Best Marathons in Wisconsin: Top 5 Races to Consider

Wisconsin, known as America’s Dairyland, offers more than just picturesque landscapes and dairy delights. The state also boasts a thriving running community and a range of marathons that cater to runners of all abilities, making it an ideal destination for enthusiasts who want to test their endurance while exploring the beautiful scenery.

From city to countryside, participants can choose from a variety of marathons that promise a memorable race experience, making Wisconsin an appealing destination for marathoners.

One standout race in the Badger State is the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. Held each fall, this popular point-to-point marathon draws runners from all over due to its scenic course along the shores of Lake Michigan. Another crowd favorite is the Eau Claire Marathon, which takes place in the spring and offers a range of race distances for participants to choose from.

Additionally, the Paavo Nurmi Marathon serves as a nod to the legendary Finnish runner, garnering significant attention from runners who appreciate the sport’s history.

These marathons and more make Wisconsin a go-to destination for serious runners and casual enthusiasts alike, offering a taste of competitive challenge and personal achievement.

With the vast array of running events available throughout the year, there’s no shortage of opportunities for athletes to lace up their shoes and hit the pavement in America’s Dairyland.

Top Marathons in Wisconsin

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is a popular point-to-point race that takes place in the fall. Participants are encouraged to sign up early, as spots fill up quickly. The marathon offers picturesque views of Lake Michigan, making it a favorite among runners.

Cellcom Green Bay Marathon

Held in Green Bay, the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon occurs every year in May. Runners can expect a well-organized event featuring the famous Lambeau Field as part of their race experience. With a mix of city streets, residential neighborhoods, and trail running, this marathon offers a little something for everyone.

Eau Claire Marathon

Taking place in Eau Claire, this marathon is known for its scenic course, which features numerous parks and bridges. With both a full marathon, half marathon, and other shorter distance events available, runners of all abilities can enjoy the beautiful Eau Claire area during this race.

Madison Marathon

Held in the capital city of Madison, this marathon offers a challenging and hilly course for participants to tackle. With a mixture of urban and residential areas, the race showcases the beauty of Madison and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Paavo Nurmi Marathon

Taking place in the northern part of Wisconsin, the Paavo Nurmi Marathon is named after the famous Finnish long-distance runner.

This race boasts a challenging course with numerous hills and diverse terrain, making it a unique event for marathon enthusiasts.

Dances with Dirt – Devil’s Lake

The Dances with Dirt race series stops in Wisconsin at Devil’s Lake State Park. This trail run is designed to challenge even the most experienced runners and is known for its demanding, yet stunning course filled with rugged terrain and breathtaking views.

Nctraces – North Country Trail Races

The North Country Trail Races (Nctraces) take place on the expansive North Country National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin. With a variety of events, including a full marathon, half marathon, and relay options, the Nctraces attract runners looking for an unforgettable trail running experience.

Course Features

Wisconsin offers a variety of marathons with unique course features suited for beginners, experienced runners, and those seeking to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Let’s explore some of the prominent marathons in the state.

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is a popular choice for its flat course and scenic views. Starting in Grafton, the route transitions from rural countryside, to quiet suburbs, and finally to Milwaukee’s downtown skyline. Along the way, runners will enjoy picturesque views of Lake Michigan. The course is USATF certified and a Boston Qualifier, making it an ideal choice for those looking to set a personal best.

Here are some key features of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon:

  • Primarily flat course
  • USATF certified
  • Boston Qualifier
  • Scenic views of Lake Michigan and Milwaukee skyline

The Lake Michigan Marathon is another noteworthy race in Wisconsin. Featuring an out-and-back course that showcases the stunning shoreline of Lake Michigan, runners will pass through the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers, known as the Maritime Capital of Wisconsin. This marathon includes a full marathon, half marathon, and a four-person relay, catering to a range of runners with different preferences and abilities.

Key features of the Lake Michigan Marathon:

  • Out-and-back course
  • Amazing views of Lake Michigan shoreline
  • Flat, fast course
  • Full marathon, half marathon, and relay events

Lastly, the Wausau Marathon is set in the picturesque city of Wausau, known as the “City of Trails.” This race offers a mix of trails, bridges, and rivers, providing runners with an enjoyable and diverse route. While the course does include some hills, the elevation changes are manageable, and the point-to-point course design keeps runners engaged and motivated throughout the race.

Notable features of the Wausau Marathon:

  • Mix of trails, bridges, and rivers
  • Point-to-point course
  • Manageable elevation changes
  • Scenic views of city landmarks and natural beauty

In addition to the awe-inspiring views and well-designed courses, participants of these marathons can expect various swag items, such as commemorative race items, finisher medals, and more, as part of their race experience.

