Heart Mini Marathon (Cincinnati, Ohio)
The Flying Pig crowd uses this 9.3-mile roller coaster as a training run every year. It’s held the third week in March, and the weather is notoriously bad. In 2011, race organizers added the Heart Mini Half-Marathon, which tacked on bridges (more hills) at the end. In this race, you are either going up or going down, there is no flat.
Flying Pig Marathon and Half Marathon (Cincinnati, Ohio)
The Queen City shows off its finest the first Sunday in May. This winding course that climbs the hills of Cincinnati is not for the faint of heart, but the swine of spirit.
OneAmerica 500 Mini Marathon (Indianapolis, Ind.)
It’s the largest half marathon in the country (35,000 people), and boy howdy, is it a fun one. It’s part of the Indianapolis 500 festivities and always held the second Sunday in May. Miles 6-8 are run on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though you do go through pit row on the turns to avoid the wicked high banks.
The Redlegs 5K (Cincinnati, Ohio)
A great family event sponsored by the Cincinnati Reds, this 5K has something for everyone. If you want to push a stroller, run with your kids, or attempt a PR, you won’t be disappointed. The best part of this race is that ends at home plate in Great American Ball Park. And this year, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, they’ve added a 10K as well.
French Park Creek Crossings (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Got route fatigue? Go off-roading! This beautiful park features winding trails, babbling creeks, and lush scenery. You’ll be wading through water, rolling over logs, and dodging braches. Don’t let the 3.4-mile distance fool you. You’ll be huffing and puffing all the way to the bagel tent at the finish line.
North Shore Half Marathon and 5K (Highland Park, Ill.)
Meander among the mansions and tree-lined streets in an affluent Chicago suburb, and watch out for those hills. Especially the Park Avenue hill, a crazy steep climb up from Lake Michigan at the 7-mile mark. Then celebrate your accomplishment with pancakes at the post-race party.
Boilermaker 15K (Utica, N.Y.)
The elite runners keep the second Sunday in July free every year for this hilly race. The average Joes mark their calendars for it because the finish line is at a brewery.
Bix 7 (Davenport, Iowa)
This challenging 7-mile course is one of the best in the Midwest. It’s hilly, it’s hot, and it’s filled with cheering crowds, great music and a plethora of costumed runners. The out-and-back format of the race is one of the rare chances you’ll get to run alongside elite runners from all over the world on the last Saturday in July.
Chicago Marathon (Chicago, Ill.)
Without question, the best way to see the Windy City. Flat course, amazing crowd support and that always unpredictable October weather in Chicago.
Cross Country Challenge 8K (Gilberts, Ill.)
Off-roading over farm land is challenging. Doing it the first weekend in December is even more so. If you survive the frigid double creek-crossing, you shall be rewarded with a post-race feast in a giant barn afterward.
Columbus Marathon and Half Marathon (Columbus, Ohio)
This flat, beautiful course is a great way to see this little city that’s more than a college town — and an even better place to PR. The crowds are great, and the turning trees are in their prime. If you’re looking for a fast fall race, this is one to consider.
St. Louis Half Marathon (St. Louis, Missouri)
One of the nation’s more popular half marathons, this spring race features the sites and sounds of St. Louis set amongst rolling hills and a smattering of interesting neighborhoods (and even a quick tour of the Budweiser brewery and those famous Clydesdales).
Hudy 14K Brewery Run (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Want a gut check before your fall race? Give this challenging course a whirl as you wind through amazing historic neighborhoods and Cincinnati’s brewing district. The after party features loads of beer right at the heart of Oktoberfest. Prost!