The London Marathon is world famous and hugely popular but if you don't bag a spot there are plenty of other options © Michael Betts / Getty Images
Here are some suggestions whether you’re contemplating your first 26.2, hoping for a PB or scouting for the ultimate challenge.
London is a highlight of the global racing calendar and with a record number of 386,050 applications for roughly 17,500 ballot places in 2018, you needed a whole lotta luck to get in. If you didn't but are still keen to run the iconic course, the ballot for next year opens in early May. You could also run on a charity place but be prepared to raise thousands in sponsorship. Alternatively, check if, with advancing years and a mediocre amount of talent, you might qualify for a Good for Age place for which applications open in June.
Step up to the challenge
There's something about watching a major running event that is humbling, inspiring and likely to plant a dogged little seed in your head about whether you could possibly, ever, in your wildest dreams, step up to the challenge yourself. If you're tempted, Dublin Marathon is a good first time bet. Held in late October, the first 20,000 applicants are guaranteed entry, the course is relatively flat and stays open for seven hours, ensuring you’ll still get your medal and bragging rights even if you end up walking.
Oh I do like to race beside the seaside
For a run with a sea view the Dingle Marathon takes place in one of Ireland's most picturesque coastal regions. Thronged with tour buses the rest of the year, the roads are closed to traffic for race day while runners take on the dramatic route. Rugged hills sweep down to rocky bays and sandy beaches, islands twinkle in the distance and ancient archaeological sites litter the fields. There's also a half marathon that takes in the best of the scenery while cunningly avoiding the whopper of a hill at mile 22.
Climb every mountain
If you scorn flat routes there are many options for beating your body into submission on scenic uphills. The Three Peaks Race is the daddy of them all, a fell (hill) run across the Yorkshire Dales in northern England taking in three brutal climbs. It's slightly short of a full marathon at 23.2 miles but to compensate it includes a gruelling 1608m of ascent and descent. Competitors must qualify by running a similar race and must carry a map, compass, whistle and emergency food and clothing.
Nature junkies delight
If you're inspired by the great outdoors, the UK and Ireland offer a bumper selection of back-to-nature runs. The Endurance Life Exmoor takes place in the little-visited west of the national park and is one of the toughest trail runs in the country. Expect steep climbs and knee-busting descents across cliffs, valleys and moorland. The variety of terrain is difficult enough without the hills but the mesmerising views go some way to make up for it.
One for the record books
If you're chasing a personal best you'll need a flat, fast course, pacers and not too much congestion. The Greater Manchester Marathon ticks all these boxes as well as having good crowd support. It's not the prettiest course but with a height gain of only 150m, a great atmosphere and a finish at the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, it could be the one to shave off some precious minutes.
One for the wine lovers
Swap the energy gels for a glass of vino as you tackle the Bacchus Marathon in Surrey. Held on the Denbies Wine Estate in early September, it's a two-lap circuit with six wine tasting stations on each loop: potentially 12 glasses of wine to swill down, along with (no kidding) oysters and gourmet cheeses at rest stops along the way. You may not notice the miles, the challenging terrain or even the scenery but you'll probably remember the fancy dress, wild antics and hog roast at the finish line.
Racing on wheels
London is still the biggie when it comes to wheelchair racing but qualifying is tough – you must have completed a previous marathon and have a World Para Athletics classification to enter the elite race. The Day Chair race has only 12 places. Entry regulations are less strict for Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and Belfast marathons, all of which have wheelchair races. The flat course in Manchester makes it a particularly attractive option.
Four legs are better than two
Fancy a four-legged personal trainer? That’s what proponents of canicross claim you get if you start your marathon training with your dog. Build up the miles together, letting the dog pull you on a harness and bungee cord, and you’ll stay motivated (and distracted) as the miles start adding up. Although most dedicated canicross events are up to 10km, an increasing number of longer trail events allow runners with dogs such as those run by Endurance Life in their Coastal Trail Series.
In for the long haul
Every second person in the office seems to have run a marathon these days. If you're looking for bragging rights you'll have to up the ante and either take on a brutal trail or increase the mileage. Ultra running, anything beyond marathon distance, relies as much on mental stamina as on training and comes in all forms, with events ranging from 50km upwards. One of the most brutal is the One Ultra Trail Run in Dorset, which covers 82 glorious miles and over 3000m of quad-killing ascent.
Catch ‘em young
Although you've got to be 18 to enter most marathons and 17 for a half, some running festivals do encourage children to get involved. So if you're trying to pass on your love of running consider the Edinburgh Marathon Festival which includes four junior races between 1km and 5km, Belfast Marathon which also has a 2.5-mile fun run or Manchester so the kids can take part in the Family Mile race.
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