Training for and and successfully completing a marathon is a big deal. For many, the monotonous training is a bore to say the least. But for the crazy bunch such as myself, it is a hobby that brings much excitement and necessary self-discipline.
I’ve run more than 20 marathons, including three Comrades Marathons over the past six years. I’ve become a seasoned athlete who runs all-year round. For me though, running the same races year in and year out has the potential to become a massive bore.
Perhaps you fall into the same “I am bored of the same races” category. Maybe you are a novice who’s looking to participate in his or her first marathon. Or maybe, you are a part-time marathon athlete who loves travelling.
Whatever your circumstances, I’ve put together a list of 25 amazing routes in 17 countries, four continents and the Caribbeans. These are routes that have epic views, incredibly supportive fans and a great sense of culture that will appeal to any runner or avid traveller.
I’ve run a few of these races myself and I hope to complete all of the races below by the time I put up my running gear (which won’t be anytime soon!). And hopefully, this list inspires you to lace up, train and travel more.
1. Soweto Marathon, Soweto, South Africa
Running in the southwestern Townships (Soweto) of Johannesburg, the marathon takes you through the rich culture of South Africa.
The race starts in Nasrec and takes you through six significant landmarks:
– Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (the third largest hospital in the world)
– Walter Sisulu Square
– Regina Mundi Catholic Church (the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa)
– Morris Isaacson High School
– Vilakazi Street (the only street in the world to have housed two Noble Peace Prize Winners in Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu)
Hector Pieterson Memorial (memorial and museum that commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid) is also a featured landmark on the trail. The route eventually takes you back to Nasrec, where you will pass the 90,000 person capacity FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, where the 2010 World Cup was played.
2. Great Wall Of China Marathon, Tianjin, China
Considered one of the toughest marathons in the world, the route starts near the village of Huangyaguan, northeast of Beijing. It proceeds to the Great Wall, the world’s longest wall and biggest ancient architecture, where you will go up and down 5,164 steps.
Here, you can expect to see a stunning array of scenery:
– The beaches of Qinhuangdao, rugged mountains around Beijing
– The desert corridor between the tall mountain ranges at Jiayu Pas
From there, you proceed through scenic villages and rice fields before looping back to the Wall again for the final portion of the race, when you’ll finish in the center of Yin and Yang Square.
3. TCS New York City Marathon, New York, USA
With more than 50,000 finishers, 10,000 volunteers and one million spectators in 2014, the New York City Marathon is the largest marathon in the United States. Dubbed “the most prestigious endurance event in the world”, the course takes you through the five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Considered one of the toughest courses of the major marathons in America, it has deceptive hills that force you to pace yourself adequately as you make your way past these historic landmarks and millions of screaming supporters that are guaranteed to give you an adrenaline rush.
4. Virgin Money London Marathon, London, England
One of the World Marathon Majors Series that awards a $1 million prize to the top male and female marathoners in the top six world races, it attracts nearly 40,000 athletes every year.
This marathon is a flat, fast race that starts in Blackheath in southeast London and passes the most iconic landmarks of England – Big Ben, the Tower of London, the London Eye – and runs along the River Thames and across the Tower Bridge.
The event crosses the finish line in front of Buckhngham Palace.
5. Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris, France
In 2013, Paris received approximately 29.3 million visitors, making it one of the top tourist destinations. What better way to tour the place as an athlete?
The marathon is one of the largest in the world, with approximately 140 nationalities and 50,000 athletes having participated in 2013. The course itself offers spectacular views and landmarks all along the route.
Starting off on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the course runs alongside the banks of Seine and past some of the city’s greatest sites (famous Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Place la Bastille).
Runners then run a loop around the Bois de Vincennes and return to the heart of the city and Rue de Charenton, the halfway point. The inward stretch follows the course of the Seine, passing Ile de la Cite and going under the Pont Neuf, and through a series of tunnels.
For those in need, there is a large drink station and foot massage area at Trocadero, facing the Eiffel Tower. The route then continues along the Seine, before branching east towards Bois de Boulogne, finally emerging for the final 200 metres and the finish line on the Avenue Foch.
