Forget Boston, London and New York marathons, these races will take you (and your legs) further than you’ve ever dreamed! Walk, run, cycle, swim or crawl, it’s all about crossing the finish line.
Runners competing in the Safaricom Marathon, Kenya, can expect giraffes for company © Phil Moore / Getty Images
Safaricom Marathon, Kenya
With nothing physically separating you from 26 lions, 137 rhinos, 182 giraffes and 1160 zebras, this marathon is a run on the wild side. Curious giraffes may occasionally keep stride with you; 140 armed rangers and three spotter helicopters work to ensure your path is clear of Africa’s apex predators. Heat, hills and an average elevation of 1700m add to the challenge.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a four-hour drive or 45-minute flight from Nairobi. The race takes place in late June.
North Pole Marathon
There are cool marathons, and then there are cool marathons. Pack very warmly, journey to Svalbard in Norway and board a jet to the polar ice cap for a run like no other. You may want to hit this floating 42.2km ice course hard, but the elements (and snow suits and boots) will require a slower approach than usual.
The hefty €16,000 entry fee includes return flights from Svalbard to the North Pole camp and helicopter tours.
Marathon du Médoc, France
Reaching any marathon finish line is a challenge, but with numerous wine stops at Bordeaux’s heralded vineyards, the Marathon du Médoc provides a unique physical test. We say ‘numerous’ as most competitors can’t recall how many pit stops they made! Cheese, pâté and other local treats line the route.
This early-September race starts and finishes in Pauillac, accessible from Bordeaux by train, bus and shuttles.
A competitor conquering a dune in the formidable Marathon des Sables, Morocco © Jean-Philippe Ksiazek / Getty Images
Marathon des Sables, Morocco
Fancy running the equivalent of almost six marathons in a week, including 80km in one go? OK. Now try it in the soft sands of the Sahara. Oh, and turn up the thermostat past 50°C and carry your week’s worth of food (minimum 2000 calories per day) and supplies with you. This multi-stage event will push you to your limit and beyond, guaranteed.
Covering around 250km in southern Morocco, the Marathon des Sables takes place in early to mid-April.
Grand to Grand Ultra, USA
The first self-supported multi-stage race in the US, this 273km ultra marathon takes competitors from the north rim of the iconic Grand Canyon to the top of the Grand Staircase, one of the planet’s most celebrated geological formations. In between, the high-desert route crosses red sand dunes, runs through slot canyons and skirts towering buttes, delicate hoodoos and vast mesas.
It’s 320km from Las Vegas international airport to the race base in Kanab, Utah.
Inca Trail Marathon, Peru
In ancient times, highly skilled and physically fit messengers (chasquis) used to relay-run encrypted posts (quipus) between settlements of the Inca empire. Attempt one of the most famous routes yourself by taking on this marathon. The finish line? Machu Picchu! With 3000m of elevation gain, 3300m of descent and a high point of 4215m, this is a challenge for the ages.
Triathletes swimming past Alcatraz in the chilly water of San Francisco Bay © Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, USA
They say no one ever escaped from Alcatraz. Want to give it a go? Dive off the prison island into San Francisco Bay’s chilly (and some say shark-filled) waters for a 2.4km swim to shore, before a warm-up run to your bicycle at Marina Green. Pedal 29km through the hills of the city and Golden Gate Park, then run 13km for home at Baker Beach Battery.
The mid-June race is capped at 2000 entrants so age-group amateurs will need to rely on the draw for entry.
Great Wall Marathon, China
They don’t call it great for nothing. This fantastic structure is impressive on all fronts, and the Great Wall Marathon certainly does it justice. The route, which includes 5164 stone steps, is certainly no walk in the park – but the views of surrounding hills, villages and the wall itself may just take away some of the pain.
Held on 19 May this year, the race starts from the Huangyaguan fortress, some 120km east of Běijīng.
Runners race riders in the Whole Earth Man v Horse Marathon, Wales © Getty Images
Whole Earth Man V Horse Marathon, Wales
Which is faster over a long distance, human or horse? It was this question in a Welsh pub that spawned this race in 1980. Since then the two have been doing battle over challenging terrain, though it took 25 races before a man on foot finally outpaced his counterpart on horseback. The race distance has varied, but should be around 35km in 2018.
Start and end point Llanwrtyd Wells is a three-hour train journey north of Cardiff. The race takes place in mid-June.
Outback Marathon, Australia
Go ‘walkabout’ in the Australian outback at this marathon in the shadow of legendary Uluru. The relatively flat course is along the area’s red dirt fire access trails, though the occasional sand dune will put a dent in your stride (as will views of Kata Tjuta and Uluru).
The organisers offer various race/ accommodation packages, ranging from three to six days (entry-only participation is not possible). Ayers Rock Airport is nearby.