Grace Lower | Sep 6, 2017
As a runner, I’ll be the first to admit that the marathon is a bizarre sport. For participants, marathons offer an irresistible test of endurance. In any given race, you’ll see plenty of blood, sweat, and tears from runners as they trudge along for hours on end. For spectators, marathons aren’t a particularly glamorous event to watch. The races are long and they lack much of the suspense that drives most other sporting events.
While running marathons might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are races that draw competitors from every corner of the globe. Together, runners endure 26.2 grueling miles and they’re treated to breathtaking views and unforgettable moments along the way. If you’re brave enough to lace up your shoes and join the pack, you’ll definitely want to add these international marathons to your bucket list!
The London Marathon is one of the world’s most iconic races. For 36 years, this flat, fast course has guided runners down historic cobblestone streets and along the River Thames. As the race progresses, participants can catch glimpses of classic London landmarks including Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament.
London’s annual marathon has been known to draw enormous crowds, and this year was no exception — capping off at nearly 39,000 runners. The London Marathon is also a favorite course among celebrity runners, including Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer, Olympic diver Tom Daley, and Chef Gordon Ramsay.
Most runners would agree that the scenic Paris Marathon beats a bus tour any day! The course begins on the historic Avenue des Champs-Élysées and guides runners east toward Paris’s largest public square, the Place de la Concorde. Along the way, history buffs will marvel at the Place de la Bastille, while Disney-lovers will be treated to a view of the Notre Dame Cathedral. After a quick loop past the Eiffel Tower, the course finishes just down the street from the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
While the Paris Marathon is home to rich scenery, experienced runners warn that the race comes with a few minor setbacks. Uneven cobblestones and limited public restrooms can make the otherwise breathtaking course a bit more challenging than expected!
Tianjin Province, China
Unlike the comparatively flat London and Paris marathons, The Great Wall Marathon is widely considered to be one of the world’s most challenging races. The course takes participants on a grueling trek through China’s mountainous Tianjin Province, eight miles of which run directly along the Great Wall of China.
As the course progresses, runners must scale more than 5,000 steps built into the Great Wall. If the distance and terrain weren’t enough of a challenge, the course’s high elevation and hot, humid climate add an additional layer of difficulty. Although this marathon is not for the faint of heart, runners are rewarded by unforgettable views of China’s mountain ranges and the historic villages below.
The Patagonian International Marathon is perfect for runners with a love for heights and a thirst for adventure. This twisting course takes runners through the southernmost edge of the Andes Mountains, and it has drawn participants from over 40 different countries. Away from the hustle-and-bustle of urban courses, runners can enjoy the stillness of snowcapped peaks and clear mountain lakes.
While Patagonia’s views are beautiful, its terrain is unforgiving. Although the Patagonian International Marathon is held in September — a traditionally mild month for Chile—runners are advised to prepare for unpredictable weather. It’s not uncommon for strong winds and pop-up storms to form along the mountain range, which can make an already challenging course even more exhilarating.
Sahara Desert, Morocco
For some seasoned marathon participants, 26.2 mile courses that were once daunting no longer hold the same excitement and intrigue. These runners crave a real challenge — a course that few would dare attempt and far fewer would be capable of completing. For this unique brand of athlete, the infamous Marathon des Sables is the perfect test of endurance and mental fortitude.
Also called the Marathon of the Sands, the Marathon des Sables is a six-day, 156 mile ultramarathon held in the heart of the Sahara Desert. Each day, runners must endure temperatures reaching 120 degrees, uneven terrain, and strict water rations. The Marathon des Sables was named the “Toughest Footrace on Earth” by the Discovery Channel — a title well-earned, according to the race’s dedicated participants.
Whether you’re a committed athlete or a laid-back onlooker, there’s something to be said about exploring a new place by foot. Long-distance races like the ones above offer a unique opportunity to see the world — one exhausting step at a time.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.