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The 10 Best Marathons in Tennessee

Here is a look at The 10 Best Marathons in Tennessee. The list is up for debate and based on some personal preferences and experiences. Feel free to drop a comment below with your thoughts on any of the marathons listed below or any that might have been omitted.

  1. Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon (race website)- If you have never run a marathon then don’t dare attempt this one as your cherry-thon.  It is by far the best in Tennessee and the most beautiful, but it is extremely challenging with nearly 10,000 feet of ascents and the same amount of descents in the beautiful Harpeth Hills near Nashville.  The best race swag you will ever receive at any race (this side of a belt buckle) is at the Monkey.  Race participants in 2010 received a long sleeve personalized tech shirt, a tie-dyed Monkey t-shirt, and a beautiful wooden Monkey finisher’s medal.  And yet the post-race food buffet was even better than the race and swag combined. But this race fills up fast, like really fast, like 32 minutes fast.
  2. St. Jude Marathon (race website)- The most meaningful marathon you can run in Tennessee and perhaps the United States. All of the proceeds go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital that treats children with cancer regardless of ability to pay.  The race is in early December and the weather is usually cold but good running weather.  It starts right outside of Auto Zone Park and finishes inside the stadium, after rounding the outfield warning track.  During the 26.2 miles you hit almost every major Memphis landmark including the Pyramid, Fedex Forum, Sun Studios, the Memphis Zoo, along with running through the St. Jude campus early in the race with several of the patients outside cheering you on. They will inspire you to run further and faster.  The race is a must-do for any Tennessean and highly recommended for out-of-staters as well.
  3. Andrew Jackson Marathon (race website) – My hometown marathon so naturally it scores a bit higher with me than it probably would with others. The course is beautiful and rolling. Approximately 20 of the miles are out in the country, with the rest of the race in peaceful suburban neighborhoods with almost no traffic. It starts and finishes at Union University.  The field is usually small (less than 100), which I have come to enjoy, and most that run it have run it before at some point.  The AJM also includes a half marathon and 5K as well on race day. The finisher’s medal was actually a paper weight but aren’t all medals once they make it home?
  4. Rock Creek Scenic City Trail Marathon (race website)- The only trail marathon to make this list. It is truly a great and peaceful run out in the woods of Chattanooga.  If you love the outdoors and endurance running then you won’t want to miss this beautiful trail run from the Rock Creek people.
  5. Blister in the Sun Marathon (race website) – The toughest marathon in Tennessee due to three things: 1. heat, 2. repetition, and 3. hills.  The Blister lives up to it’s name as it takes place in early August which is a no-no for most Tennesseans to even run out to their car to grab their Marlboros.  Race day temps at the inaugural blister reached a blistering 89 degrees. The course at Cane Creek park in Cookeville consisted of 5 loops through a park before ascending a hellacious hill up and around Cane Creek elementary school.  The field in 2010 consisted of just 14 freaks, all with resumes that would easily have condemned the Bush administration if it had forced terrorists to attempt their feats.  Blister and Flying Monkey are by far the two toughest marathons in Tennessee.  The RD is a sub-3 hour freak so good luck beating him on his home course.
  6. Southern Plunge Marathon (race website) – The inaugural Plunge in 2010 was surprising in how many things they did extremely well right off of the bat.  The Race Director put together an impressive logo that was then placed on top-notch Zorrel tech shirts and finisher’s medals.  The course was tougher than expected.  I had been told there was a small hill at mile 2. Well that was correct. It was the smallest hill that day.  The course had several climbs and the second half was rather taxing to most of the runners.  There is a rumor already circulating that the course will be changed for the second edition of the Plunge in 2011.
  7. Knoxville Marathon (race website) – The best part of this marathon, especially for Tennessee Volunteer fans, is that you get to run the last 50 yard to the finish inside of Neyland Stadium.  The first half of the course is hilly, but it levels out a bit towards the end.  Nearly 700 people raced it last year.  The race t-shirt and medal were sub-par but that is nitpicking a bit.  There are better options to run a marathon in Tennessee, but if you are nearby Knoxville when this one is held you should check it out.
  8. Country Music Marathon (race website) – One of the biggest half marathons in the United States, as well as one of the most overrated marathons in America. It’s a Rock N’ Roll series event which means it will be very large and populated. Usually there is around 26,000 runners for the half and just 4-5,000 for the full.  The best part of this race is the first half, even with the thick stack of people, where you run down Broadway and up Music Row.  After the 26,000 half marathoners divert off for the half finish the course gets extremely boring, hilly at points, and runs through the most industrial parts of Music City.  If you want to run in extreme weather this might be the right marathon for you.  In 2009, the marathon had temperatures in the mid 80’s and last year 75% of marathoners got diverted to a shortened finish (around 22 miles) due to tornadoes in the area.
  9. Endorphin Marathon (race website) – One of the younger marathons on this list. It is located in Jackson, Tennessee and takes place around Labor Day each year.  The course is relatively flat and easy.  The field has grown each year and the swag is pretty impressive from what I’ve seen of it.  There is also a half marathon, 10K and 5K that takes place the same morning.  With a little bit more promotion and exposure this hidden gem of a marathon could become much larger and even rival Andrew Jackson.
  10. Rutledge Marathon (race website) – If you have ever wanted to finish a marathon on a working-farm then this is the race for you.  The race is rather small but the race director does a very good job of making everyone feel welcomed and appreciated for coming out.  Rutledge is in east Tennessee so the course is one rolling hill after another, but the hills are minor and help keep the legs fresh throughout the race.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1052 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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7 Responses to “The 10 Best Marathons in Tennessee”

  1. Jeff M says:

    I completed 6 of 10 on the list. I also finished the old Smokey Mountain Marathon in Townsend (97-98) and the Greenways Marathon in Nashville that will revive and be held this March. Monkey is my favorite!

  2. Robert Rayder says:

    I have run the majority of the runs on this list and generally agree with the author. Flying Monkey and St. Jude are at opposite ends of the marathon spectrum and both are great races that deserve national attention. The Andrew Jackson Marathon is a little old country race that is pleasant enough but ranks about with Winchester’s new Southern Plunge marathon in my book. A training run really. I agree with putting Country Music way down the list. Typical Rock and Roll hype and massive crowds all doomed to run during the terrible hot and humid conditions of late spring and finish in LP field’s parking lot instead of finishing inside the stadium like at St. Jude or Knoxville. They need to move it up a month and open the stadium doors to the runners! Scenic City is an awesome trial. Sign up early to get the neat shirt! Blister in theSun is Free and I’m told utterly sadistic.I gotta run it this year! Knoxville is a middle of the road marathon with a great finish. Still prefer it to Country Music if for no other reason than the weather is much better and the crowding is a lot less of a factor. Can’t speak to the others yet but I plan to remedy that soon. I’m going to run em all in Tennessee or bust!

  3. cadaver says:

    The Flying Monkey sold out in 3 minutes 48 seconds this year. Glad I got in. Not as scenic as Leadville, but good enough for a local race.

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