Whether you're a local or looking to make a special visit to the Grand Canyon state, here are the top marathons that runners recommend for Arizona.
Sedona Marathon - Sedona
One of the Top Ten Most Beautiful Places on Earth (as named by Good Morning America), the annual Sedona Marathon takes you through the scenic Coconino National Forest district which is well known for its fascinating sedimentary formations. The event offers plenty of Southwestern hospitality and features many artists and live performances.
The marathon is typically held in June so you can expect higher temperatures and low rainfall, however rare bad weather events can cause havoc on this course. Click here to read more about the Sedona Marathon.
The course is scenic and hilly with half of the route on paved roadways and half on dirt/ gravel. The most challenging portion of the course begins at the 9 mile mark with a steep 450ft descent over 4 miles, after which you turn around and go right back up! The full marathon course has a time limit of 6.5 hours.
Image Source: Sedona Real
Image Source: Sedona Marathon
“I cannot recommend this marathon more highly for someone who is looking for a smaller event in a beautiful setting….consider running here as you enjoy gorgeous Arizona red rock scenery, beautiful winter Arizona weather with clear blue skies and high temps of maybe 50, gorgeous pine/juniper forest, and friendly, happy, enthusiastic volunteers. The marathon is run out and back and is very hilly.” - W.O., Marathonguide.com Review
“This was the BEST experience, not only beautiful red rock mountains, a fantastic medal but some of the friendliest people. Sedona is magical. Put this on you bucket list, you won't regret it.” - Pamela V., Sedona Marathon Facebook Page
Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon - Phoenix
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon offers live bands and a party-like atmosphere from start to finish, with post-race festivities and a concert at the finish line. The marathon is usually held in January which means sunny mild days with a chance of light rainfall. Click here to read more.
The course has a gentle incline for the first 10 miles and then climbs 200 vertical feet over the following 7 miles. The trail then declines steeply over the next mile and is relatively flat as you cross over the Salt River to the finish line at the family friendly, action packed Tempe Beach Park. In true tribute to its Rock ‘n’ Roll heritage, alternative rock bands jam at the finish line to welcome you in. The full marathon has a course limit of 7 hours.
Image Source: runrocknroll.com
“My 5th AZ Rock n Roll marathon. Love the course, through neighborhoods I am very familiar with. Great crowd support at mile 8 (Biltmore), mile 13-mile 20 (Arcadia). Thanks so much to that band playing "Sweet Caroline" at mile 12. A big thankyou also to the lively crowd at mile 24 near the zoo, cheered me on and gave me a boost to get me to the finish. Very flat, I recommend walking the overpass at mile 25 (everyone else will be there is no loss of pride). There is still 1.2mi to go on the other side of that overpass. Saw lots of people see every year. Feels like a real family.”
- Michael B, Yelp Review
“This was my 4th year partaking in this run and I am never disappointed! It is always well publicized and very organized. Plenty of police around to monitor traffic and lots of cheering spectators!” - Karrie K., Yelp Review
Lost Dutchman Marathon – Apache Junction
The Lost Dutchman Marathon is held over the President’s Day weekend and held at the rumored site of the Lost Dutchman Mine, which according to legend is home to a secret gold mine and is one of the most famous lost mines in American history.The marathon is a charity event with all proceeds going to local youth organizations, and a pre-dawn campfire meet is traditional before starting the marathon. The race is usually held in February so you can expect mild to warm temperatures and the potential for rain. Click here to read more.
The course begins with the first 6 miles winding through dirt roadways with scenic views of the desert surroundings. The course transitions into a paved roadway following the 7 mile mark with the course following rolling hills in the area. At the 15 mile mark the course gently inclines towards the base of Superstition Mountain where you turn at the 19.4 mile mark for a decent to the finish line. The start elevation is at 2,330 ft above sea level and finishes at 1,840 ft. The full marathon course has a time limit of 6 hours 15 minutes.
