If the only marathon you’ve considered completing involves Netflix and your favourite TV show, now would be a good time to hit the back button.
From treks across the Grand Canyon to a marathon through the Amazonian rainforest, these are some of the most unique, most beautiful, and most challenging running adventures in the world. Lace up your shoes, set your nerves to “steel,” and get ready to earn a lifetime of bragging rights.
The Dolomites | Italy
The Italian Dolomites offer runners a mind-bogglingly vast trail system and a network of full-service huts, called rifugios, that provide food, beer, and beds for the night. Alta Via One is the destination trail – 87 kilometres of scenic alpine vistas and over 6,000 metres of elevation gained. Alta Via Two is a harder and more rugged trail, but just as spectacular (if not moreso) as its more famous sibling. Either way, thanks to the rifugios, you’ll never be too far from an espresso machine if you need a pick-me-up.
Grand Canyon Rim to Rim | Arizona, USA
It’s one thing to experience the Grand Canyon from above. It’s another entirely to venture below the rim. Running the fabled Rim to Rim trail is the perfect way to see a little bit of everything, from the monstrous rock formations to the Colorado River and the seemingly endless sedimentary rock walls. Weather can be variable, and although it is a desert, rain and even snow are not unheard of during certain seasons. Come prepared for Mother Nature’s whims.
The Inca Trail | Peru
South America’s most famous trek is the Inca Trail, considered by many to be one of the best runs in the world. Over the course of 43 kilometres, it combines breathtaking mountain scenery with lush cloud forest, alpine tundra, subtropical jungle, and a collection of Incan ruins. Your reward for completing the run is a magnificent final destination: Machu Picchu, the mysterious “Lost City of the Incas.” Serious runners can compete in the official Inca Trail Marathon.
Laugavegur | Iceland
Only in Iceland can a run take you past waterfalls, glaciers, volcanos, black sand beaches, hot springs, and quaint fishing villages. Try Laugavegur, a 55-kilometre trail across Iceland’s southern interior. The route covers a variety of landscapes, including volcanic wasteland at Landmannalaugar and the beautiful highland valley of Pórsmörk. Prepare for winds, which can be quite strong in Iceland, and if that’s not hardcore enough for you, an ultramarathon is held on Laugavegur each July.
Trans Atlas Marathon | Morocco
The Trans Atlas Marathon is ultra-sport at its most exciting. Over the course of 6 days, the endurance trail takes competitors across an awe-inspiring array of otherworldly terrains through Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Highlights include Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, and the M’Goun Massif, a remote region that few ever see. Participants cover 285 kilometres split into six stages of 30 to 60 kilometres per day, at times reaching altitudes of over 4,000 metres.
Mount Kilimanjaro | Tanzania
Tanzania’s wilderness is legendary, and no site is more famous than Mount Kilimanjaro. A marathon (42.2 km), half marathon (21.1 km) and fun run (5 km) take place under the watchful eye of the mountain each year, but there’s no need to compete to enjoy Kilimanjaro. Those who want a challenge can run up to the 5,895 metre summit, while those who want a more leisurely experience can explore the trails around the base.
Jungle Marathon | Brazil
The world’s wildest eco race takes place in Brazil’s Amazon Jungle. Competitors have three options: a marathon, a 4-stage 127-kilometre race, and a 6-stage 254-kilometre race. The course includes swamps, river crossings, steep climbs and descents, village trails and fluvial beaches, plus humidity and scorching temperatures. You’ll sleep in hammocks between stages, serenaded by howler monkeys. Oh, and did we mention the piranhas and anacondas? Only the bravest need attempt this insane excursion.
Jungfrau Marathon | Switzerland
The Jungfrau Marathon, an autumn race in the Swiss Alps, bills itself as “the most beautiful marathon in the world.” The race starts in Interlaken and is fairly flat for the first 10 kilometres. After that, prepare for the pain. The course ends on the Kleine Scheidegg, between the Eiger and Lauberhorn peaks, after climbing 1,823 metres in elevation. Grueling? Yes. Beautiful? Exquisitely so. You’ll earn a fondue dinner or two if you can cross the finish line.
Marathon du Médoc | France
The Marathon du Médoc is an annual festival of wine and running near Bordeaux, France, that draws participants from around the world. Competitors strive to complete the 41 kilometres while consuming almost as many glasses of the local wine, plus other local specialties like oysters, foie gras, cheese, steak and ice cream. Every year has a theme, which means most runners dress in costume. The conviviality of this event is a welcome break from the please-just-leave-me-here-to-die feeling of most marathons.
Antarctic Ice Marathon | Antarctica
So you’ve run your way through all six habitable continents and are looking for the next adventure. Look no further. The Antarctic Ice Marathon was established to allow athletes to complete the marathon grand slam: a marathon on all seven continents and the North Pole. Participants experience anything from subzero temperatures to 24 hours of daylight and the threat of hypothermia. Danger is a guarantee, but for an adrenaline junkie, it doesn’t get better than this.