The best thing about running is you can do it anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. Running is an international language and a universal sport, and it only continues to grow in popularity. Besides the more than 1,100 marathons within U.S. borders, there are thousands of organized runs around the world, most of which are in stunningly beautiful locations. If you love to run — or even if you just love to travel — here are eight outstanding marathons you’ve got to race to believe.
Switzerland has little natural scenery but for its sharp, gray and white Alpine mountains, so that is precisely what runners must traverse in the Swiss Jungfrau Marathon. You should enjoy the first six miles of flat ground while you can, because it won’t take long before the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains have you wishing you completed more hill training. Fortunately, as with every marathon, the finish line makes the ordeal entirely worth it — especially as you catch your breath on a mountain top at 1,300 feet in elevation.
2. Patagonian International Marathon
Patagonia is beautiful in a bleak and lonesome sort of way, which makes this marathon through the Patagonian wilds especially stunning. Running along turquoise rivers and lakes, jagged mountains, and bright white glaciers in this deserted landscape provides a sense of calm you’re unlikely to find in other races.
3. Sparkasse Marathon der 3 Lander
Most likely, the reason you are interested in international marathons is the marriage of your two biggest passions: running and travel. Fortunately, you can achieve more with less by racing in the Sparkasse Marathon, which tours no fewer than three countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The race is beautiful and mercifully flat, which allows for stunning views across Lake Constance.
4. The Big Five Marathon
Today, winning the Big Five has nothing to do with hunting majestic African beasts. Instead, the Big Five Marathon takes place on Entabeni Game Reserve in South Africa, meaning you will pass through the habitats of elephants, zebras, rhinos, gazelles, giraffes, buffalo, and more — with nothing separating you from the animals. The trail run is exhilarating and challenging, not to mention a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see wild animals in their natural space.
5. Niagara Falls International Marathon
Niagara Falls is a destination perfect for lovers, for families, and, perhaps surprisingly, for runners. The Niagara Falls International Marathon takes racers up and around the Niagara region’s most beautiful parks, providing views of the world’s largest waterfalls that are sure to get your heart racing — if it isn’t already. Then, after the race is over, you can tour Niagara Falls at a more leisurely pace.
6. Marathon du Medoc
Runners who enjoy food and drink as much as a long, challenging trail should already be racing to the Marathon du Medoc. Throughout this race, you will encounter nourishment stations equipped with atypical (but delectable) fare, including oysters, rare cheeses, meats, and the region’s award-winning wines. Many runners even dress up to match the race’s annual theme, giving the whole race an inimitably fun carnival feel.
You must know the story of the first marathon (in 490 B.C.E. a messenger ran non-stop from Marathon to Athens to proclaim Athenian victory, only to drop dead upon arrival) and you must desire to follow that first path with your own feet. Fortunately, you can in the Athens Marathon, and you’ll have thousands of proud Greeks cheering you on the whole way. Hopefully with that kind of support, you’ll survive it, unlike the first guy.
8. Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon
Equal parts relaxing Caribbean vacation and invigorating 26.2-mile race, the Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon is a small, friendly, and fabulous race around the tropical island. The staff is incredibly friendly, and the course is fast and flat, so in no time you’ll be sipping an ice-cold cocktail and enjoying the crystal blue waters of this island paradise.
Bonus: World Marathon Challenge
If one international marathon doesn’t make you break a sweat, you may be ready for the World Marathon Challenge. In just seven days, runners must travel to the seven continents and run in seven consecutive 26.2-mile races to earn the coveted award of around-the-world marathoner. The 2015 winner, David Gething from Hong Kong, was able to complete the challenge in a total of 25 hours and 36 minutes — but I’m sure you’ll do better once you complete the previous eight outstanding international races.
Image by ** RCB ** Under Creative Common License.