Image Source: Lost Dutchman Marathon
“This was by far my favorite marathon I've ever participated in. The coordination was great, everyone was incredibly friendly and the scenery was beautiful! Not to mention you can't beat stretching around a campfire in the mountains prior to starting any event!”
- Amanda P., The Lost Dutchman Marathon Facebook Page
“The race day was really unforgettable. The area of the start line was like a dream: runners relaxing on mats next to many bonfires at the foot of vertical walls of a mountain with the full moon on the clear sky. About half an hour after the start we could admire simultaneous, colorful moon-set and sun-rise. Most of the course was within pure desert landscape with two portions in nice residential areas. However, there were more gentle hills than I expected.”
- B.K., Marathonguide.com Review
Phoenix Marathon – Mesa
The Phoenix Marathon event was created by runners for runners, with the idea of designing a fast, fun and challenging course in the desert hills and mountains just east of the Phoenix Valley. In true spirit of supporting the running community, all proceeds go to The Phoenix Marathon Foundation which aims to provide scholarship funds to high school students seeking a higher education (and who have participated in running athletics). The marathon is typically held in February so you can expect mild to warm temperatures and the potential for rain. Click here to read more about the Phoenix Marathon.
Image Source: Travel2arizona.com
As shown above, the course was designed with a gradual decent into the Phoenix Metropolitan area (aka the Valley of the Sun) allowing for an amazing view of the city as you descend from the desert hills. The course is fully paved and is downhill with the exception of a 70 ft hill at the 6 mile mark. The course has a net elevation drop of 1,000 ft setting runners up for a fast race. The latter half of the course winds through the township with the finish line at the Mesa Riverview. The full marathon has a time limit of 6 hours.
Image Source: The Phoenix Marathon
“The course was scenic and fast. Passing through downtown Mesa was great, the desert overall beautiful, and the Orange Groves smelled fantastic. I'm glad there was a slight uphill portion of the course from miles 4.5-6 for some variation.” - J.S., Marathonguide.com Review
“The downhill first half is a gift. The views are beautiful gliding into the city all the way from Usery Mountain. The run is enjoyable since the gradual downhill descent makes running somewhat easy and you are tempted to bolt down the mountain. The main tip here: "Pace yourself! (And don't get too carried away!)" Enjoy the scenery while you can! The second half - flatter. More running through the city so you kind of miss the desert scenery at the start.” - Jennifer H., Yelp Review
Brian Mickelsen Memorial Marathon – Cottonwood
The Brian Mickelsen Memorial Run/ Walk started out in 1992 as the Verde/Mingus Blowout 10K/2 mile event. The race was renamed and expanded in honor of Brian Mickelsen who was a beloved city manager that tragically passed away on a training run in 2007. The marathon is usually held in April so you can expect warm temperatures with the potential for a little rain. Click here to read more about the Brian Mickelsen Memorial Marathon.
The course takes you through the historic Old Town and meanders along gentle hills to Sycamore Canyon Road where you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Verde River. After 5 miles you hit the dirt trails and leave the Half Marathon runners behind. You'll then head up Sycamore Canyon Road to the 11 mile marker and then turn back and follow the same path, back onto paved roadways to the Tuzigoot National Monument, past the Dead Horse Ranch State Park and towards the finish line at Riverfront Park. The course is undulating with an elevation rise of up to 400ft at the turn point of Sycamore Canyon Road, but from the Tuzigoot National Monument the course gently declines to the finish line.
Image Source: Brain Mickelsen Memorial Walk/Run
"Great turnout, a lot of people had a lot of fun, it was a great day." - Tim Freriks, Verde News
“Beautiful, varied course and terrain. Haven't had a chance to run up in the high country for a while and, living in the Valley, I miss it!” - Winnie Clark, Marathonguide.com Review
Flagstaff Marathon – Flagstaff
The Flagstaff Marathon is for the trail blazers! This 100% off road marathon uses single-track, cross-country and dirt roads for a tough off-road course in the Coconino National Forest. The course has been described as the most scenic and difficult marathon in the Southwest and proceeds from the race help to support the Angel Fund at North Country Health Care. The marathon is typically held in September so you can expect warm temperatures with a chance of rain, however the course elevation really helps to moderate the heat. Click here to read more about the Flagstaff Marathon.