6. Reggae Run, Negril, Jamaica
Home to some of the greatest athletes, like the world’s fastest runner, Usain Bolt, The Amazing Reggae Marathon is Jamaica’s premier International Marathon Event.
The race starts at Long Bay Beach Park, situated along Negril’s lively 7-mile white sand beach. It proceeds and loops into the town of Negril and then heads north toward the town of Green Island.
Lined with enthusiastic spectators and pulsating Reggae music on course, you are guaranteed to have an “irie” race. The Finish Line Beach Bash affords everyone an opportunity to relax on the beach with special offerings and entertainment geared toward having a total blast.
7. Honolulu Marathon, Honolulu, Hawaii
Hosted in December, the Honolulu Marathon is one of the largest in the United States and attracts more than 25,000 athletes annually.
The race starts in Ala Maona Beach Park and passes through several famous Hawaiian landmarks, such as Lolani Palace, the only royal palace in the U.S.
The route also makes its way past the statue of surfing hero Duke Kahanamoku on surfing heaven Waikiki Beach and Kawaiahao Church and Diamond Head. The run comes to an end in Kapiolani Park, the state’s first public park.
On race day, this park is transformed to a joyful festival with approximately 50,000 spectators. Being a part of this is a definite must for any athlete.
8. Two Oceans Marathon, Cape Town, South Africa
It was established in 1970, and attracts the cream of local and international athletes alike. Affectionately known as “The world’s most beautiful marathon”, the 56-km ultra-marathon takes you through a backdrop of scenery that paces you around the Cape Peninsula via Chapman’s Peak, Hout Bay and Constantia Nek.
Below is a picture of myself making my way up Chapman’s Peak:
These views, in addition to the tough course, will leave you breathless.
9. Marathon International de Marrakech, Morocco
This race is run in Marrakesh, a magical town that offers an exceptional setting, a very mild climate in January and a beautiful circuit considered to be one of the fastest in the world.
The route takes you through the city’s 12th-century ramparts, Menara gardens on dusty roads lined with palms. And the imposing Atlas Mountains provide an astonishing backdrop to the pink-walled city.
10. Boston Marathon, Boston, Massachusets
With the first marathon dating back as far as 1897, the Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious race in the United States.
With rigorous qualifying standards, it is a dream marathon for many athletes. It is run on Partiots Day and starts in Hopkins. Nearby is a statue of George V. Brown, starter of the marathon between 1905 and 1937, with his starter’s pistol aloft.
At the one-mile mark at Weston Nurseries on Route 135 is a statue honoring Stylianos Kyriakides, whose victory in the 1946 race brought worldwide attention and badly need relief supplies to his war-torn homeland of Grace.
The race continues east on Route 16 into the Newton Lower Falls and emerges at the firehouse onto Commonwealth Avenue. Here, you will find a bronze statue at the start of the Newton hills, depicting a 27-year-old Kelley winning the 1935 race and an 84-year-old Kelley completing his final marathon in 1992.
The race eventually finishes in Copley Square near the Boston Public Library.
11. Athens Classic Marathon, Athens, Greece
The Athens Classic Marathon is one of the biggest sporting events in Greece. And if history is anything to go by, it is probably the first marathon to be run in the world. In 490 B.C., a giant Persian army invaded the small town of Marathon, near the coast of Greece.
However, the Greek defeated the Persians. Following that, a messenger named Pheidippides was sent to Athens to bring news of the victory. The young Greek ran 26.2 miles from battlefield to the capital to announce the victory.
Approximately three miles into the run, you will come across the “Tomb of Marathon Warriors.” This is a 10 mile high burial mound where 192 men who died in battle were collectively cremated and buried as a sign of honour.
The first 12 kilometers are level, with gentle long hills in the middle 19 kilometers. The final 11 kilometers are a downhill run that takes you into the magnificent Olympic Stadium in Athens.
12. Dublin Marathon, Dublin, Ireland
Dubbed the “friendly marathon,” the Dublin Marathon is run through the capital’s historic Georgian streets and its magnificent park. The race is single lap that is largely flat and starts and finishes close to the City Centre, in Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square, respectively.
