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The World's Top 10 Marathons
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CHICAGO
It may not boast the crowds of New York City or the history of Boston, but in nearly all other respects, the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon now holds the edge as America's best and biggest marathon. From its nadir in 1987 when the event was cancelled, Chicago has re-established its world-class credentials with a supremely fast course, excellent race management, and a concern for the ordinary runner that other events should emulate.
Course: The flat, wide, fast, loop course starts and finishes in the vast expanse of Grant Park on the shore of Lake Michigan. The route showcases many of Chicago's attractions-from the city-center skyscrapers to the diverse ethnic neighborhoods most tourists never see.
Size: 35,000+
Contact: LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, P.O. Box 10597, Chicago, IL 60610; (888)243-3344; www.chicagomarathon.com


HONOLULU
Most runners don't need an excuse to visit Hawaii, particularly in early December when much of the northern hemisphere is cloaked in cold and darkness. But if you need one, the Honolulu Marathon is it. It's a big race with big atmosphere. Much of that ambiance comes from the visiting Japanese, who constitute the majority of the huge field. The race starts painfully early (at 5 a.m.) in darkness, but this allows you to run in cooler temperatures. Once the sun comes up, you'll enjoy fabulous views of the Pacific.
Course: The near-loop course starts in Ala Moana Beach Park and finishes at Kapiolani Park. Along the way, it takes in Honolulu's notable sights, including Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and Koko Head Crater. You'll have two modest climbs at 7 and 24 miles, but most of the course is flat.
Size: 25,000
Contact: Honolulu Marathon Office, 3435 Waialae Ave., Ste. 208, Honolulu, HI 96816; (808) 734-7200; www.honolulumarathon.org


LONDON
The London Marathon is truly a marathon for every runner. The huge field, beautiful course, enthusiastic crowds, and party atmosphere appeal to first-timers, while the speed of the course and faultless organization continue to draw seasoned marathoners. The inaugural event in 1981 was inspired by the New York City Marathon, but London's success has made it the benchmark against which all others are now judged.
Course: The point-to-point route starts in Blackheath and Greenwich Parks in southeast London, passes right by the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, and finishes next to St. James Park on the Mall. Along the way, it takes you past many more of the city's famous historic sights. Although the route twists, turns, and narrows in places, it doesn't include any notable hills.
Size: 30,000+
Contact: Flora London Marathon, P.O. Box 1234, London, England SE1 8RZ; phone 0207 620 4117; www.london-marathon.co.uk


NEW YORK CITY
If any marathon could honestly claim to be the world's favorite, it's New York City. No other event attracts such a large proportion of international runners from so many countries. They're drawn by the unique appeal of the city, the big-event atmosphere, and the incredible crowds that line the entire route. The original big-city marathon, New York City is a must for anyone who wants to experience all the energy and excitement a marathon can offer.
Course: Starting on the huge expanse of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island, the course offers a feast-for-the-senses cultural tour through New York's five boroughs, then finishes in Central Park.
Size: 30,000+
Contact: Marathon Entries, P.O. Box 1388, G.P.O., New York, NY 10116; (212) 423-2249; www.nycmarathon.org


PARIS
The city of Paris has never struggled to attract visitors in the springtime. It's just that in the past, not many of them came for the marathon, which for years had been plagued by organizational snafus and indifferent support. Not any longer. The organization has greatly improved, the race has the budget to draw a decent elite field, and runners now flock to the Paris Marathon by the thousands. Crowd support is still limited, but never mind. Paris now has a race worthy of one of the world's greatest cities.
Course: Many European marathons promise a sightseeing tour on foot, then route you through long stretches of industrial wasteland. Not so with Paris. The race course packs in just about every feature the city has to offer. You start on the Champs-Elysees, pass through the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne in the early stages, and take in the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and Eiffel Tower along the way. It's not a fast course, but with views like these, who cares!
Size: 20,000+
Contact: Marathon International de Paris, AMSP, 8 Rue Crozatier, 75012 Paris, France; phone 33 1 41 33 15 68; www.parismarathon.com


ROTTERDAM
While Rotterdam isn't usually considered one of Europe's must-visit cities, thousands of runners come en masse to this modern port city to take part in the marathon every spring. They're drawn by a pancake-flat course and the knowledge that the organizers produce an excellent race. What's more, the city really champions the event, and practically closes down on race day. Rotterdam continually improves in novel ways (it was one of the first marathons to use the timing chip), and certainly challenges the idea that only great cities can host great marathons.
Course: Again, The Netherlands is devoid of hills, so it's no surprise that Rotterdam offers one of the flattest, fastest courses on earth. Other than the Erasmus Bridge at 2-K and two wooden sections at 5-K and 30-K, the loop course is fairly unremarkable. But then, you don't go to Rotterdam for the scenery.
Size: 10,000+
Contact: Rotterdam Marathon, P.O. Box 9412, 3007 AK Rotterdam, The Netherlands; phone 31 10 432 3266; www.rotterdammarathon.nl


STOCKHOLM
This gem of a marathon starts at 2 p.m. on a Saturday in the beginning of June, when the weather is pleasant and the city is full of loud, boisterous crowds. They throng much of the two-lap, city-center course, offering plenty of runner support. The race is designed to highlight the city's beautiful harbor on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and it succeeds wonderfully. It's not a particularly fast course, but Stockholm in June is a major consolation.
Course: Two almost-identical loops start outside the 1912 Olympic Stadium and finish on the track inside. Long sections of the course are flat, but enough undulations-particularly on the loop around Djurgarden and over various bridges-make it tough to PR.
Size: 12,000+
Contact: Stockholm Marathon, Box 10023, 10055 Stockholm, Sweden; phone 46 8 667 1930; www.marathon.se
Special thanks to Steve Smythe, Runner's World U.K., for coordinating this story.

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