sought after race to take part in. The route starts in Greenwich Park and makes it way past dozens of the capital's famous landmarks, from the spectacular halfway crossing of Tower Bridge to the final few miles along the Thames and into St James's Park.

By far the most important aspect of London Marathon is the crowds, with the organisers estimating that around 750,000 people turn up to cheer runners along the 26.2 miles route. This sense of community and support turns the event into much more than a race and means that anyone who's ever taken part won't forget the experience.

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Brighton Marathon

When is it? April

The seaside marathon has seen a growing amount of interest in recent years as more people look for alternatives to the London Marathon. Since 2023, the event has actually been taken over by the same organisers, cementing its position as one of the big races to take part in over the course of the year.

With around 7,000 runners, it's a noticeably small affair than some of the UK's more established races, but due to the location there's no shortage of crowds and you can expect plenty of support across the main sections of the course. The route mainly follows the coastline, offering impressive views of the sea and the coastal cliffs spreading out towards the Seven Sisters. You can also expect to make your way past some of the city's most popular landmarks, including the Royal Pavilion and the i360.

Being just over an hour away from London, it's an easy option for those using public transport and provides the perfect excuse for a weekend away at the seaside – for post-race celebrations, there are few cities that match up.

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Edinburgh Marathon

When is it? May

There aren't many marathons in the UK that have the same level of scenery as Edinburgh. The race starts at Potterrow, with the backdrop of The University of Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall, before moving through the historic city streets and finishing in Musselburgh, where you’ll run past the oldest golf course in the world.

Although the weather can be a bit of a gamble, the route has an overall descent of 90 metres, making it one of the fastest marathons you can take part in. Because of that it's a good option for first timers that want to avoid unwanted elevation.

The race is part of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival and includes a wide range of other events to take part in if you fancy taking on a shorter challenge. For that reason it's a good opportunity to get the whole family involved, with everything from kids 1km races to the EMF Relay, where groups of four runners can join forces to take on the full 26.2 miles as a team.

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Manchester Marathon

When is it? April

The Manchester Marathon has grown in popularity in recent years largely due to it's flat route, meaning many people looking to set a personal best have signed up as their "A race". The other big plus point is that it's easy to get to from most big cities in the UK.

The route was updated in 2023 to include more of Manchester's landmarks and runners can expect to tick off a variety of the areas most popular locations. Starting at White City Circle in Trafford, the course heads through Chorlton, Hulme, Old Trafford, Stretford, Sale, and Manchester City Centre.

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Richmond Marathon

When is it? September

The London Marathon may be the headliner for 26.2 mile events in the capital but it's not the only one you can sign up for. The Richmond Marathon has been going for a few years now and has quickly claimed its spot as a go-to race in the running calendar. The main reason for its popularity is the course, which takes in some of South West London's most scenic locations.

The first few kilometres of the race take place in the famous Kew Gardens, giving runners a unique experience to enjoy the botanic gardens, buildings and trees that line the route. It then heads out through some of the more iconic areas including Ham House, Richmond Green, Teddington Lock, Kingston Riverside and the meandering River Thames.

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New Forest Marathon

When is it? September

The New Forest marathon is a multi-terrain race but we've added it in here as it's an accessible option if you want to try some off-road racing that only veers slightly towards the technical side of running. The course mainly takes place on open roads, an old railway line and country paths, so runners can take part without trail experience.

As marathons go, there aren't many in the UK as scenic, with expansive views of the beautiful New Forest National park, complete with woodland, vibrant agricultural land and some of the area's historic buildings. What the route lacks in cheering crowds it makes up for in the area's wild ponies roaming the countryside.

Despite taking place across mixed terrain, the route is relatively flat and offers a nice balance for those that want a marathon experience but fancy a change from the usual urban locations.

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Loch Ness Marathon

When is it? October

The Loch Ness Marathon has seen growing interest in recent years from runners looking for something different to the usual city races. The event is a point-to-point that starts in the Scottish countryside and follows the banks of the lake to the finish line in Inverness.

Taking place in the north, the weather can be changeable, so most people tend to do it for the scenic backdrop instead of focusing on a PB. However, the first 10km is mainly downhill, starting at 350m and falling to just 50m, so you can expect fantastic views and a pleasantly easy start to the race.

The city of Inverness has it's own airport, so it's easy to get to from most locations across the UK, and you can enjoy a range of celebrations going on around the streets as people turn up to take part in the race as well as those joining to support.

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Training for a marathon

Completing a marathon is one of the biggest achievements for a runner but to cross the finish line successfully, and safely, you need to make sure you put in the training. The best way to prepare for running 26.2 miles depends on your level of activity and what you hope to achieve on the day so it's important to find a plan that works for you. For a range of training plans covering different distances and abilities click here.

Last updated Thursday 12 October 2023

First published on Friday 9 June 2023