One of the most exciting and inspiring things about running, is that it could be a perfect “excuse” for an adventure. There are many professional and amateur runners who love to travel the world, and discover the most unique, challenging and special race destinations out there. The world is indeed full of amazing opportunities for runners who want to experience the best destination races, and perhaps, even get a piece of running history!
If you enjoy discovering the world’s most exciting cities, many of the major metropolises in the world are home to exciting marathon events and races. It is impossible not to mention the world-famous New York Marathon, which hosts thousands upon thousands of runners in the streets of the Big Apple. In the United States, the Boston Marathon is also an incredibly important sporting events, which attracts runners from all over the world.
Also in Europe, the Dublin Marathon could be an excellent opportunity to visit Ireland and enjoy one of the most scenic marathons in the “old world”, running through the historic city center and offering a great glimpse on the city’s life and people. Some runners love a challenge: if you like to push it to the limit, there are many races in very challenging environments, such as deserts. This list features 5 of the most exciting destination races out there.
Website: Athens Authentic Marathon
Some people might tell you that it all started with “The Original”, aka, the famous marathon of Athens. The Greek civilization is indeed responsible for our modern understanding of sports and physical disciplines. They invented the Olympiads and essentially perfected the concept of competitive sportsmanship, not only as a way to win medals or trophy, but also as a noble quest for personal improvement and classic beauty.
The Athens Classic (authentic) Marathon takes place in the Greek capital city every year, usually in early November. Roughly 40.000 people a year travel to Greece to attend this historic event. The path of this amazing marathon is actually based on the legend of Pheidippides, a messenger who had to race against time during the Battle of Marathon (the legend, as you might guess, originates the name of this type of race), when he had to dispatch vital information to announce the Greeks victory over the Persian enemies.
The earliest competitive example of this marathon dates back the Olympic games of 1896, although the Classic Marathon became in 1972, as a joint venture between the Greek Tourist board and athletics association, which recognized the strong opportunity and the massive touristic appeal of this race, in additional to its value as a legitimate sporting event.
As of 2016, the marathon registered over 50.000 participants!
Website: The Great Wall Marathon
Another historical marathon with some ancient roots is most certainly the Great Wall Marathon, in China. Runners sign up to enjoy a truly unique race, where they will be able to experience some of the complex and fascinating history of a country that is still a mystery for many people in the west.
The Great Wall Marathon is held annually, and people from all over the world have visited China for this very special event, which was started in 1999. The race is organized locally, and there are many different variants, including a 42.2k full marathon, a half marathon (21.1k) as well as 10k and 5k distances, which have been discontinued since 2012. Ever since 2013, the event became also a bit more accessible for amateur runs, thanks to the addition of a 8.5 km “fun run”, which is actually a bit tougher than it sounds!
Consider this: the trail features 5.164 stone steps and an endless amount of steep ascents and descents!
This race is particularly well-known and very fascinating because it is actually the first ever race to take place on a course that denotes the entirety of the legendary Great Wall of China, transversing different territories and divergent counties of the country.
Because the route is so deeply diverse, the Great Wall Marathon is considered one of the most challenging events of its kind, and most people run it for its “adventure” appeal. The Great Wall is mostly in its original state, with very few restored sections. This means that runners will also have to deal with the uncertainty or running in and along ruins: loose stones and areas completely overtaken by nature are only some of the many challenges that runners will have to face in this fascinating journey: In other words: watch your step and be careful!
However, you do not necessarily need to look back to ancient times in order to enjoy a great marathon:
Website: Jungfrau Marathon Interlaken
Europe is chockfull of stunning destinations, such as the Jungfrau Marathon, up in the Swiss Alps. For some people this race is a particular physical challenge, given the high altitude of the race.
This is indeed one of the most famous mountain marathons in the whole world. The runners will not only be treated to a memorable world-class challenge, but also to a view that they will likely remember for life, right there in the middle of the stunning Swiss Alps.
The very first Jungfrau marathon was held in 1993, hosting 3.500 runners hailing from 35 different countries. The marathon is organized in September, every year, and the number of requests to participate is constantly on the increase. 2007 data record 4200 participants from 50 different countries, making for a truly international running event celebrated throughout the world.
The Jungfrau marathon has a 42.195 km length and it starts in the town of Interlaken, only to climb upwards in elevation, up 1,823 meters (roughly 5,960 feet)
This stunning race is often celebrated for the natural beauty of the settings, and it is a great way for people to discover a stunning landscape where lakes, beautiful snowy mountaintops and amazing central European nature collide in a truly spectacular way. This marathon is indeed a challenging event, but is also quite accessible, and it is perfect for amateurs who want to experience some unique settings and discover one of Europe’s most exciting marathons and destination races available.
Website: Marathon Des Sables
The Marathon Des Sables is known as one of the world’s most demanding races – an “ultramarathon” that requires massive commitment and endurance over the span of 6 days and 251 kilometers. This particular race is known as one of the toughest footraces on earth, and for good reason.
The race was initially conceived by Patrick Bauer, who was a concert promoter and entrepreneur who decided to cross the Sahara desert on foot, all by himself. He managed to cross the desert in 12 days, covering over 350 kilometers without encountering any community or oasis all along. Following the experience, he organized the Marathon Des Sables, which literally translates to “The Marathon of The Sands”.
The first official race was run in 1986, with 23 runners participating. By 2009, the race managed to grow exponentially, with over a thousand runners in the ranks. In 2017, this particular event became even more diversified, also offering a half-marathon on Fuertaventura (Canary Islands) as well as a full length Marathon in Peru, under the same event brand.
The Marathon Des Sables brand is indeed expanding really quickly, and it is becoming synonym with some of the most challenging destination races out there, often attracting people from all over the world, looking to challenge themselves and bring their endurance running experience to the very next level.
Website: Antarctic Ice Marathon
If you prefer extreme cold to extreme heat, you can always head to a different part of the world and run the Antarctic Ice Marathon, an event that takes runners to some of the harshest climate out there – and the world’s southernmost marathon! Perhaps more than any other marathon out there, the Antarctic Ice Marathon requires extensive planning and preparation. Due to the remote area and harsh cold climate, runners have to acquire special equipment in order to sustain the race.
The physical preparation is as essential as the race gear. Although acclimatization is not strictly mandatory to attend the race, it is great for runners to know what they are getting themselves into, not only in terms of the cold that they will be facing, but also in terms of the surprisingly tough terrain, defined as energy sapping and challenging. Usually, the terrain is groomed and inspected before the race to prevent issues with frozen ground, but you never know what’s going to happen in such a cold climate!
Not everyone around the world has the ability to practice snow runs, particularly when living in a moderate temperate climate. This is why runners attending this event came up with innovative ideas in order to train for the Antarctic Ice Marathon. Some runners managed to train on beaches or sandy areas, attempting to get use to the terrain (the consistency of snow is somewhat similar to thick sand while running with polar gear). Some runners went as far as setting up treadmills in freezers to train and get accustomed to the climate of the South Pole!
This race is particularly popular for professionals and amateurs alike, particularly those looking to experience an incredible adventure, and hopefully witness a unique experience of the South Pole region, an area that is notoriously very difficult to visit.