When American Meb Keflezighi crossed the finish line in Boston on Monday, arms outstretched, his triumphant expression greeting an emotional crowd, it was more than a personal win. It was a win for all of the runners who couldn't finish last year’s race, for the spectators caught in the terrorism attack at the finish line, for the survivors, and for the families of those who didn't. It was a win for America in a race that has been dominated by international runners since 1983.
Everyone watching, whether in Boston or on TV, could feel the patriotism, and knew that Meb’s success over a field saturated in unbelievable talent, was one of the biggest and most emotional honors ever earned in the Boston Marathon—more than any prize purse could render. But when Meb crossed the finish line in first place, he did earn a real (and deserved) prize. And he was the first American man in Boston to win since prize money started being awarded in 1986.
Marathons have become a lucrative sport for the top of the field; with distance athletes earning the biggest paychecks of all competition runners. In addition to prize money, athletes are collecting appearance fees, sponsorship money and course-record bonuses. According to an article in ESPN, the draw towards marathon running is becoming so strong, it’s taking runners from other distance races, leading to a decline in participation in the shorter events.
What does winning a marathon as big as Boston earn you? In 1986, the prize was $60,000 and a new Mercedes Benz—a prize that still holds merit among the top races today. In the beginning, it was simply the notoriety and maybe a race medal, as most of the participants were only weekend runners. Today prizes can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars—with the difference between tens of thousands changing with a matter of seconds. The top runners now get a chance at the World Marathon Majors million dollar pot—where the male and female runners with the most points from the six participating marathons split the money at the end of a two year cycle. Many marathon awards are based both on how fast the runners cross the finish line and who comes in first, a complicated system that can literally be determined by a single second. Here are ten of the biggest cash prizes for international marathons.
10 Asics Los Angeles Marathon
Over 21,000 people finished the "Stadium to the Sea" marathon in 2014, running from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier. The prize for the top finishers was $25,000 each, with a total prize purse of over $200,000 to be split among the top ten male and female finishers. And, in an interesting twist, the first female finisher got an additional $50,000 in the Gender Challenge—a competition between all the runners, male and female. The elite women start before the elite men to equal the playing field—17 minutes and 41 seconds before—and race for first place. Amane Gobena won in 2:27:37, 41 seconds ahead of the first male finisher, Gebo Burka, who finished in 2:10:37.
9 Chevron Houston Marathon
A smaller race at only 13,000 marathon participants, the elite field is still highly competitive, with men having had to post a time of 2:11:00 or faster and women, 2:32:00 to qualify for entry. The prize purse for the first male and female winner is $40,000 with cash prizes down to 7th place, and a total of over $170,000 given in prizes. The 2013 winner, Bazu Worku, won in a blistering time of 2:10:17.
8 BMW Berlin Marathon
The Berlin Marathon is known for having the most marathon world best time's (it's standard to say "world best" instead of "world record," since all courses are unique) set on its flat course. With a cap of 40,000 participants, it's one of the largest marathons run in the world. And the prize purse is equally as large, with the top finishers eligible for over $300,000 and nearly $150,000 in bonuses. The first male and female runners each win 40,000 Euros or about $55,000 USD. The time bonus prize is 30,000 Euros, or just over $40,000 USD, for sub 2:04:30 and 2:20:00 respectively. An additional prize of $69,000 USD can be won for setting the world’s best time, and racers also earn points towards the World Marathon Majors million dollar prize.
7 Virgin London Marathon
Now one of the six World Marathon Majors events, the London Marathon was born from two runner’s experience at the New York City Marathon in 1979. After hearing stories about how different American marathons were than those being held at the time in the UK (a humbling description of 20 participants and several bovine spectators), they entered the race and were astounded by an entire city uniting for an athletic event. The first London Marathon was held in 1981, sponsored by Gillette (who had recently dropped their sponsorship of the cricket’s Gillette Cup), with just over six thousand finishers. Today, the race brings in over 30,000 participants annually and a total prize purse of a million dollars. But the London prizes are also complicated—the first male and female to cross the finish line each receive $55,000 (with second place $30,000 and so on) and for males, an additional $100,000 is given if you’re sub 2:05:00, for females, it’s sub 2:18:00. The money then decreases about $25,000 per minute going down to an extra $1,000 for sub 2:11:00 and 2:28:00 respectively, all providing just a little more incentive for that final push.
