What are the six World Marathon Majors? (2024)

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From the oldest annual marathon on the planet to the race with the most runners, find out everything you need to know about the most prestigious distance running series in the world.

8 minBy Sean McAlister

Athletics

What are the six World Marathon Majors? (3)

More than 800 marathons are organised every year, but only six have the title of World Marathon Major: Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, London Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon.

These marathons are some of the most prestigious and sought-after in the world, as amateur and elite athletes race 42.195 km across some of the most famous city streets on earth.

Many runners dream of taking part in just one Marathon Major, but some of the more ambitious don’t just want one finisher’s medal, they want all six. Doing so puts you into an exclusive club and earns you a Six Star Medal.

On the elite side of things, the World Marathon Majors have seen a slew of records broken over the years, including the current men’s world record of 2:01:09, set by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge at the 2022 Berlin Marathon and Brigid Kosgei’s women’s world record of 2:14:04 set at the 2019 edition of the Chicago Marathon.

Read on for the Olympics.com guide to the World Marathon Majors.

Tokyo Marathon (2020 Getty Images)

Tokyo Marathon

Traditionally the first major of the calendar year, taking place on the first Sunday in March, the Tokyo Marathon - which was first run in 2007 - is the youngest of the World Marathon Majors, achieving its status in 2012.

The course runs from the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku before winding through the city and turning back on itself so the second half is almost a looped replica of the first. En route to the finish line, runners take in views of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, the old town of Asakusa and more, and ends at the Tokyo International Exhibition Centre.

The first men’s winner was Kenya’s Daniel Njenga in 2007, while the first woman to pass the tape was Japan native Niiya Hitomi.

Tokyo marathon in numbers

Men’s course record:

  • Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 2022 (2:02:40)

Women’s course record:

  • Brigid Kosgei, Kenya, 2022 (2:16:02)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Suzuki Tomoki, Japan, 2020 (1:21:52)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Kina Tsubasa, Japan, 2020 (1:40:00)

Number of runners (2023)

  • 38,000
Boston Marathon - Boston

Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon traditionally takes place on the third Monday in April - on Patriots’ Day in the USA.

The race is the oldest annual marathon in the world, having first been run in 1897 after its organisers took inspiration from the marathon race at the Olympic Games Athens 1896.

While originally exclusively a men’s race, that all changed in 1966 when Roberta Gibb gatecrashed the party and completed the course in 3:21:40. Eventually, women were officially allowed to participate in 1972.

The course of the Boston Marathon begins at Hopkinton State Park, passing by a number of local attractions including Ashland Clock Tower, Natick Center Cultural District and The Forever Young statue – commemorating Johnny Kelley, a 61-time Boston Marathon finisher who passed away in 2004 – before reaching the finish line at Copley Square.

The first men’s winner was the USA’s John J. McDermott who came home in 2:55:10 in 1897, while the first female to win the official women’s race was American Nina Kuscsik in 1972.

Boston Marathon in numbers

Men’s course record:

  • Geoffrey Mutai, Kenya, 2011 (2:03:02)

Women’s course record:

  • Bezunesh Deba, Ethiopia, 2014 (2:19:59)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Marcel Hug, Switzerland, 2017 (1:18:03)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Manuela Schar, Switzerland, 2019 (1:34:19)

Men’s world records set at the Boston Marathon:

  • Suh Yun-bok, Republic of Korea, 1947 (2:25:39)

Women’s world records set at the Boston Marathon:

  • Joan Benoit, USA, 1983 (2:22:43)

Number of runners (2022):

  • 30,000
Virgin Money London Marathon - London

London Marathon

Seven world records have been set at the London Marathon, which boasts one of the fastest courses in the world. The marathon, which first took place in 1981, was the brainchild of Melbourne 1956 3,000m steeplechase gold medallist, Chris Brasher, who had been inspired by running the 1979 edition of the New York City Marathon.

Runners navigating the course will be treated to a smorgasbord of London attractions, including the famous Cutty Sark ship, the London Eye, Big Ben and even the Tower of London before reaching their final destination on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

The inaugural London Marathon saw a tie for first in the men’s race, with the USA’s Dick Beardsley and Norway’s Inge Simonsen passing the finish line together in 2:11:48. The women’s race that year was won by home favourite Joyce Smith who also won the second race in 1982.

London Marathon in numbers

Men’s course record:

  • Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 2019 (2:02:37)

Women’s course record

  • Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain, 2003 (2:15:25)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Marcel Hug, Switzerland, 2021 (1:26:27)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Manuela Schar, Switzerland, 2021 (1:39:52)

Men’s world records set at the London Marathon:

  • Khalid Khannouchi, USA, 2002 (2:05:38)

Women’s world records set at the London Marathon:

  • Mary Keitany, Kenya, 2017 (2:17:01)
  • Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain, 2005 (2:17:42)
  • Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain, 2003 (2:15:25) - mixed
  • Ingrid Kristiansen, Norway, 1985 (2:21:06)
  • Grete Waitz, Norway, 1983 (2:25:29)

Number of runners (2022):

  • 40,000
Athletics | Berlin Marathon

Berlin Marathon

If you’re looking for the fastest Marathon Major course on earth, look no further than Berlin. A total of 12 world records (including the last eight men’s) have been set at the Berlin Marathon, including the current men’s world record of 2:01:09 set by Eliud Kipchoge just last year.

