Whether you’re looking for adventure, excitement or sightseeing, there are enough epic international marathons to cure both wanderlust and itchy feet. Here are our top picks -- from every continent -- for runners who really want to go that extra mile!
Two Oceans Marathon, South Africa
This is meant to be the ‘most beautiful marathon in the world’ and is a run around the coast of Cape Town. It certainly lives up to its tagline and gets its name from the fact that participants run along both the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. This is also one of the most popular ultra-races in the world and it follows a more or less circular route over the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive. Both races start in Newlands.
Big Sur International Marathon, California
One of the most challenging courses along the California coastline is this stunning marathon. Though hills and head winds make it a tough one, the scenery offers runners ample rewards. The course threads through redwood forests and offers runners unsurpassed vistas of the Pacific Ocean – oh, and there’s live entertainment throughout the run to keep runners motivated, too.
Great Wall Marathon, China
This is possibly one of the toughest marathons in the world, as runners have to climb over 5,164 steps of the Great Wall, one of man’s greatest monuments. Started in 1999, the Great Wall marathon has gained popularity over the years, and is now a sellout with participants from over 60 countries. It offers three distances: a marathon, half marathon and an 8.5k Fun Run.
Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon, Nepal
Not surprisingly, this is the highest marathon in the world, and it begins at Everest Base Camp (7,598 feet above sea level). For this reason, it is mandatory for runners to be there three weeks before the marathon starts, in order to acclimatise to the altitude. The trails take runners through the Himalayan landscape of snow and ice – and it is not one for novices.
Big Five Marathon, South Africa
Held in the African savannahs, this is a marathon and a safari rolled into one. The famed Big Five African game animals are the leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo -- some of which you might be lucky enough to see as the course doesn’t separate runners from the wildlife. Seriously, there are no rivers or fences so the antelope may outrun you. The terrain alters from steep altitudes to rocky paths so it is a tough course winding through Limpopo province’s Entabeni Safari Conservancy.
Patagonia International Marathon, Chile
This breath-taking marathon takes place in Torres del Paine, Chile's UNESCO Biosphere reserve since 1978, and quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world. With towering cathedrals of granite and ice, this marathon certainly isn’t an easy route, but it is definitely worth the effort. There’s also an ultra, a half and a 10k run. It is organised according to the “Leave no Trace” principals, so come prepared.
Fujisan Marathon, Japan
No marathon is ever a breeze in the park, but that said, having a beautiful setting really does help with those last few gruelling kilometres. Mount Fuji, which is just a couple of hours outside Tokyo, takes runners past the iconic mountains, alongside gorgeous lakes and the riot of autumnal golds and reds of the adjacent trees that line the route. But don’t think it is easy; the marathon includes a particularly gruelling mountain climb.
Ice Marathon, Antarctica
This is what to expect: an average wind-chill factor of -20°C. An altitude of 700 metres. Snow and ice on the trail. And possible Katabatic winds. Naturally there is also a complete lack of supporters (no penguins either, as it is too far south for them) and landmarks along the route. And for the pleasure of all this, runners have to pay a pretty hefty price to compete in the most southernmost marathon in the world and the only one run in the Antarctic interior at 80 Degrees South, just a few hundred miles from the South Pole at the foot of the Ellsworth Mountains.
Bagan Temple Marathon, Myanmar
As Myanmar opens up more and more, this marathon is gaining more interest from around the world. Set in central Myanmar in the surreally mystical landscape of Bagan, where there are over 2,000 ancient temples and pagodas scattered across the dusty plains. The course is fairly flat and the only major struggle for participants is the heat.
Athens Authentic Marathon
Today’s course, which was marked for the 1896 Olympic Games, was modelled on the journey undertaken by the messenger who ran the 42 kilometres to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce the Greeks’ victory at the Battle of Marathon. You begin in the city of Marathon, passing through a series of coastal villages before ending at the historic white marble Panathinaikos Stadium in the centre of Athens. The race is challenging and so popular that it is capped at 18,000 runners.
Photo captions (from left to right):
1. Two Oceans Marathon, South Africa
2. Great Wall Marathon, China, 2016
3. Big Five Marathon, South Africa. Image courtesy of Albatros Adventure Marathons
4. Big Five Marathon, South Africa. Image courtesy of Albatros Adventure Marathons
5. Bagan Temple Marathon, Myanmar. Image courtesy of Albatros Adventure Marathons
6. Bagan Temple Marathon, Myanmar. Image courtesy of Albatros Adventure Marathons
7. Athens Authentic Marathon