The course starts at an elevation of 8,650ft in the Coconino National Forest which will either be a problem, or a great challenge depending on your point of view. The marathon course consists of two laps of a two loop trail.The first loop is 6 miles in length and consists of one major peak with an elevation rise of over 580ft from the start point. The second loop offers three smaller peaks with peak heights of 100ft, 250ft, and 150ft.
Source: Flagstaff Nordic Centre
“The scenery was beautiful but got a little too close to an elk around mile 21. If you like nature and seclusion, this is your race.” - V. F., Marathonguide.com Review
“Altitude combined with all off road running makes for a fun and rugged run. I've done a run called 'The Tough Mudder,' 29 obstacles and 12.5 mile run. This course is every bit as tough, the obstacles being all the things you can trip over and fall on. I have some nice scrapes on my knees elbow and shoulder from taking a tumble. Just part of the fun. The staff and aid station volunteers in the Flagstaff race are wonderful. I'll be back. One of the best marathons I've done yet.”
B. H., Marathonguide.com Review
Petrified Forest Marathon – Holbrook
This marathon will take you on a journey through the scenic Petrified Forest National Park. Starting from the northern end you’ll wind past millions of years old petrified wood and majestic painted desert towards the southern end of the park. This race has a maximum number of participants allowed, so make sure to plan ahead! The marathon is typically held in October so you can expect warm temperatures with a chance of rain. Click here to read more about the Petrified Forest Marathon.
The course offers undulating hills with a net decline of 400ft, and the trail follows the sealed Petrified Forest Road for the entire length of the national park. The course has a gentle incline in the first 3 miles followed by a decline for the next 7.5 miles. Three mild peaks then follow, before dropping off towards the finish line.
Source: Petrified Forest Marathon
“Thank you so much for a wonderful event. I had a great time, and am incredibly appreciative for the beautiful weather you provided. Everyone was so incredibly kind, the volunteers were magnificent, and the awards rock!” - Amy M., Petrified Forest Marathon Facebook Page
"Challenging course with the combination of the hills and the wind. Great race at a great value"
- Daniel O, Petrified Forest Marathon Facebook Page
Tucson Marathon – Tucson
The Tucson Marathon is a fast downhill race offering first time runners the perfect introduction to marathons, and gives experienced runners the chance to beat their personal best times.The marathon is usually held in December so you can expect temperatures in the mid-60s with a modest chance of rain. Click here to read more about the Tucson Marathon.
The course starts at the Old West historical town of Oracle and then winds through the desert on paved roads along the Santa Catalina mountain range. This marathon is primarily downhill but has some hills which can be strenuous at the 11-12 and 22-23 mile marks. Starting at an elevation of 4,750ft and offering a total elevation drop of 2,200ft, this course offers a fast downhill race and finishes on Golder Ranch Road in the town of Catalina.
Source: Tuscon Marathon
“I was a little nervous about running this race, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. Running through the desert as the sun comes up over the ridge is a very zen experience. It was very peaceful and relaxed - definitely not your standard marathon experience.”
- G. T., Marathonguide.com Review
"Organization [was] tough to beat . . . registration was a breeze, transportation convenient, aid stations were high standard...The first part of the course is interesting . . . high enough elevation so you get completely different plant zone…. Part of the course is on 4-lane highway but they coned-off a lane so there was lots of separation and the car noise wasn't bad (not much traffic). It's mostly downhill but there are some rollers and hills that may get your attention"
- D. M., Marathonguide.com Review