Boston, the most prestigious of America's marathons, has its "brutal" Heartbreak Hill, but Bostonians "come out in droves" to cheer you on. The New York Marathon, the world's largest with more than 34,000 finishers, is - like the city itself - "larger than life."
And you can be hugged by Winnie the Pooh at the Walt Disney World Marathon, or by - what else? - a pig with wings at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati.
These are the observations of Elise Allen in her new guide for people whose idea of a vacation is to watch or run a marathon, "The Traveling Marathoner" (Fodor's, $19.95). The book has chapters on 12 marathons around the country, one for each month, from the Disney race in Orlando, Fla., in January, to the Honolulu Marathon in December.
Allen selected the "most outstanding race" for each month, and admits that's a bit subjective. But she said her choices represent "a solid mix of marathon types and locales."
"If I was not impressed with the race, I didn't put it in the book," she said in an interview in Honolulu during a promotional tour. "I didn't want to include races I can't stand behind."
She says she tried to describe the pros and cons of each race honestly.
"I tell people the Deseret News Marathon (in Salt Lake City) is very challenging and not for beginners," she said. The run drops 3,200 feet from start to finish, which can be hard on the knees.
She also says the Los Angeles race "has its flaws," which might be why elite runners bypass it.
"But the Los Angeles Marathon isn't made for the elites. It's made for the pack," wrote Allen, herself a back-of-the-packer.
Allen ran her first marathon in Chicago in 2000, and finished her seventh in her hometown Los Angeles race in March. She plans to run three more marathons this year, saying "I'm an addict. I can't get enough of it."
But planning trips to marathons wasn't as easy as expected, said Allen, 34, a writer for television shows who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their 18-month-old daughter. "I found information on the city and the marathon, but nothing that put it all together," she said. "This is the guide book I've always wanted," a book that would help readers make the marathon the centerpiece of a vacation that also includes sightseeing and dining out.
The 358-page guide, in addition to general descriptions of the races, provides details to how and where to register, the pre-race exposition and race course, and how to get to the city and get around. Allen also suggests places to stay and eat, nightclubs, sightseeing and other activities. The book includes are maps of the city and the race course, and a human interest profile in each chapter called "Anyone can run a marathon."
"The human interest is what it's all about for me," Allen said. Her Honolulu profile features Glady Burrill, who completed her first marathon in 2004 at age 86. The resident of Prospect, Ore., who keeps a condo in Waikiki, returned to Honolulu last December and cut 14 minutes off her time with a finish of 8 hours, 55 minutes and 39 seconds.
For those who'd rather watch the races than run them, listings also include the best places to stand and the best places to have breakfast while waiting for the runners to return to the finish line.
"One of the things I'm most proud of is to include spectators," Allen said.
In keeping with her "solid mix" aim, Allen includes smaller and lesser-known races such as the Newport Marathon in Oregon, which caps entries at 750 for its June race, and the Stowe Marathon in Vermont, which limits entries to 1,000 and features a free (for registered runners) post-race barbecue at its September race.
The Grizzly Marathon in Choteau, Mont., passes through a Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone, although it's unlikely you will see any bears. But in addition to the beauty of the Rocky Mountains, "you'll also see bear poop," the book says. And because Choteau is small with limited hotel rooms, "people open their homes to take in runners," she said.
While Allen hasn't run all 12 marathons she features, she has been a spectator and interviewed participants and officials at the others. She eventually hopes to run all 12.
Allen's personal favorite is the New York Marathon because it is "so emotional, a gripping spectacle," that takes runners through the city's five boroughs.
But if you're only able to do one of the races in the book or it's your first marathon, Allen recommends Chicago. "It's a flat, easy course but you get some of the same energy as in New York," she said. "It's a good first-timer marathon."
Allen says she hopes to write other guides to races.
"There are tons of marathons out there so there is an endless number of books," she said. "I look forward to a long series."
If you go:
: "The Traveling Marathoner," by Elise Allen (Fodor's, $19.95)
MARATHONS FROM THE BOOK:
Walt Disney World Marathon, Orlando, Fla., Jan. 7, 2007; http://www.disneyworldmarathon.com/ or (407) 986-1160.
Mardi Gras Marathon, New Orleans, Feb. 25, 2007; http://www.mardigrasmarathon.com/ or (866) 454-6561.
City of Los Angeles Marathon, March 4, 2007; http://www.lamarathon.com/ or (310) 444-5544.
Boston Marathon, April 16, 2007; http://www.bostonmarathon.org/ or (508) 435-6905.
Cincinnati Flying Pigs Marathon, May 7, 2006, and May 6, 2007; http://www.flyingpigmarathon.com/ or (513) 721-7447.
Newport Marathon, Newport, Ore., June 3, 3006, and June 2, 2007; http://www.newportmarathon.org/ or (541) 265-3446.
Deseret Morning News Marathon, Salt Lake City, July 24, 2006; http://www.desnews.com/run/mainmenu.html or (801) 333-7473
Grizzly Marathon, Choteau, Mont., Aug. 19, 2006; http://www.grizzlymarathon.com/ or (406) 466-3333.
Stowe Marathon, Stowe, Vt., Sept. 10, 2006; http://www.stowemarathon.com/ or (802) 888-8301.
LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, Oct. 22, 2006; http://www.chicagomarathon.com/ or (312) 904-9800.
ING New York City Marathon, Nov. 5, 2006; http://www.ingnycmarathon.org/ or (212) 423-2249.
Honolulu Marathon, Dec. 10, 2006; http://www.honolulumarathon.org/ or (808) 734-7200.
OTHER MARATHONS: http://www.marathonguide.com/.