Two, well-known landmarks on the route are the City Hall and Dublin Castle.
Dublin, which has more green spaces per square kilometer than any other area in Europe, sees the marathon make its way past St. Stephen’s Green, Brickfields Park, Phoenix Park, Bushy Park and Elm Park Golf Course.
With ideal running conditions and a fantastic crowd in support, this race is indeed a friendly one.
13. Comrades Marathon, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa
With its inception in 1921, the Comrades Marathon is the world’s oldest ultra-marathon and attracts nearly 20,000 athletes yearly.
Commonly known as “The Ultimate Human Race”, it is a 56-mile grueling run that consists of an “Up” and “Down” route. Known for more its spirit and tradition, than it is the scenery, it always starts with blaring music in the background and the “Chariots of Fire” theme minutes before the race begins at 5:30 am.
Ultimately, the recorded cockcrow of Max Trimborn signals the grueling but incredibly worthwhile ultra-marathon for any long distance runner.
On the “Up” run you pass two villages, Camperdown and Cato Ridge, which are often packed with large crowds of spectators lining both sides of the road.
In addition, you pass the “Wall of Honour”, situated at the half-way point in Drummond. It overlooks the Valley of 1,000 Hills and was created to serve as a permanent landmark to commemorate the achievement of Comrades runners who have completed the epic “Up” run.
The “Up” run is slightly shorter and starts in Durban and finishes in Pietermaritzburg. The “Down” run starts in Pietermaritzburg and finishes in Durban.
The Comrades Marathon is a must run race for every long distance athlete.
14. Puerto Rico Marathon, Puerto Rico
The Puerto Rico Marathon is a popular destination race, combining a Caribbean vacation with first-class competition. The scenic route takes you along the Atlantic Ocean and past the San Geronimo Fort & Museum and the University of Puerto Rico.
Run under tropical conditions, albeit humid and hot, and filled with spectators that cheer you on in Spanish and English, you can’t help but admire this wonderful race.
15. Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, France
Approximately 5,000 athletes, representing approximately 30 nationalities, participate in this event annually.
It is the only race in France where one can see the finish (the Mount) from the start. It starts with a run along the seafront of the Bay going through (among other interesting spots) Le Vivier-sur-Mer in Brittany and Cherrueix, which is famous for its sand-yachting races.
It then crosses a polder area and makes its way to the towering fortified village of Normandy’s Mont Saint-Michel.
16. Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon, Germany; Austria; Switzerland
When we talk unique, the running route of this marathon amazes many. Run in three countries, the marathon starts from the beautiful Island of Lindau in Germany.
You then run along Lake Constance for about 60% of the race. Here, you pass the iconic 7,000-seater Seebuhne (of floating stage), running through the Austrian towns of Lochau, Bregenz, Hard and Höchst.
The race continues over the Swiss border at St. Margreten and continues across the Rheindamm back to Hard and finally finishes in the Casino-Stadium in Bregenz, Switzerland, where a cheering crowd awaits you.
With mountain views are on either side as you run over rivers, bridges, and alternating asphalt and cobblestone streets, it is a spectacular race to participate in.
17. The Big Five Marathon, Entabeni Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa
For those love wild life, this is a popular event that attracts athletes from all over the world.
Running through the enormous and magnificent surroundings of the Entabeni Game Reserve, it combines exciting game drives with a challenging marathon route that goes through the most famous African Big Five game – elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions and leopards.
Running with no fences and rivers and passing through a section known as ‘lion country’, this event is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
18. Chicago Marathon, Chicago, Illinois
The Bank Of America Chicago Marathon is huge event that attracts in excess of 40,000 athletes from more than 50 states and countries.
Supported by more than 1.5 million spectators, runners start and finish in Grant Park, located just south of the New Eastside neighborhood, which features a unique three-level roadway system and is home to several residential and commercial high rises, such as the Aon Center and Prudential Building
Runners also pass through Streeterville, an energetic neighborhood that blends together luxury hotels, fabulous shopping, arts and fine dining. It is in this neighborhood that you see the shopper’s paradise, the Magnificent Mile – eight blocks of more than 460 shops and boutiques.
