26.2 miles. 42.164 kilometers. 46,112 yards. 138,336 feet. All of this is ran with pure endurance, pure grit, pure stamina, pure determination, pure pace and so much more. It’s the quickness of your feet, the strength of your calves, the cohesion of your core, the capabilities of your lungs, the fortitude of your mentality – all of this contributing factors to the synthesis between the mind and the body, of the ability to run fast, far and hard. And though while a marathon is first and foremost a test of your physical and mental condition, depending on the particular marathon you partake in, it can be travel experience as well – an experience where you can lose yourself not just in the runner’s high, but in the air of a new culture, of historical sites – both manmade and nature – streaming past you with every stride.
Health Fitness Revolution compiled a list of the top 10 marathons you aspiring Pheidippideses should participate in, spanning four continents and including countries with rich histories. If you feel the need to drop your pace and take a walk while on your race, don’t feel guilty about it and instead, find inspiration in the sights around you to keep going.
BMW Berlin Marathon: Berlin, Germany
The annual BMW Berlin Marathon is a race all major athletes and amateur runners participate in equally. Established in 1974, the course runs a total distance of 42.195 kms. This marathon is known for veteran runners setting many world records, and is also a favorite to many runners because of its flat and even surface and the beautiful, mildly autumn temperatures. The Berlin Marathon lasts for a total of two days which includes inline skating, marathon courses, power walking, hand biking, wheelchair riders and a children’s marathon.
Tokyo Marathon: Tokyo, Japan
The Tokyo Marathon is an annual event in Japan and is also one of the Six World Marathon Majors (just like the BMW Berlin Marathon!) The Tokyo Marathon is actually split into two different marathons. The Tokyo International Marathon which takes place during even-numbered years and the Tokyo – New York Friendship International Marathon, which takes place during odd-numbered years. Unlike other marathons, the Tokyo Marathon started off being one of the most popular marathons starting off with over 25,000 runners in 2007 and nearly 36,000 runners in 2012. The course runs through the main tourist attractions within the city.
Virgin Money London Marathon: London, UK
The London Marathon is the third largest running event held in the United Kingdom. Given its popularity, the course starts from three different locations, but ends at The Mall of London. The London Marathon also holds a world record as the largest annual fund-raising event in the world raising over 47.2 million pounds for charity (approx. $72.5 million).
Boston Marathon: Boston, Massachusetts
The Boston Marathon is one of the World’s oldest, largest and most successful marathons run to this day and is also ranked as the world’s best-known road racing events.. It is also another one of the marathons listed on the Six World Marathon Majors and is also celebrated as a major American event. The course runs through eight cities and towns: Hoopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston, but what makes this marathon a tough course are the Newton hills. The hill follows a 150 ft. drop all within a half mile stretch which makes it harder for amateur runners to run down from. The race holds marathons for both men and women runners as well as men and women’s wheelchair. Though it’s a tough run, it’s definitely an experience for everyone.
Big Sur International Marathon: Big Sur, California
The Big Sur, as you may have guessed, is a truly big event in California. In addition to the marathon itself the event also includes a 21 mile race, a relay race, a 5k run, and miscellaneous walks. This course is known to be particularly challenging due to the smattering of hills and various elevations. What makes this a favorite for all the runners is the mile marker entertainment and refreshments which not provide water stations, but fresh fruits as well.
Great Wall Marathon: Tianjin, China
The Great Wall Marathon is an annual event held on one section of the Great Wall of China called Tianjin. Apart from the main marathon, there is a 8.5k fun run (which replaced the 5k and 10 k races in 2013). The Great Wall Marathon is known to be one of the world’s most challenging marathons because the entire course is on stone bricks and includes a lot of stepwork with runners climbing and coming down steps.
Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint- Michel: Cancale, France
This is one of the most beautiful marathons to run and may be the perfect course for amateur runners due to its level surface. The course runs through several cities but consistently maintains a view of the Mont Saint-Michel the entire way. The course even runs through a town next to a beach giving you a picturesque view and refreshing air to breathe. If you are a beginner in the game, this marathon is sure to get you hooked.
The Big Five Marathon: Limpopo, South Africa
The origin of the name came from the famous five animals of Africa: the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. These animals are known as ‘The Big Five Game animals’ because they are known to be the most difficult animals to hunt throughout the continent. The course of the marathon runs through lion territory, giving you a slight rush for all you adrenaline junkies out there. Safety, however, is not an issue as the entire course is monitored by helicopters and armed rangers. You’ll even run through the Savannah Deserts, and though breathtaking in its golden allure, can be particularly deadly due to the pairing of its own dry heat and your own elevated body temperature. If you’re a runner who loves taking big risks, then this one is definitely for you.
Athens Classic Marathon: Athens, Greece
The Athens Classic Marathon dates back to 1972 and is one of the toughest races to embark on. The uphill climb starts at the 10 km mark and ends at the 31 km mark – that’s 21 kilometers (about half the race!) fighting a grueling uphill battle. The finishing point is at the Panathinaiko Stadium, which also served as the finishing point for the Olympics Marathon. If you are a history enthusiast, the course also winds down to a path where it passes the tomb of Athenian soldiers, where, if you know your Ancient Greek history, may play pretend soldier and supplicate the Pagan gods for added strength.
Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris: Paris, France
The Paris Marathon is best known for being one of the fastest courses to get through because of the flat surface and is also known as a test running race – where runners test their readiness for other upcoming races. The course runs straight through the beautiful city of Paris, providing you the opportunity to experience the beautiful views of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower while on the course. If you are an amateur runner and a romantic, this is a great course to test your abilities and knock Paris from your travel list.
If you’re looking for more marathons to run – especially more domestic ones in the U.S. – check out these top 10 American marathons to run.