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Planning Your Fall Marathon

Written by Charlie

Now is the time when you begin planning your fall marathon (yes, even though it is still spring!). Depending on what month it is, you will start tweaking your training program (or looking for a new one) and shift into training time. You may not even have picked out your fall marathon yet and are still looking around to find one that works with your schedule, budget, topography, and time goals. Since you are in the planning phases anyway, why not start planning on how to get to that fall marathon for almost nothing?!

Planning Your Fall Marathon

Many times, selecting a marathon to run ultimately comes down to the cost factor – how can you get from here to there without it costing you a ton of money. The result of attempting to choose a marathon based on that normally has you sticking closer to home or trying out the smaller races. There is nothing wrong with either of those choices! I have done both, but I have done so out of choice, not because I was unable to go to a different race. That is the big difference – choosing to do a marathon or being forced to that particular one due to cost. This might sound strange, but I have never run my hometown marathon. While it would have been cool to do so, it has never worked out for me schedule-wise. In addition, I really enjoy exploring different cities and there is no better way to experience and enjoy a new city than by running a marathon in it!

So, what should go into planning your fall marathon? What types of factors come into play? Let’s pretend that you can run any marathon in the United States this fall – which one would it be? Let’s try to put some things together in the form of a checklist to help you in planning your fall marathon.

Masses or Few

Do you like running with a lot of people or do you prefer the lonely road? There are many people who prefer to train alone but desire larger marathons for the support and excitement. On the other hand, there are some who prefer to train with people but they like the solitude of the race. Thanks to American marathons, there is a great variety of fall marathons that will allow you to have company every step of the way or let you have moments alone.

City or Rural

Fall Marathon

Chicago Marathon

Do you prefer to see the highlights of a city or would you prefer to connect more with the neighborhoods and the rural settings? Both can be attractive. For a fall marathon, a rural setting can be very enticing due to the fall foliage and the beauty there. With a city marathon (like Chicago), you have a chance to enjoy the sights from the ground and to do so in cooler weather which can be a huge benefit. Of course, there are some marathons that merge the two together (like Akron).

PR or No

If this is your fall marathon goal, then this would be the dominate factor in forming your decision for a marathon. Obviously, there is a lot that goes into picking a course for a PR or BQ (Boston Qualifier) or some other goal. Some of those considerations are distance necessary for travel (for not throwing your body too far out of whack with travel), flatness of course, weather, course amenities, pace teams, and other personal preferences. If this is your goal, it will help to narrow down the options in front of you.

Family or Solo

Do you want to go to the marathon with family or do you not mind going by yourself? This will impact the distance traveled, when you leave, possibly even where you decide to stay. For instance, when I travel to a marathon by myself, I normally stay in the cheapest hotel possible – regardless of how nice (or not nice) it is (like my Rocket City Marathon – the hotel had cig butts in the toilet and the room wreaked of smoke). I also blow in at the last possible moment the day before and leave right after (again, like Rocket City – I flew in and headed right to the expo to get my packet before they closed and after crossing the finish line, ran right to my car and raced to the airport). If I am driving, I have driven all night just before the marathon and arrived in time for the start and drive home immediately after. If I am traveling with my family to a marathon, we are going to turn it more into a vacation and spend a few days in the area and probably close to the starting line. But, if I am going to take my family of five to a marathon in California, that will be a lot of drain on travel resources, so I might choose to just take my wife or to take the family on one within driving distance of home.

Trail or Road

Maybe you have run many road marathons and are looking for something different. Take to the trails this fall! It is really hard to beat a fall marathon on the trails for beauty! Also, you will have to hit the reset button on your PR since a trail marathon is a very different beast. It can provide for a more relaxing experience and a chance to enjoy the companionship of your fellow runners.

Travel Choices

Finally we come to the travel angle! If you are a regular reader of Running with Miles, you should know that this consideration alone will open up your scope of possibilities when it comes to selecting a fall marathon (or any marathon, really). Let the above choices help you pick any marathon and not be restricted to one area of the country because of limited travel means. If you are willing to travel by yourself to a marathon, then you will be able to travel to any marathon in the US by applying for two credit cards (if you do not already have enough points/miles). A good rule of thumb for preparing point-wise for a marathon is to look at your points when you start your training program. See what you have and what is required for your upcoming race. If you want to travel with someone else, than you should begin looking a little earlier if you wish to be conservative in your credit card applications.  So, here are some cards that you should apply for to allow you to choose the fall marathon of your dreams.

