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These globe-spanning jet-worthy races should help round out your running bucket list
If you’re ready to jet-set to a destination marathon, it should be for one of two reasons (or both!): 1) A top-notch course unlike any other; 2) A locale you’d want to visit no matter what.
Plenty of people will tell you that traveling to race is a bad idea. Racing puts your body through enough stress without subjecting it to the risks of poor circulation on long flights, potential jet-lagging, unfamiliar foods and, of course, the tiresome traipsing of the curious traveler.
But these races aren’t about setting personal bests, or quick recovery. They’re about discovering anew the joy of running in races that are at once foreign and spectacular and … well, surprisingly familiar. Instead of being surrounded by strangers, you’re suddenly among distant members of the same tribe, talking about the course and excitedly waiting for the start gun to fire. And when the race is wrapped, there’s plenty of trip left to sample the local culture and take in the sights.
What’s more, with these 12 races, there’s no need to choose between an amazing, one-of-a-kind course and a beautiful destination that you’d visit anyway, race or no race. With the help of serial marathoners and running experts, we found challenges on (nearly) every continent for every type of runner—from the casual Fun Run racer to the ultramarathon vet. You can run with the rhinos in a Kenyan safari park, sip iceberg-cooled waters along a marathon course in the Canadian Arctic or slip through the hidden back alleys of Florence, Italy. So go ahead, try to click through these races without lacing up your training shoes and adding a race (and place) to your bucket list. We dare you.
An entire third of Iceland’s population arrives in Reykjavik on the day of its capital city’s big run, all to cheer for you! Err…and to celebrate Reykjavik Culture Night, a day that packs the picturesque city with local art, food and fireworks—all planned to coincide with (and add hype to) race day. Pair the city’s enthusiasm with a pancake-flat course and the chance to stride past stretches of the country’s uninhabited, pristine waterfront and steaming geothermal springs, and you may find yourself wishing that Reykjavik held an ultra.
Offers: Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k, 3k Fun Run, Kids’ Races
Patagonia International Marathon, Chile
Start and finish your race in Chile’s most visited national park—Torres del Paine. Soak in the unparalleled beauty of the famous area as you gaze upon diverse wildlife, towering rock formations, glistening lakes and pristine glaciers. Trod happily knowing that with your entry, a native tree will be planted in Chilean Patagonia—and the hosting organization will continue to bring attention to Patagonia’s fragile ecosystem. Oh, and a small word of caution: Sure, you can plug into your iPod for the race, but the organizers want you to know that “you might not hear the guanacos chasing after you.” We recommend keeping your ears perked.
Offers: Ultramarathon, Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k
Florence Marathon, Italy
Whisk past some of the most iconic pieces of Western art and architecture like a tourist, and meander through secluded, picturesque alleys like a local—all in one race. “You’re immersed in the culture and able see the subtleties of daily life in a way that you never could purely as a tourist,” says Jeff Galloway, the author of Smart Marathon Training, who calls this race jaw-dropping. Cross the finish line in the beautiful Piazza Santa Croce, take a cool-down jog back around to Michaelangelo’s David (yes, it’s still that small), and treat yourself to a post-race wine and gelato.
When: Late fall
Offers: Marathon, 10k and 3k Fun Runs, Fit Walks, and Tourist Walks
Northwest Passage Marathon, Arctic Canada
When you’re heading to the continent’s most northerly marathon, don’t bother packing water—all of the H2O you encounter along the rugged course is clean enough to drink straight from the source (and guaranteed ice-cold). As you sip, keep an eye out for the polar bears, beluga whales, arctic foxes, muskoxen and other animals with which you’ll share the pebble-covered trails and iceberg-filled waters—which won’t be hard under the 24-hour arctic sun.
Offers: Marathon, Ultramarathon
Safaricom Marathon, Kenya
More than 400 species of native animals roam the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya, and during the Safaricom Marathon, you’ll be just one more of them. Winding up and down the undulating dirt roads of the park, antelopes, elephants and lions help keep pace—and if that doesn’t make you sweat, temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit will. Later, cozy up to a fire with fellow runners and spectators in Safaricom Village, an onsite tent campground, and spend a night under the bright stars of the wild African plains (communal kumbaya optional).