Race Types

In Wisconsin, there is a wide variety of marathon races for runners to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a road or trail race, a 5K, 10K, half marathon or full marathon, you’re sure to find an event that suits your preferences and challenges you in the beautiful settings of the Badger State.

Road Races

Road races are among the most popular types of marathon events in Wisconsin. These races often take place in cities and towns, offering runners a chance to experience the local scenery and culture. Some notable road races include:

  • Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon: A beautiful point-to-point fall marathon with a course that runs along the shores of Lake Michigan.
  • Wausau Marathon: This marathon offers a mix of urban and rural landscapes and is known for its challenging yet scenic course.

Trail Races

For those who prefer running on trails, Wisconsin offers a few trail marathon options that showcase the state’s beautiful forests and landscapes. Trail races provide a more rugged and adventurous experience for participants. A couple of options to consider are:

  • Ice Age Trail 50: A 50-mile ultramarathon that takes place in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest, offering a challenging course through wooded areas and hills.
  • Nordic Trail Marathon: This marathon traverses the rolling terrain of the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Nordic Trail system, providing beautiful scenery and challenging hills.

Shorter Distances

In addition to full marathons, Wisconsin hosts several races with shorter distances like 5K, 10K, and half marathons. These events are perfect for runners looking to participate in a less demanding race, or for those preparing for longer distances. Some shorter distance races worth checking out are:

  • Apple Dumpling Day Races: This event in Elroy features a range of distances, including 5K, 10K, and half marathon options.
  • Fox Cities Marathon: Held in Appleton, this event offers both a full marathon and a half marathon option that takes runners through scenic neighborhoods and parks.

Regardless of your preferred race type or distance, Wisconsin’s marathons cater to a diverse range of running interests and abilities. Whether you are a seasoned runner or new to the sport, this state offers an event that will challenge and inspire you in a memorable location.

Registration and Fees

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon

To register for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, visit the official website and sign up early as this popular event fills up quickly. This point-to-point fall marathon is USATF certified, ensuring accurate distances and a well-organized race. The registration fees are tiered and generally range from $90 to $120, depending on when you register.

Madison Marathon

The Madison Marathon offers both half and full marathon options in the city’s capital. Participants will run past Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, providing a scenic and enjoyable experience. Registration can be completed on the marathon’s website. Fees for the full marathon vary between $80 and $125, while the half marathon rates range from $55 to $100. Both races are USATF certified, ensuring a smoothly run event.

Paavo Nurmi Marathon

As the oldest marathon event in Wisconsin, the Paavo Nurmi Marathon offers a rich history and a great racing experience. Registration is available online through their website. Early bird rates start at $50 for the full marathon and $40 for the half marathon. As the race date approaches, these rates will increase, so register early to secure the best pricing possible. This event is also USATF certified, providing confidence in the course’s accuracy and organization.

In addition to the USATF certification and registration information mentioned for each race, other registration-related details can often be found on the respective marathon’s website, such as:

  • Age group categories
  • Race day packet pickup
  • Course time limits
  • Spectator information
  • Refund and transfer policies

By keeping these important registration and fee details in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to participate in some of the best marathons Wisconsin has to offer.

Runner Experience

Runners participating in marathons across Wisconsin often rave about the beautiful views, well-organized events, and strong community support. Let’s dive into some key aspects of these races.


Many of Wisconsin’s marathons offer spectacular views along their courses. Races like the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon and La Crosse Marathon & Half Marathon provide stunning views of the lakes and riverfronts. Additionally, events such as the Paavo Nurmi Marathon take runners through picturesque forests and rolling hills.

Course Design:

The courses for these marathons are designed to challenge and excite runners. They typically include a good balance of flat and hilly sections, appealing to a wide range of skill levels. For example, the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha offers a relatively flat course along Lake Michigan, while the La Crosse Marathon & Half Marathon features more ups and downs along the Mississippi River.

Aid Stations:

Wisconsin marathons are notorious for their well-stocked and supportive aid stations. They provide hydration and nutrition (e.g., water, Gatorade, gels, and energy bars), as well as cheering volunteers to motivate runners throughout the race.

  • Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon – Aid stations every 2-3 miles
  • La Crosse Marathon & Half Marathon – Aid stations every 2 miles
  • Wisconsin Marathon – Aid stations every 2 miles


The marathons are typically well-organized, ensuring a smooth experience for participants. From registration and packet pick-up to course markings and post-race activities, the event teams work hard to create a seamless running event.

Community Support:

The local communities in Wisconsin show strong support for these marathons. Residents often line the course to cheer on runners, and businesses may offer special promotions or deals for race participants. This enthusiastic community support adds to the overall experience for runners.

Finisher’s Perks:

Marathons in Wisconsin often have finisher’s medals and post-race festivities to help runners celebrate their achievements. Some races, like the Brewers 10K and Houdini 10K, even offer unique finisher’s medals that commemorate the event.

