The marathon is one of the greatest feats of human endurance, where mind, body and spirit are pushed to their limits.
But some athletic thrill-seekers are opting to up the ante, swapping the traditional city marathon for a marathon in the great outdoors. Think running in the Antarctic snow, or in the African savannah alongside lions and elephants, or even in high-altitude conditions towards Base Camp on mighty Mount Everest.
If you're looking to combine the thrill of long-distance running with your love of travel on a* run-cation*, challenge yourself in extreme conditions, or achieve superstar status and join the Seven Continent Club (running a marathon on each continent), consider running your next marathon in one of these spectacular destinations.
1. Everest Base Camp Marathon, Nepal
The Everest Base Camp Marathon is the world’s highest marathon. Runners must first trek for 11 days, just to get to the starting line located at a lofty 5184 metres above sea level. The trail is mostly downhill through charming Sherpa villages and with spectacular 360-degree views of snow-capped Himalayan peaks such as Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori and, of course, Everest.
2. Inca Trail Marathon, Peru
The Inca Trail Marathon leads runners past spectacular gorges, glaciated peaks and mossy woods, through a cloud forest and up the steep wall of Monkey Steps (on hands and knees). The finish line is at one of the world’s greatest ruins: the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu. Keep in mind, the route involves ascending 3048 metres (10,000 feet) and descending 3352 metres (11,000 feet) over uneven, centuries-old cobblestone roads.
3. Athens Marathon, Greece
The race that started it all, the Athens Marathon gives runners the chance to follow in the footsteps of the first marathon runner, Pheidippides. In 490 BC Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news that the Greeks had defeated the Persians, only to collapse and die from exhaustion soon after – or so legend has it. The historic Athens road race begins in Marathon and passes the tomb of the Athenian soldiers and finishes up at Panathinaiko Stadium, which was the site of ancient athletic competitions as well as the finishing point for the 1980 and 2004 Olympic marathons.
4. Patagonia International Marathon, Chile
A relatively new marathon, the Patagonia International Marathon takes place on unpaved roads through the majestic Torres del Paine National Park. It passes snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and rare wildlife like guanacos and Andean foxes. The marathon raises awareness for the fragile Patagonian ecosystem, and a tree is planted in the national park for each participant.
5. Jungfrau Marathon, Switzerland
Hailed as the most beautiful marathon in the world, the Jungfrau Marathon takes place amid the famous Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains in the Bernese Oberland of the spectacular Swiss Alps. Though the scenery will take your breath away, be prepared for the marathon’s gruelling 1823-metre (5960-foot) uphill climb.
6. Australian Outback Marathon, Australia
The Australian Outback Marathon takes runners into the heart of Australia’s red centre, with awe-inspiring views of iconic Uluru and Kata Tjuta. The course is predominantly off-road, made up of bush trails and unsealed tracks through the red dust.
7. Kilimanjaro Marathon, Tanzania
Push your limits beneath the awe-inspiring presence of Africa’s highest point, Kilimanjaro. The Kilimanjaro Marathon guarantees jaw-dropping scenery as the road route passes through farms, villages, banana and coffee plantations and forests – with local villagers gathering to cheer you on.
8. Big Five Marathon, South Africa
The Big Five Marathon is held in the South African savannah, where nothing (no fences, no rivers) separates runners from Africa’s famous big five – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard. Though held in winter, the oppressive heat and ascending route can make this marathon a gruelling experience.
9. Great Wall of China Marathon, China
The Great Wall of China Marathon involves ascending and descending 5164 uneven, ancient steps in hot and humid conditions. But while running across one of the Seven Wonders of the World you’ll experience breathtaking views and run through villages and rice fields as locals cheer you on – rewards that will last you a lifetime.
10. Antarctic Ice Marathon, Antarctica
Veterans of this event have described it as 'inspiring beyond words' and their 'biggest life achievement'. In the Antarctic Ice Marathon, runners are up against the formidable challenges of snow, ice and an average wind-chill of −20 degress Celsius. Still, if you want to join the Seven Continent Club, this marathon is an absolute must.