Written by Chelsea Clarke
If your ultimate travel fantasies happen to include experiencing the most beautiful places on earth while also crushing a marathon, then we’ve got a line-up for you. The following are some of the most noteworthy, scenic, and in some cases, downright strange marathon courses in the world, and if you’ve been looking for a lofty new goal or craving a fitness adventure, then prepare to rejuvenate your running mojo and drool over these seven destination marathons.
Great Wall of China
Considered one of the world’s most challenging marathons, join 2,500 runners from over 60 countries on this iconic race course. Beginning through the Huangyaguan fortress and leading through valleys, villages, and farmland before and after you make your way up to the Great Wall itself, you’ll also encounter “Goat Track,” a descent infamous for its steep decline. Spectators create a spirited atmosphere as you stake a place for yourself in this historical setting.
Walt Disney World Marathon
If you’re a kid at heart, you’ll love the Walt Disney World Marathon, which takes you through four theme parks and features Disney character favorites. Special awards are given out for taking on Goofy’s or Dopey’s Challenge, a feat in which participants complete several events and runs throughout the weekend. You can also elect to raise money for a selection of charities, and if you do, Disney rewards you with some sweet perks. You’ll receive a complimentary virtual goodie bag, and of course, a souvenir hat with some very famous mouse ears after the race.
Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris
One of the largest attended marathons in the world, this race winds through the streets of Paris past iconic landmarks such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, and wraps up with a stunning view of the Arc de Triomphe. While the course itself is generally flat and on paved road, the massive amount of participants will be your biggest obstacle to maneuver, especially at the onset. But once you hit the six-mile mark and the crowd begins to thin, you’ll marvel at the other 55,000 runners who are experiencing the beauty of Paris right alongside you.
Baxters Loch Ness Marathon
Voted as one of the top 10 UK marathons by Runner’s World readers in 2016, ceremonial bagpipes kick off the Loch Ness Marathon, which travels through scenic moorlands and along the shores of Loch Ness. While this is a well-established event, organizers pride themselves on making each runner feel right at home with a second-to-none community vibe and even a hot meal waiting for you at the end. One of the biggest draws of this run comes from the silence and solitude you’ll experience on the route: the only claps and cheers you’ll hear will likely be from lone farmers tending to their livestock. Inclines vary from manageable to steep, and be sure to keep your eyes on the water in case you spot infamous Nessie.
Polar Circle Marathon
Bundle up for what’s been deemed “the coolest race on earth.” The Polar Circle Marathon takes place in remote Greenland where you’ll run on sprawling ice sheets throughout polar landscapes. An extremely challenging run, participants will pass glacier tongues in the silence of the Arctic desert, and while the majority of the race is on snow-covered gravel, you’ll run part of the course on true ice caps, likely spotting musk oxen and Arctic fox while you’re at it. Layers are recommended to keep runners warm and dry -- this one is definitely not for the faint of heart.
The Big Five Marathon
Entabeni Safari Conservancy, South Africa
What’s the Big Five, you ask? Well, it refers to the most famous animals in the African savannah: elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions, and leopards, and you’ll run right through their turf in this exotic marathon. Located on a game reserve, helicopters aid runners through the course to avoid any safety issues, and you’ll marvel at the chance to see giraffes, antelopes, and zebras in their natural habitats. This run features some wicked inclines and unstable trails, but if you ask us, the motivation to get moving comes more from the wildlife.
The Kauai Marathon
Lace up for a run through paradise. Kauai, also known as the “Garden Island” of Hawaii, is almost too beautiful to be real, with a full spectrum of colors bursting at every turn. This marathon begins in a resort community before veering through gorgeous island coastline where you’ll see awe-inspiring views of beaches, volcanic peaks, and tropical rainforests. You’ll appreciate the shade that the century-old Tunnel of Trees has to offer just before you challenge yourself on steeper inclines that reward you with spectacular turquoise ocean views. Bask in an island welcome as you finish your course at Poipu Beach.