Unique Experience:

Each Wisconsin marathon offers a unique experience for runners. From the historic Paavo Nurmi Marathon that showcases the state’s oldest marathon event, to the Brewers 10K that guides runners through the heart of Milwaukee, these races provide unforgettable memories for participants.

Qualifiers and Records

Wisconsin offers several marathons with Boston Qualifier status, attracting runners from near and far who aspire to participate in the iconic Boston Marathon. One such race in Wisconsin is the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, held on May 21, 2023. The racecourse is known for not only being a Boston Qualifier but also offering scenic beauty and enthusiastic spectators along the route.

Another race in Wisconsin with Boston Marathon qualifying potential is the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. This point-to-point fall marathon is highly popular, and runners are advised to sign up early to secure a spot. The course takes participants along the shores of Lake Michigan, providing gorgeous views and an inviting environment for runners aiming to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

In terms of race records, some of the most notable achievements in Wisconsin marathons include:

  • Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Records:
    • Men: 2:15:57 (1999)
    • Women: 2:40:03 (2017)
  • Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Records:
    • Men: 2:16:44 (2010)
    • Women: 2:39:48 (2011)

With these record-setting times, it is evident that Wisconsin marathons are both competitive and supportive to runners striving to achieve their personal bests. Whether participating for the joy of running or aiming to secure a spot in the prestigious Boston Marathon, Wisconsin offers a range of opportunities for runners to achieve their goals.

Marathon Highlights

Wisconsin offers a variety of marathons with diverse terrains, stunning views, and unique features. A few highlights of some of the top marathons in the state are detailed below.

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is a popular point-to-point fall marathon, known for its scenic course. Starting from Grafton High School and ending at Veterans Park on the shores of Lake Michigan, the race showcases the beauty of Milwaukee’s lakefront area. Runners rave about the well-organized event and the exceptional spectator support throughout the course.

The Wisconsin Marathon takes place in Kenosha every year in May. Starting and ending at the Kenosha Harbor, the race offers a flat and fast course suitable for those aiming for a personal best or a Boston Marathon Qualifier. Participants enjoy picturesque views of Lake Michigan and the Kenosha Harbor in this event. Post-race festivities include a “Big Cheese” beer garden, which serves local microbrews, and a family-friendly area with activities and entertainment.

  • Terrain: Flat and fast
  • Photos: Available for purchase
  • Scenic: Lakefront views
  • Beer: Local microbrews at the finish
  • Swag: Custom-themed finisher medals, race shirts

The Paavo Nurmi Marathon, named in honor of the legendary Finnish distance runner, is considered the oldest marathon event in Wisconsin. The race takes place in August and offers a challenging course with diverse terrain, including rolling hills and spectacular views of the countryside. With a friendly atmosphere and supportive volunteers, the Paavo Nurmi Marathon is a beloved annual event in the state’s running community.

To make the most of your marathon experience in Wisconsin, make sure to check out photos from past events, read reviews, and research courses to find a race that best suits your preferences and goals.

Other Marathons in Wisconsin

Besides the popular Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon and Lake Michigan Marathon, Wisconsin’s diverse landscape and friendly communities host a variety of other marathons throughout the year. In this section, we’ll explore some of the noteworthy events across different cities in the state.

In Menomonee Falls, runners can take part in the local marathons organized by various running clubs and foundations. These events showcase the picturesque surroundings of the area while fostering a sense of camaraderie amongst the participants.

Wausau is home to the Wausau Marathon, an event celebrated for its scenic and USATF-certified 26.2-mile course. The marathon attracts both local and visiting runners looking for a challenging yet rewarding race experience in central Wisconsin.

Traveling south to Kenosha, long-distance running enthusiasts can participate in the Wisconsin Marathon. This popular event offers a beautiful course along the Lake Michigan shoreline, making it a memorable race for runners of all levels.

Wautoma hosts the Silver Lake Marathon, a race organized amidst the serene woodlands and pristine lakes of the region. This marathon provides a picturesque, less-crowded alternative to bigger races, catering to athletes looking for a more intimate running event.

Up north in Ashland, the Whistlestop Marathon takes place annually. This race, situated amidst the gorgeous fall foliage of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, treats runners to stunning natural views and a flat, smooth course that appeals to those aiming for a personal record.

The Madison Marathon caters to urban runners who prefer the energetic atmosphere of Wisconsin’s capital city. Taking place on an indoor track, this event allows participants to enjoy a climate-controlled racing experience regardless of the weather.

In conclusion, Wisconsin houses various marathons for runners of all levels, offering diverse courses that showcase the natural beauty and vibrant urban environments of the state. From quaint small-town races to bustling city events, you’re sure to find a marathon in Wisconsin that suits your running preferences.

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