Each year in late October, more than 30,000 people pound along the pavements of Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia, up one bank of the Potomac and back down the other, for the Marine Corps Marathon. That number makes the event the fifth-largest marathon in the country and the tenth-largest in the world. Unlike the others, though, it offers no prize money and therefore attracts no or very few professional runners–so amateurs can and do win. In 2008, for example, the men’s and women’s titles were both taken by first-time marathoners.
If you want to run in the event, you need to plan for it early. Registration opens at the end of March and the race sells out quickly. It’s much easier to join the 150,000 spectators: just station yourself anywhere along the way. The race starts at Route 110 in Arlington, then makes a four-mile circuit through neighboring Rosslyn before returning to the Potomac and crossing the Key Bridge into Georgetown. It follows the C&O Canal upriver, then loops back around the Georgetown Reservoir and descends with the river all the way to Hains Point in East Potomac Park. Then it’s back up to the Jefferson Memorial, around the Tidal Basin to the Lincoln Memorial, and around the National Mall, all the way to the Capitol and back as far as the Washington Monument. There the course turns south, recrosses the Potomac over the 14th Street Bridge, and finishes with a few turns through Crystal City.
All along the course you can see live music, mostly high school marching bands, with a few bluegrass and percussion acts mixed in. In the days before the race, visit the Marine Corps Marathon Health and Fitness Expo to see over 200 vendors of running gear, food, and other merchandise—and to belly up to the Experts Bar, where sports medicine doctors and other running experts dispense advice in two-hour shifts.
The 2021 Marine Corps Marathon is scheduled for October 31, 2021.
“Registration for the 2021 Marine Corps Marathon will begin with MCM Runners Club members during February. Rolling Registration for the public opens in March. All registration is virtual-only at this time. Runners must first be registered for the virtual event to have the first option to participate in any event that is ultimately approved to host a live, in-person version.”
For more information, visit www.marinemarathon.com.
The Marine Corps Marathon Registration Lottery takes place in March. (Click here for information.)
Marine Corps Marathon
Hours: The starting gun is at 7:55 a.m. The first male runners are likely to cross the finish line at around 10:15, the first women about 25 minutes later.
Admission: Free to watch; Fee to enter.
Parking: Many roads are closed for the marathon, making driving difficult. Unless you plan to head to an area like the Georgetown Reservoir, far from any station, the Metro is a much better idea for spectators. For participants, there is free parking in Crystal City at the corner of 23rd & Crystal Drive. A free pre-race shuttle service from there to the starting area starts service at 4:30 a.m. For more information about MCM parking and shuttles (for both participants and spectators), click here.
Metrorail: For the starting line, take the Blue Line to Arlington Cemetery or the Yellow Line to the Pentagon. For the eastern part of Georgetown and the course along Rock Creek Parkway, take the Blue and Orange Line to Foggy Bottom/George Washington University. For the National Mall, take the Blue and Orange Line to the Smithsonian.