at the races The Abbot World Marathon Majors, Ranked

The Abbot World Marathon Majors, Ranked


The 128th Boston Marathon is April 15, and it’s one of the six Abbot World Marathon Majors—the most prestigious six races for amateur runners all over the world. 

But, when every one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors—Tokyo, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Berlin & London—is the ‘race of a lifetime,’ how can you rank one over another? 

These six have been chosen from hundreds of marathons worldwide to be the gold standard of races. I’ve run them all and was awarded the coveted six-star medal in 2021. As of November 2023, only 563 other Canadians have this medal of achievement. Which one is the best? 

Knowing this ranking is highly subjective and personal, I considered the following criteria: 

  • Best Racecourse: start/journey/finish.
  • Best Race support: fans/entertainment.
  • Fastest: least difficult run.
  • Best Race experience overall.

This list is from sixth to first, with number one at the bottom. Obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts. And obviously all of these events are a Race of a Lifetime—as any time you step to a start line, it’s a good day. 

6. Bank of Chicago Marathon: What a great place to start a world Majors Marathon—on the Lake Michigan shoreline in historic Grant Park in Chicago! After the first mile, you hit the first large crowds when you make the left turn onto State Street then LaSalle Street deep in the skyscraper canyons while crisscrossing the Chicago River in the ‘Loop.’ Then on through the interesting neighbourhoods of Chicago—Pilsen, the Chinatown Gate, Little Italy then a stroll down part of the Golden Mile—Michigan Avenue. Crowds and music everywhere. Then back to the Lakeshore where you pass the ‘800 meters to go sign’ and finally you encounter the famous left turn on Columbus Drive to the finish line. 

The Bank of Chicago Marathon is a flat incredibly fast course where the men’s world record of 2:00:35 was set by Kelvin Kiptum (RIP) in 2023. Fastest course of the three US World Majors and not nearly as far or as expensive as the other races. However, with an early October start date it can be notoriously warm—which can be more than a bit challenging.

5. BMW Berlin Marathon: You can imagine German efficiency hard at work perfecting the BMW Berlin Marathon—mind boggling. Starting in late September in the famous Tiergarten—a massive park in Central Berlin—the excitement of standing in a sea of humanity speaking dozens of languages, awaiting the race to begin is amazing. Past the Victory Column, then around the oval at Strausburgerplatz at kilometre twelve, then the main shopping street Kurfürstendamm, followed my more interesting unpronounceable cool streets. Saving the best for last is running through the Brandenburg Gate before the final stretch until you run under that sign that says “ZIEL.” Best race expo anywhere, huge fan support and if you wear a Canada shirt, thousands of Berliners will be cheering you on. Flat super-fast course where dozens of world records have been set.

4. Tokyo Marathon: 42K through the most populated city in the world at the beginning of March, wow. Beginning in Shinjuku, the center of town, with music, confetti, fireworks and thousands of runners anxious to tour the city, at the Tokyo Marathon, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Passing by Shinto shrines, the Imperial Palace then finish with a big left turn at Tokyo Station. Japanese engineering prevails on the racecourse with perfectly organized aid stations, everyone in uniforms, sometimes a couple hundred in matching Mario & Luigi costumes greeting you with refreshments. It’s fun! But strange! Often, port-a-potties can be a couple hundred meters off the race route and when you finally get there, there is a line up (yikes!) If you are a ‘back of the packer,’ keep an eye on the clock as there are strict cut-off times, so take care. A flat fast course, with lots of turns and cobblestones on the last kilometre to the finish.

3. TCS New York City Marathon: Imagine running through all five New York City Boroughs beginning with Staten Island. Running across the start line in New York in early November with Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” playing at full volume. Then there’s the run across the massive Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and New York Harbor for the first two miles. With helicopters overhead and boats in the harbor. You can see the Manhattan skyline to the left far away. 

