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.
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.