Make no bones about it: running hurts, and marathons are no walk in the park (I mean, obviously.) They push us to the very limits of our mental and physical capacities, and we do it just to see how far these really stretch to. Call it melodramatic, but for those who’ve run a marathon, you’ll know that one race contains all the movements of life. There’s joy and sorrow, exhaustion and energy, triumph and adversity. It’s an event that’s bound to be unforgettable, and our list includes some of the world’s very best.
Two Oceans Marathon, South Africa
Image © Neil Bradfield
Hailed by many as the world’s most beautiful marathon, the Two Oceans Marathon is a gruelling 56 kilometre race that reels in runners from around the world, and each year has them pounding down the picturesque Cape Peninsula in South Africa. You’ll begin early, with the pre-dawn light seeping in over the gnarly mountains, as it teases you with a gentle warmth that’ll soon become an oppressive ambush of heat. The atmosphere is particularly electrified here, as South Africans are generally known for their great enthusiasm and passion when it comes to sport – which may just give you the push you need to make the finish line.
Big Sur Marathon, California
Image © pbk-pg
For those fortunate enough to have driven along The Big Sur in California, the sights of the seemingly never-ending redwood-fringed road and the surrounding sea cliffs have surely been burned into your brain. However, the opportunity to run a marathon on it makes for a slightly more intimate experience. You’ll get to pound on its hot tarmac carpet and really breathe in that fresh, salty sea air. You’ll have six hours in which to complete The Big Sur Marathon, but watch out for those strong headwinds and the long downhill slope towards Bixby Bridge!
Antarctic Ice Marathon, South Pole
Image © Roger Clark ARPS
This is the southernmost marathon on earth and one for the most hardcore of runners. Any marathon is a pusher of limits, but this one exists for the few who want to test not only how far they themselves can go, but what the human race itself is really capable of. You’ve heard of marathons in the Sahara, and on some of the most unforgiving terrain, but the Antarctic Ice Marathon really represents the final frontier to be conquered. The race takes place at an altitude of 700 metres, with an average wind-chill temperature of -20 degrees, and the racers here are among the only to impress their feet upon the Antarctic Circle.
London Marathon, England
Image © Bikeworldtravel
The London Marathon still holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest annual fundraising event in the world. So, if you’ve yet to do a marathon and have to rely on someone else to yank you out of bed in the morning – use the impetus of helping out a great cause to force you into those running shoes. This is also a good race for first-time marathoners, since London’s terrain is largely flat and its weather is lovingly temperate. You’re also quite likely to be sharing the course with celebrities and ever-ridiculous costume-toting marathoners, who will keep you smiling through the weariness.
The Great Wall Marathon, China
Image © Matt Kowalczyk
As you climb and descend its relentless and rickety troughs and peaks, you’re sure to make a real frenemy out of The Great Wall of China during this vindictive run. The Great Wall Marathon is as painful as it is rewarding – since each step brings you closer to its history but also to your own exhaustion. The sun in China at this time of year (the race takes place in late May) is particularly abrasive, making you savour the breeze-kissed routes through the lower valleys and villages, before sweating again on the wall.
Reggae Marathon, Jamaica
Image © Gregory McKenzie
The Reggae Marathon in Negril, Jamaica consists of a mostly flat and gentle course which takes place along the seven-mile long beach, before looping into the town of Negril and concluding north towards Green Island. You’ll be driven along by the unrepentant energy of the Jamaican runners and cheering crowd, who will inspire your feet to pound down on the ground faster towards the finish line. This is another good choice for first-timers, as you’ll feel motivated right from the get-go. Instead of hearing rain and the chattering anxiety of those around you before the race, you’ll hear the sound of steel drums as the morning darkness disassembles.
Kilimanjaro Marathon, Tanzania
Image © Geo5Project
The sheer drama of the mountain dominates everything around it, and as you run The Kilimanjaro Marathon, the peak of the marathon’s namesake will keep beckoning you towards that finish line. The race starts flat, giving the Tanzania sun the chance to beat down on your back before the real work begins. You’ll head out of the Moshi stadium and into the town, where well-wishers line either side of the road, and encourage you to put one foot in front of the other. You’ll then begin the steady ascent towards Mweka as you clamber above the local bystanders, before the final rushing descent towards the stadium, where the finish line awaits.
Jungfrau Marathon, Switzerland
Image © Knee Deep
The Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland is no doubt one of the world’s toughest marathons – so don’t expect to break any personal bests here! Instead expect one unforgettable experience, and sore legs aplenty. This race gives you front-row seats to Switzerland’s most beautiful showpieces – its snow-draped peaks. You’ll run past Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau as you scramble almost entirely uphill. The ascent feels relentless, as it takes you skyward and towards your absolute limit. You won’t feel bitter for it though, as you traipse through adorable little villages and past bagpipe-players in traditional garments.
Mumbai Marathon, India
Image © bodom
Held on the third Sunday of January each year, The Mumbai Marathon in India invites a diverse gathering of both elite and amateur runners. This is the largest race on the continent, as it’s both challenging and an enervating alternative to sightseeing. You’ll glide (or stumble) past iconic sights, including the Chowpatty, Mahim Church, and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The hills are bulky and daunting, but the flat villages which sprout out cacti and waters which glisten in the sun, provide a gorgeous rest from the rigorous ascents.
New York Marathon, USA
Image © Joseph Sohm
Now the world’s largest marathon, The New York Marathon in New York City began in the 1970s and has since amassed an average of 50,000 runners each year. It covers all five of the city’s boroughs, as marathoners roll past some of the Bronx’s and Staten Island’s most iconic sights. The million-strong crowd create an inspiring chorus of cheering and hollering, making every runner here feel like a rock star. Taking place each year in November, you’ll feel the cold and crisp bite of the wintry New York air, as the orange leaves provide a crunchy carpet at the finish line in Central Park.