The course takes you through magnificent cities and you make you past 29 Chicago neighborhoods. The race also makes its way through Near West, a neighborhood that houses the United Center, home stadium of the Chicago Bulls and the Blackhawks.
Along the route you will also experience an abundance of Greek, Italian and Chinese culture as the race makes its way through the neighborhoods of Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen and Chinatown. And the dancing doesn’t stop in Pilsen, Chicago’s largest Latino community.
Over the 26.2 miles, the course weaves through these incredibly dynamic, individual neighborhoods into the tale of one city, making this an incredible experience that showcases the importance of community and a united spirit.
19. Big Sur International Marathon, California, USA
The Big Sur International Marathon is an annual marathon held in California. The marathon was established in 1986 and attracts about 4,500 participants annually. Featuring rolling hills, Big Sur is the largest rural marathon in the world, winding through redwoods, paralleling ranches, and offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
At the halfway point, the route makes its way past the Bixby Creek Bridge, California’s favorite coastal bridge.
With live entertainment throughout the race, it’s a lovely event to participate in.
20. Bagan Temple Marathon, Burma
Tucked away in central Myanmar and home to more than 2,000 temples, Bagan’s beauty and historical significance is unsurpassed. Sacred pagodas and beautiful temples are scattered across the plains of Bagan, creating a mystical, striking landscape.
The marathon course will take runners on a voyage of discovery into this alluring and untouched land.
The heat and dusty course is a challenge for most runners participating the Bagan Temple Marathon. However, the beautiful temples, the friendly villagers, the other-worldly atmosphere make this marathon one of a kind
21. BMW Berlin Marathon, Berlin, Germany
With the first run in 1974 attracting 286 runners, this marathon has grown in leaps and bounds and now sees approximately 40,000 runners participate.
With more than a million spectators, the course starts and finishes next to one of the capital’s most famous landmarks – the Brandenburg Gate. The route also takes you via notable spots such as the Reichstag and Berliner Dom.
With skaters cheering you on as you pace yourself through classic buildings of the east and hi-tech shops and modern properties of the west, this race is indeed a unique one.
22. Swiss Alpine races, Switzerland
This event has a heritage of three decades. In recent times, the diversity of runners and routes amid Graubenden’s amazing alpine scenery makes the Swiss Alpine Marathon more than just a race.
The event has also evolved into a family experience, involving very young participants and organizing a team relay. It’s a must for any family of athletes.
23. Marathon du Medoc, Bordeaux, France
The Marathon du Medoc provides an out of the ordinary experience for its participants. With a limit of 8,500 participants, it takes you through a stunningly beautiful circuit of more than 50 chateuax.
With more than 52 other events alongside the race, 22 refreshments stands and 21 food stands and special gourmet stands, the event provides a feast second to none. Plus, as you make your way through the festivities – with the occasional sip of wine – you are cheered by 3,000 volunteers and approximately 10, 000 spectators.
24. GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, Victoria, BC, Canada
With the limit of participants set at 4,000, this marathon is a flat route that showcases Canada’s natural beauty.
Run along the southern tip of the island, with the Olympic Mountain range visible in the distance, the course takes runners past landmarks such as the BC legislative buildings, Ogden Point, Beacon Hill Park and the statue of Terry Fox at Mile ‘O’.
25. Marathon of the Midnight Sun, Tromso, Norway
Whoever said running marathons is boring?
Run at the height of summer in the Norwegian town of Tromso in the Arctic Circle, and in the middle of the night with the sun sitting above the horizon, illuminating the road ahead.
The start and finish lines are in the city centre. Runners head off towards the Tromsø Bridge, two km in to the race which arcs uphill from 6 to 43 meters above sea level. At the 20 km point runners cross back over the bridge, returning to and passing through the city centre.
The second half of the course is quite flat and easy. The course loops round and brings runners back to the city centre again, this time to the finish line and cheering crowds.
Whoever could have thought that running at midnight, with sun shining brightly, was possible? Whoever could have thought that the pain and monotony of marathon running could be this fun? I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. More importantyly, I hope it encourages you to strive to live a healthy, adventurous and exciting lifestyle.