The very first marathon was run by a poor sap named Phidippides in or about the year 496 B.C. As legend has it, Phidippides was a messenger in the Persian/Greek War who was sent with an urgent dispatch from the city of Marathon to Athens – roughly 26 miles of running. After delivering his message, Phidippides dropped over dead from exhaustion.
The Greeks won, Phidippides lost, and an obsession was born.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people run marathons each year all around the globe. Most are weekend warriors who valiantly strive to reach the finish line of the local marathon. But there are plenty of other people who have gone all-in on the marathoning lifestyle, and are more than ready to plan their vacations around running a marathon.
Assuming that you’ve done enough training to successfully and safely cover 26.2 miles, here is our list of the 10 coolest marathons on Earth – races that have a little extra something to really get your blood flowing:
(We’re not including the completely awesome ultramarathon in the wilds of northwest Mexico that was detailed in the book Born To Run; I think we’ve written enough about Mexico’s ongoing drug wars for you to understand why. We’re also not including the Great Tibetan Marathon because it appears to have been discontinued – no wonder: the race was in the Himalayas at an elevation of about 3600 feet. Gasp.)
- Great Wall Marathon. This is an extraordinary experience, running along the top of the man-made wonders of the world, through the heart of China’s Tianjin Province. The surroundings will (hopefully) take your mind off how hard you’re working – there are 5164 steps to ascend along the way.
- Polar Circle Marathon. When we said “coolest marathons” we meant it. Bundle up for this October race in Greenland, where the average temperature is in the teens (Fahrenheit). Part of the race traverses the polar ice cap itself, which means you might be slipping and sliding along.
- Solar Eclipse Marathon. Bring your own crystals for this race in Port Douglas on the northen coast of Australia. On November 14, 2012, there will be a total eclipse of the sun, and this race will begin when the rays of the Sun re-emerge from behind the Moon to serve as an “intergalactic start gun for the world’s first Solar Eclipse Marathon.”
- London Marathon. Widely considered to be the best marathon in the world. It’s supremely organized and offers a festive, party atmosphere that makes the exertion seem a little less grueling. The stretch run takes you past the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Extra cool points because this year the Olympics are in London. The bad news – registration for this year’s race on April 22nd is already closed.
- The Big Five Marathon. This is part footrace, part safari. You’ll be running through the African savannah, specifically the Entabeni Game Reserve in the Waterberg district of South Africa. You’d better be in tip-top shape too, because it’s a winding, hilly course that will take its toll on your legs.
- Amsterdam Marathon. You may not think of “fitness” and “Amsterdam” in the same sentence too often, but this is a good race through one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Plus, it’s a flat, i.e., fast, course. Just take it easy the night before.
- Petra Marathon. Petra was once a thriving metropolis in what is now Jordan, but as politics and trade routes changed in the ancient Middle East, Petra pretty much disappeared. It was rediscovered by a Swiss traveler 200 years ago this August. It is a remarkable, ancient city built into the sandstone mountains – running this race is like running through time. But runner beware – the temperature in the afternoon can reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and the political and meteorological uncertainty can wreak havoc with the race schedule.
- French Riviera Marathon. This race is only five years old but already draws a world class field. More than 10,000 runners took part last year. The attraction is obvious – you’re running through the seaside towns of the French Riviera; surely, you can build a vacation around this, right?
- National Lottery Dublin Marathon. The race is known as the “Friendly Marathon” because of the enthusiastic spectators that line the course. It’s a classic city loop and the race attracts a world class field. And the extracurriculars in Dublin can be enticing.
- Athens Classic Marathon. Yes, it’s true – you can follow in the footsteps of Phidippides, beginning near sea level along the Aegean Sea and climbing upward to the finish line at Panathinaiko Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896. Hopefully, your post-race routine will be less eventful than Phidippides’.