The Best Half Marathons to Prepare for Boston

Every April, Boston, Massachusetts transforms into a running wonderland.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the United States and has been run every year since 1897 with the exception of 2021 due to the pandemic. Other things that happened in 1897? Thomas Edison received a patent for the modern day movie projector. Boston opened the first underground metro. Read: it was a great deal of time ago. The Boston Marathon is a running institution.

The Boston Marathon is the Abbott World Marathon Major that requires time qualification which makes it an aspirational race coveted by runners of all ages from around the world.

Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to have qualified. Congratulations! A feat of human accomplishment!

What you’ll probably want to do before April 21st is run a practice half marathon.

Why run a practice half marathon? It’s an opportunity to settle into all your racing routines. How early will you arrive before the starting gun? What’s your pre-race breakfast? How about fueling? Gels or chews?

If you’re not yet qualified for the Boston Marathon, we have a training plan for getting under that 3-hour threshold.

What are the factors that contribute to a good Boston Marathon practice half marathon?

  1. Hills: The Boston Marathon is a hilly course. A half marathon should have either a course with rolling hills or be at a high enough elevation to provide some aerobic challenge.
  2. Crowds: If you’ve heard of the Boston Marathon, maybe you’ve heard of the “Scream Tunnel.” It’s a part of the Boston Marathon course along Wellesley College with lines of collegiate screamers. If you’re not used to the encouragement of onlookers, it’s worth incorporating.
  3. Timing: A practice race should be at least 5 weeks before April 15, 2024. Most training plans recommend tapering for a marathon four to six weeks before your marathon. That puts the final day you should be racing at March 15.

A practice half marathon allows you the opportunity to answer all these questions and show up to the Hopkinton starting line prepared to run personal best. Here’s our picks for the 10 Best Half Marathons to Prepare for Boston.

Related: 26 Best Half Marathons in the World

The Atlanta skyline home of the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon, a Boston Marathon practice half marathon.

The Publix Atlanta Half Marathon in Atlanta, GA 

With gentle rolling hills through this looped course, the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon is one of the biggest running events in the state with over 16,000 participants. While there’s no equivalent to Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill (88 feet of elevation gain in nearly half a mile), after the halfway point runners will face a challenging 150 feet elevation gain over the following mile. Atlanta summers are sweltering, but in February temperatures range between 41°F and 60°F. There’s exactly 7 weeks in between the Atlanta Half Marathon and the Boston Marathon. You’re going to find a lot of Boston Qualifiers practicing on this east coast half marathon.

February 26, 2024 | Read More | Register 

The San Francisco skyline home to the San Francisco Half Marathon, a Boston Marathon practice half marathon.

The San Francisco Half Marathon in San Francisco, CA

While San Francisco running is generally typecast as running across the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Half Marathon keeps runners on dry land the entire thirteen mile course. Over ten miles of the race takes runners through Golden Gate Park. Between mile 5 and 8, runners will experience over 200 feet of elevation drop which is a great opportunity to practice downhill running which some consider more challenging than uphill running. Being a city with over 3 million residents in the metropolitan area, you’ll be guaranteed a strong crowd turnout.

February 4, 2024 | Read More | Register

The Austin skyline home to the Austin Half Marathon, a Boston Marathon practice half marathon.

Austin Half Marathon in Austin, TX

Welcome to the capital of Texas where the catchphrase of the city is “Keep Austin Weird.” The half marathon course winds runners through Lady Bird Lake, a stretch down the vibrant South Congress District, with a grand finale near the State Capitol Building. The half marathon sees a lot of support from locals as well as students during the parts of the half marathon through the University of Texas campus. With a few bridge crossings over Lady Bird Lake, you’ll get your fill of elevation change to prepare for Boston.

February 18, 2023 | Read More | Register

The winery landscape home to the Napa Valley Half Marathon, a Boston Marathon practice half marathon.

Napa Valley Half Marathon in St. Helena, CA

Established in 2019, the Napa Valley Half Marathon begins at the Conn Creek Winery on the Silverado Trail and with the entirety of the course through Northern California wine country. While the crowds and cheers are lighter than what you’ll experience in Boston, half marathon runners will be joined by over 2,500 competing athletes for this California race.

March 3, 2024 | Register

The landscape of the Sedona Half Marathon.

Sedona Half Marathon in Sedona, AZ

The Sedona Half Marathon is one part Boston Marathon practice half marathon and two parts destination race. Sedona frequently makes it onto our Bucket List race series. It’s in one of the most naturally spectacular red rock landscapes in the United States while being accessible to beginner and veteran runners alike. The race doesn’t have any major elevation changes, but at 4,000 feet of elevation will challenge your lung and aerobic capacity in preparation for Boston.

February 3, 2024 | Read More | Register

The downtown of the Woodlands Marathon in Woodlands Texas. A great Boston Marathon preparation race.
Photo: Visit the Woodlands

The Woodlands Marathon in The Woodlands, TX 

The half marathon takes runners through the Woodlands in Texas. The Woodlands is a planned community that began in the mid-1970s as a suburban community for nearby Houston. Ever since the 1970s, its population has doubled every decade. With rolling hills, plentiful trees, it’s out-and-back loop course provides a gradual incline and decline perfect for runners qualified for Boston.

March 2, 2024 | Read More | Register

The natural beauty of the Zion Half Marathon.

Zion Half Marathon in Springdale, UT

The Zion Half Marathon is produced by one of our favorite race producers, Vacation Races. They’re the type of race producers who make sure the destination races are challenging, accessible, and most of all, the most beautiful races in the world. The course begins at 3,000 feet above sea level and over 13.1 miles increases 1,000 feet of incline. The running at high altitude may get you before any steep inclines do.

March 2, 2024 | Read More | Register

Mesa Half Marathon in Mesa, AZ

The Mesa Half Marathon course has runners make their way down from the hills of the Usery Mountain Regional Park which overlooks Phoenix. The race temperatures in February reach the upper 60s, a nice relief from the summer months in Mesa regularly reaching the triple digits. The course is the back half of the Boston Qualifying Mesa Marathon course with the entire course in a slight decline.

February 10, 2023 | Register

The Aramco Houston Half Marathon on January 14, 2024

The Houston Half Marathon is one of the more accessible half marathons in the United States. With spectacular production value, 25,000 runners across the marathon and half marathon, and a course with a few sudden elevation changes – it has all the makings of a great Boston Marathon practice half. 

January 14, 2023 | Read More | Register

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