6 Seoul International Marathon
Celebrating its 84th year running, the Seoul marathon in South Korea is one of the most prestigious with approximately 25,000 runners competing each year. And its prize purse, if the runner can accomplish a series of specific time standards, is equally impressive at over $300,000, not including bonuses. $80,000 goes to the stop male and female finishers if they finish under 2:10:00 and 2:24:00 respectively. $40,000 will be awarded if they don’t break that time. Bonus cash prizes for men are $500,000 if they set a world record, for women, $300,000. And even if it’s not a record setting day, runners can earn a bonus of $200,000 if the time is under 2:04:00 for males and 2:18:00 for females, with “slower” times also earning bonus money down to $5,000.
5 Tokyo Marathon
The Tokyo marathon is the newest addition to the World Marathon Majors competition, beginning only in 2007 after two other major Japanese marathons were combined. Now with over 35,000 participants, and a total prize purse of over $300,000 (not including bonuses) this is one of the most renowned international marathons. The prize for this elite race is 8 million yen, nearly $80,000 USD. And if the winner sets the world record, they win an additional 30 million yen, close to $300,000 USD.
4 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
This coveted race is a showcase of some of the top marathoners in the country. Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, this year’s Boston Marathon winner, also won Chicago in 2013. With about 45,000 participants, 1.7 million spectators, and a half a million dollar prize purse, this is one of Chicago’s biggest annual events, drawing people from all over the world to the fast, flat course. The prize money for winning the 2013 race? $100,000, plus $75,000 if you set a course record. This race is also one of the six World Marathon Majors participants, which could result in an additional half a million dollars at the end of the two year cycle.
3 TCS New York City Marathon
The first NYC Marathon was held in 1970, confined to central park, with only 127 entrants, 55 finishers and a lone female racer, who dropped out because of an illness. With an entry fee of only $1, the prize purse exactly wasn't overflowing, and the winners received cheap wristwatches and old baseball or bowling trophies. The race has grown, the course has changed, and the prize has become much more competitive. After being interrupted by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the 2013 race held a record number of attendants with over 50,000 finishers, the most in marathon history. The prize purse totaled over $700,000, with winners earning $130,000, and the female winner, Priscah Jeptoo also winning the World Marathon Majors title, bringing in an extra $500,000. For past (repeat) winners, the prize gets increased to $200,000. And then there’s an extra $60,000 for a time of sub-2:05:00.
2 Boston Marathon
The Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the world and the second longest continuously run footrace in the US, losing only to the Buffalo Turkey Trot. The top male and female finishers of the 36,000 runners this year received $150,000, with second place earning $75,000. More than $800,000 in total prize money was awarded in the 2014 race, which has been sponsored by John Hancock Financial since 1986. Although this course is not eligible for setting world best times (because of an overall decrease in elevation and wind-aid), there is a bonus prize of $50,000 for breaking the world best time, and $25,000 for breaking the course record. It is also one of the six participating World Marathon Majors races. The most rewarded Boston runner of all time was four time champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, a Kenyan runner who has earned a total of $469,000 from the Boston race alone.
1 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon
Founded in 2000, this small, scenic race of about 15,000 participants is also one of the most lucrative, with a prize purse of $800,000 and $200,000 in world's best time bonuses. In 2014, $200,000 was awarded to both the first place male and female winners. And second place? A cool $80,000. The bonus for setting the World's Best time is $100,000. In January of 2008, the Dubai Marathon was the richest long distance running event in history. The winners received $250,000 (more than double any prize money to that date) and a million dollar offer from Dubai Holding if they set a world best. Unfortunately, no record was set that day, as Haile Gebrselassie won in 2:04:53, which, on that date in 2008, only ranked second in marathon history. He went on to set the 2008 record later that year in the Berlin Marathon with a time of 2:03:59, which currently stands at the fifth best all time Marathon.