On through Queens and Brooklyn where it starts to get very loud (very, very loud). This is the largest spectator event in the world with an estimated two million spectators supporting the runners. The New York City ‘hills’ start with the Pulaski Bridge, and later the Queensboro Bridge & Willis Bridge in the Bronx, all challenge your fitness. After the strange quiet of the Queensborough Bridge (no spectators allowed), you’re greeted by possibly the loudest cheering in any marathon as you emerge going east and then left onto First Avenue where crowds are ten deep most of the way. Unbelievably exciting!

Coming out of Harlem, at mile 24, is where Central Park rolling hills begin. Lots of exhausted runners looking for Columbus Circle, then the Tavern On The Green is in sight and the finish line! Wear your medal post-race all afternoon and to dinner and the New Yorkers will be hugging you like a long-lost Canadian brother or sister. The bridges give the New York Marathon legendary status as a tough course. Add in the ‘gentle’ hills in Central Park when you’re dog tired and suddenly that PB is drifting away. Heat is not usually a problem in November, but dress warm for the long, chilly wait at the start line on Staten Island.

2. TCS London Marathon: Like all the Majors, massive planning and organization makes for an almost flawless race at the TCS London Marathon (it’s the TCS London Marathon pictured up top). There are three start lines in Greenwich Park in Southeast London to accommodate the 49,000 marathoners. They converge before the runner’s circle at the famous Cutty Sark Ship on the banks of the Thames. The exhilaration of running across the Tower Bridge is indescribable, only to be surpassed later, when running by the Victoria Monument, in front of Buckingham Palace then down to a sea of Union Jacks hanging over the finish line on the mall. London is ‘over the top’ on runners’ and race fans’ fun and frivolity. Every imaginable band, musician and singer all appear on street corners everywhere to entertain runners. Pubs and bars are open early and patrons literally spill out into the street loudly urging the runners. Runner costumes galore—six guys carrying a makeshift ambulance, a woman running inside a birthday cake, full armoured rhinoceroses to name a few.

Like Boston, the course starts with quite a bit of gradual downhill, then generally flat after that. Numerous narrow turns through the Canary Wharf district slow things down a bit. It’s easy to lose your concentration when gazing at incredible historic and interesting London sites as well. London was also special for me as this is where I completed my sixth Abbott World major and was awarded my six-star medal. Hundreds of London runners and fans curiously wanted to just touch it.

1. The Boston Marathon: What can you say? Every marathoners bucket list race—if you’re only going to do one World Major, it has to be Boston. Qualifying, training, then lining up at the start of the iconic Boston Marathon, in Hopkinton Common is a marathoner’s dream! That’s why those of us unlucky enough to be racing next week sit glued to our TVs to catch a glimpse of our sport’s biggest stars. The whole thing is a tremendous experience. I vividly remember trying to hold back the nervous excited running downhill to Framingham, then onto the Wellesley College Scream tunnel, the Newton Fire station, Heartbreak Hill, the massive Citgo sign and finally—Right on Hereford, left on Boylston—to be greeted by the largest screaming crowd, ever. Goosebumps, people. Even now. Legendary, historic mecca of marathon running. Lots of hills: deadly downhill/challenging uphill, and often questionable weather, but dedicated, knowledgeable fans with that particular New England gumption to urge you on.

All of the World Majors are extraordinary (as are their shirts). As are all of the marathons in your own town. I want to hear everyone else’s experiences, and next week iRun is focussing on Boston. Who’s running it? And who has run Berlin, Chicago, Tokyo? What do you people think? Let us know—and we’ll see you at the races.   


  1. NY was my most favourite!! I ran it in 2018. I will be running number 5 London in a few weeks so I’ll see how I feel afterwards. Tokyo is still left in the bucket list!!

  2. Nice to be counted as one of the 563 Canadians with their 6th Star Medal. I am also a 7 Continent runner who ran separate marathons for that accomplishment and wonder how many Canadians have also completed both of these challenges. My first and favourite major was Boston. The crowds, the excitement, the sense of accomplishment combined to make it all special. Good luck and good running to all those still working towards their 6th Star.

  3. I have done the 6 world majors twice and just have Tokyo to run again for the 3rd time. First I will run Sydney this year which may be the 7th major. Janet Green

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