Held on the last weekend in September, the Berlin Marathon has a flat and rapid course that starts and ends at the city’s famous Brandenburg Gate. The race was first introduced in 1974 by local baker Horst Milde with West Germany’s Gunter Hallas (2:44:53) and Jutta Von Hasse (3:22:01) triumphing in the inaugural edition.

Berlin Marathon in numbers

Men’s course record

  • Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 2022 (2:01:09)

Women’s course record

  • Tigst Assefa, Ethiopia, 2022 (2:15:37)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Heinz Frei, Switzerland, 1997 (1:21:39)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Manuela Schar, Switzerland, 2018 (1:36:53)

Men’s world records set at Berlin Marathon:

  • Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 2022 (2:01:09)
  • Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 2018 (2:01:39)
  • Dennis Kipruto Kimetto, Kenya, 2014 (2:02:57)
  • Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich, Kenya, 2013 (​​2:03:23)
  • Patrick Makau Musyoki, Kenya, 2011 (2:03:38)
  • Haille Gebrselassie, Ethiopia, 2008 (2:03:59)
  • Haille Gebrselassie, Ethiopia, 2007 (2:04:26)
  • Paul Tergat, Kenya, 2003 (2:04:55)
  • Ronaldo da Costa, Brazil, 1998 (​​2:06:05)

Women’s world records set at Berlin Marathon

  • Takahashi Naoko, Japan, 2001 (2:19:46)
  • Tegla Loroupe, Kenya, 1999 (2:20:43)
  • Christa Vahlensieck, West Germany, 1977 (2:34:48)

Number of runners (2022):

  • 40,000
Chicago Marathon

Chicago Marathon

Established in its current format in 1977, the Chicago Marathon has grown a lot since its initial race when only 4,200 runners took part. Nowadays, close to 40,000 amateur and elite athletes take to the streets of the Windy City to brave the 42.195 km course that begins and ends at Grant Park. Sports fans will be delighted by a race that passes by three of the city’s most well-loved stadiums, Wrigley Field, the United Centre and Guaranteed Rate Field.

Like Berlin and London, the Chicago course has produced some of the fastest times seen in history, including Brigid Kosgei’s world record of 2:14:04 set in 2019. That mark is over 45 minutes faster than the first female winner’s time of 2:50:47 set by the wonderfully named Dorothy Doolittle in 1977, while the men’s winner that year, Dan Cloeter, ended the race in 2:17:52.

Chicago Marathon in numbers

Men’s course record:

  • Dennis Kimetto, Kenya, 2013 (2:03:45)

Women’s course record

  • Brigid Kosgei, Kenya, 2019 (2:14:04)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Heinz Frei, Switzerland, 2010 (1:26:56)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Tatyana McFadden, USA, 2017 (1:39:15)

Men’s world records set at the Chicago Marathon:

  • Khalid Khannouchi, Morocco, 1999 (2:05:42)
  • Steve Jones, Great Britain, 1984 (2:08:05)

Women’s world records set at the Chicago Marathon:

  • Brigid Kosgei, Kenya, 2019 (2:14:04)
  • Paula Radcliffe, Great Britain, 2002 (2:17:17)
  • Catherine Ndereba, Kenya, 2001 (2:18:47)

Number of runners (2022):

  • 40,000
New York City Marathon

New York City Marathon

Now it’s time for the biggest marathon in the world - the New York City Marathon. With around 50,000 competitors last year, New York’s first marathon in 1970 saw only 127 runners on the start line with just 55 ending the race, where the USA’s Gary Muhrcke was declared the winner in 2:31:38.

A year later, another American, Anne Beth Bonner, became the first female winner of the race in a world record time of 2:55:22.

In 1976, a new course was introduced that travels across all five boroughs of the city, starting in Staten Island and ending in the world-famous Central Park. In between, runners cross five bridges, work their way up some steep hills and pass by some of the most iconic sites in the world.

Four world records have been set on the course, all of them by women, including an incredible three in a row by Norway’s Grete Waitz between 1978 and 1980.

New York City Marathon in numbers

Men’s course record:

  • Geoffrey Mutai, Kenya, 2011 (2:05:06)

Women’s course record

  • Margaret Okayo, Kenya, 2003 (2:22:31)

Men’s wheelchair course record:

  • Marcel Hug, Switzerland, 2022 (1:25:26)

Women’s wheelchair course record:

  • Susannah Scaroni, USA, 2022 (1:42:43)

Women’s world records set at the New York City Marathon:

  • Grete Waitz, Norway, 1980 (2:25:42)
  • Grete Waitz, Norway, 1979 (2:27:33)
  • Grete Waitz, Norway, 1978 (2:32:30)
  • Beth Bonner, USA, 1971 (2:55:22)

Number of runners (2022)

  • 47,000

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