Offers: Marathon, Half Marathon, Kids’ Fun Run
Mesa Falls Marathon, Ashton, Idaho
Skip the crowds—and the hassle—of big, classic tourist races and sink into the easygoing pace and welcoming feel of a small-town course. “I often tell people that this is one of my favorite races,” Galloway says. “It’s a quieter, more humble, more honest experience. A runner’s race. People come here to get together and run because it’s something that they love to do—not to tick it off their bucket list.” In Mesa Falls, breathe in a beautiful, downhill course through lonely farmland and rushing springs, share a well-deserved handshake with the (“fantastic”) organizers at the finish line, and chat with locals over a huckleberry milkshake from the local drugstore’s soda counter. No wait or reservation necessary.
When: Fourth Saturday of August
Offers: Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k, and 1 mile Fun Runs
Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, Central Park, New York City
The Times Square ball drop? Yawn. Next year, stay in America’s iconic city, but run into your New Year’s resolutions head first at the 4-mile Emerald Nuts Midnight Run in Central Park. Start your warm-up with a DJ-driven dance session; hype your mental game by showing off your best winter-themed costumes at the costume contest; then dash across a fireworks-lit Central Park starting line as the clock strikes midnight. Happy New Year!
When: December 31
Offers: 4 miles
Great Wall Marathon, China
Warning: If you dread stair workouts, the Great Wall Marathon may not be for you. But if you’re looking to conquer gravity—and do it on a historic landmark, to boot—no fewer than 5,164 steps await you in China. Pump up your training before making the trek, so that the course’s high temperatures and high altitude don’t leave you too bonked to soak in the culture of four miles on the wall and of the meandering remainder through the jungle of rural China.
Offers: Marathon, Half Marathon, 7.5k Fun Run
Yoma Yangon International Marathon, Myanmar
Until recently, Myanmar was better known more for its bloody military crackdowns and anti-democratic stance than for its … well, running. But after hosting its first international marathon in decades in early 2013, the people are ready for their country to shine. Start and end your race in the shadow of Yangon’s iconic Schwedagon Pagoda, explore the lush, tropical jungles that surround the city afterwards, and be among the first to help usher in a new era for Myanmar.
Offers: Marathon, 10K, 3K Fun Run/Walk
Ever since its inaugural race in 2007, the Tokyo Marathon has been big. Numbered among the world’s largest, the 2013 race is expected to see nearly 40,000 participants cross the finish line, and—in classic Japanese fashion—donning everything from hardcore running gear to Hello Kitty and Dragonball Z costumes. But the race’s numbers pale in comparison to the crowded capital city’s, so be sure to leave a little extra time getting to the start line.
Offers: Marathon, 10k
Australian Outback Marathon, Australia
Sweat your way through the Australian Outback on flat red dirt roads that take you for a run back in time. Out on the course, gaze upon Ayers Rock (a World Heritage Site) and The Olgas, rock formations sacred to the Aboriginal people that are still surrounded by rock caves and stone paintings. Don’t miss the indigenous animals—like foxes, reptiles, kangaroos and even camels—which have been known to gather in the densest populations near the rocks’ watering holes. Ready? Set? Let’s hear an, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!”
Offers: Marathon, Half Marathon, 11k and 6k Fun Run
Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii
White sand beaches, crashing blue surf, fresh seafood, a welcoming culture—and one of America’s largest running races. Sound like heaven? Join tens of thousands who agree when you saunter up to the Waikiki starting line. After making your way through the lush paradise, climb past the 700-foot-tall volcanic crater of Diamond Head, where short uphill grades offer you sweeping views of Oahu’s gorgeous coastline, then cross the finish line as tide goes out (a dip in the Pacific might just be your new favorite way to cool down).
Offers: Marathon, 10k Fun Walk