7 Great Marathons Around the World

Whether you’re a vet­er­an who eats miles for break­fast or you’ve only just fin­ished your first couch-to-5k, these unique and chal­leng­ing marathons are sure to get you stoked. Time to grab your run­ning shoes and get training.

marathons ©istockphoto/cesaria1

Le Marathon du Medoc, France
If you’re tired of post-race gas­tro­nom­i­cal offer­ings being lim­it­ed to bananas and choco­late milk, this race might bet­ter suit your palate. A wine and food fes­ti­val clev­er­ly dis­guised as a marathon, run­ners are treat­ed to a pre-run evening pas­ta par­ty to load up on carbs, and along the route lie refresh­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties that include wine, oys­ters, wine, cheese, waf­fles, wine, foie gras, ice cream, oh, and more wine. Per­haps as a result, this is also one of the world’s slow­est marathons, with a time lim­it of six hours and thir­ty minutes—extra time you can put into admir­ing the mag­nif­i­cent themed cos­tumes of your fel­low run­ners, no doubt.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Lis­bon, Portugal
A great beat gets your heart pump­ing, and there’s no bet­ter race for music lovers than the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. The Lis­bon tour starts in Cas­cais, a charm­ing beach vil­lage and for­mer res­i­dence of the roy­al fam­i­ly, and pass­es over thir­ty live bands on its flat course along the riv­er to Par­que das Nações and its plen­ti­ful open-air drink­ing and din­ing facil­i­ties. Run­ners get exclu­sive access to Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Radio, host­ed on iHeart Radio, to ensure that they’re always in the groove between bands, and some of the biggest names in music await to cel­e­brate your vic­to­ry. Past head­lin­ers have includ­ed Bet­ter than Ezra, Echo­smith, The Strypes, The Wall­flow­ers, Our Lady Peace, The New Pornog­ra­phers, Sis­ter Hazel, and Francesco Yates, so you know that you’re in for a good time when you hit that fin­ish line.

Great Wall Marathon, China
There are 5,164 rea­sons to con­quer this marathon, and all of them are brutal—risers that may be three or five inch­es, or “stairs” as high as your kneecaps fol­low­ing an ago­niz­ing switch­back ascent. Still, if you’re look­ing for a way to vis­it one of the won­ders of the world while still get­ting in your work­out, you could do worse than to join 2500 oth­er run­ners from over six­ty dif­fer­ent nations to run a marathon on the Huangya Pass, Tian­jin sec­tion of Great Wall of Chi­na. The route includes the sur­round­ing val­ley and vil­lages in addi­tion to the icon­ic Wall, so you can get your share of cheer­ing onlook­ers to boost you through those pun­ish­ing stairs, and the scenery—thick with green­ery where the moun­tains drop into the low­lands, pic­turesque and perfect—only adds to the enjoy­ment of the challenge.

Great Ocean Road Marathon, Australia
A lit­tle bit longer than your aver­age marathon at 45km, this is a great race for folks who enjoy the chal­lenge of a wind­ing road with some seri­ous hills to go with the panoram­ic South­ern Ocean views. Spi­ral­ing through Colac Otway Shire’s majes­tic bluffs and inlets from Lorne to Apol­lo Bay along the Great Ocean Road in Vic­to­ria, it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of the course’s gor­geous views, but vet­er­ans know that the real reward is in the exhil­a­ra­tion of the cheer­ing crowds as you enter the home stretch. That, and the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing you’re fundrais­ing for a good cause: the Apol­lo Bay & Dis­trict Health Foun­da­tion pro­vides finan­cial sup­port to main­tain and improve health and emer­gency ser­vices for locals and tourists alike in the Wye Riv­er, Ken­nett Riv­er, and Apol­lo Bay communities.

Polar Cir­cle Marathon, Greenland
The “coolest marathon on Earth” cours­es through the seem­ing­ly-end­less arc­tic tun­dra and ice of Kanger­lus­suaq, Green­land, which sits on the 66th north­ern lat­i­tude and gives the marathon its title. While most of the race takes place on a snowed-over grav­el road, a por­tion of it—up to three kilometers—takes place on the ice cap itself, pro­vid­ing a slick chal­lenge to even the most sea­soned of run­ners. The risk of falling into a crevasse presents a unique dan­ger on this route, so par­tic­i­pants are required to stay well with­in the marked bound­aries of the course while on the ice and encour­aged to add slip-on spikes to their run­ning shoes to aid with trac­tion. The stun­ning beau­ty of the arc­tic desert, the glimpses of glac­i­ers and their moraine fields, and the chance of encoun­ters with rein­deer or musk oxen make all the effort worthwhile.

Big Five Marathon, South Africa
If you need a lit­tle more moti­va­tion than a t‑shirt and a medal to get you rac­ing, maybe being in the heart of the savan­nah with noth­ing but your own sta­mi­na to out­last big preda­tors like lions and leop­ards will do the trick! The Big Five Marathon zigza­gs run­ners through sec­tions of the pri­vate reserve Entabeni, offer­ing par­tic­i­pants up-close-and-per­son­al encoun­ters with big cats, ele­phants, rhi­no, and buf­fa­lo. And it’s not just the wildlife par­tic­i­pants need wor­ry about as they swel­ter beneath an unfor­giv­ing African sun through red dust and deep sand; the course is known for its dif­fi­cul­ty, fea­tur­ing sec­tions of sharp descents and match­ing ascents on sur­faces that may be paved roads or peb­bly, pock­marked sec­tions of rock.

World Marathon Chal­lenge, Earth
The moth­er of all marathons: sev­en marathons, on sev­en con­ti­nents, in sev­en days. Yes, includ­ing Antarc­ti­ca. Although this is absolute­ly a race, with declared win­ners for fastest com­bined times in the men’s and women’s cat­e­gories, it’s one of the few times you can absolute­ly say that it’s a priv­i­lege just to fin­ish: there are just 154 indi­vid­u­als on the 7 Con­ti­nents Marathon Club, reserved exclu­sive­ly for par­tic­i­pants who suc­cess­ful­ly com­plete the chal­lenge. If you’re up for a week of marathons that’ll take you from Union Glac­i­er in Antarc­ti­ca through Pun­ta Are­nas (South Amer­i­ca), Mia­mi (North Amer­i­ca), Madrid (Europe), Mar­rakech (Africa), Dubai (Asia) and Syd­ney (Aus­tralia), this is your chal­lenge. May the odds be ever in your favor.