Fall Marathon

Marathon Map from

Travel Cards for your Fall Marathon

Airline Travel

With United, Delta, American, and US Airways it takes a minimum of 25,000 miles (ignoring promotional fares and near distance awards) to travel from one point in America to any other airport in the continental US/Canada/Alaska. It can cost more miles depending on your level of flexibility and the airports you choose, but you should shoot for 25,000 mile level. The airline I would choose to give you the best shot at securing awards would be United Airlines. Their award calendar is excellent and you can still book award flights with US Airways through United’s award system. For that reason, I would suggest applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card gives you 40,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of cardmembership. These 40,000 Ultimate Reward points can be transferred to United Airlines instantly at a 1:1 ratio. In addition, you could also use these points to pay for travel outright giving you $500 towards travel (if you were unable to find United awards to your destination, you could pay for your flight outright using these points). Counting the $3,000 in spending you do, that would actually give you a total of 43,000 points – just 7,000 points shy of having enough points to get you two United award tickets! Here are some of the details about the Chase Sapphire Preferred card:

Fall Marathon

  • 2x points on travel and dining
  • 40,000 Ultimate Reward points after spending $3,000 in 90 days
  • 7% annual bonus on points earned throughout the year
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • 20% off travel when you redeem through Ultimate Rewards
  • Access to the Ultimate Rewards shopping portal
  • Transfer to United, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott and others

Application Link – Chase Sapphire Preferred (I do not receive a commission for this card)

Of course, the above assumes that you do not have Southwest Airlines as an option from your home airport. True, Southwest does not have the same amount of destination options as United does, but it can still bring a lot of your desired marathons to a very low cost option. In fact, depending on the race and location, you can use the same amount of Southwest points as United miles to bring 1 or 2 friends or family members with you instead of just the single ticket from United!

The Southwest cards currently offer 50,000 points after meeting the minimum spending – a really great option to have!

Application Link – Chase Southwest cards (I do not receive a commission for this card)

Hotel Travel

Obviously, once you get to your marathon destination, you will need a place to stay! I have stayed near many a marathon by using Hotwire (check this post to find out how to know which hotel you are getting) but there are many times it is nice to pay for a hotel with nothing more than points! I discussed the Hilton Hotel credit cards a while ago that would be good options, but I want to bring out another one for this post as well – the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express. This card gives you 10,000 Starpoints after your first purchase and an additional 15,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first 6 months. That does not sound like a lot of points compared to what you can get with the Hilton cards, but the point requirements for SPG hotels are a lot smaller than Hilton hotels. For SPG hotels, you can use points to pay for the complete stay or use Cash & Points, so these points can go a long way. A lot of SPG hotels, especially Sheratons and Westins, are used as host hotels. Another good thing about SPG is that if there is one standard room left, you can book it with points. That is very convenient!

Application Link – Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express (I do not receive a commission for this card)

All-Around Card

Of course, if you want a card that give it all to you – airline, hotel, and car rental redemption – with one program, one of the best cards for that is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. It gives 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months and offers a 10% rebate on miles redeemed. These miles can be redeemed at 1:1 for any travel expenses so you are looking at getting $400 worth of travel right off the bat!

Fall Marathon

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that’s enough to redeem for a $400 travel statement credit
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
  • Chip card for increased confidence and convenience to pay abroad as easily as you do at home
  • Book the travel you want — airfare, hotels, cruises and more and earn miles on your purchase
  • Get 10% miles back to use toward your next redemption every time you redeem for travel statement credits
  • No foreign transaction fees on anything you buy while in another country
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Barclaycard Arrival cardmembers

Application Link – Barclaycard Arrival Plus (I do receive a commission for this card)

Card Strategy

Since these various cards are from separate banks – Chase, Citi, Barclay, and American Express – you could apply for any of them on the same day. If you want to do this, make sure you can meet the spending requirements in the timeframe necessary and that you can keep track of your spending on more than one card. If you need help meeting spend thresholds, check out Bluebird and the other methods. Also, make sure you are comfortable keeping track of the various applications and annual fees so that you do not overextend yourself.

Good luck planning your fall marathon!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.