The World’s Best Marathons
We reckon, anyway
Page 1 of 2The World’s Best Marathons
If you’re inspired to lace up again after London, there are plenty more marathons to sign up for in the UK, from big-city races to country trails and coastal paths – but if you fancy something a bit different you could do worse than treat yourself to a running holiday. These 11 world marathons all come highly recommended by Coach readers, plus you get to go on a nice trip too – once you’ve got the small matter of 26.2 miles out of the way, that is.
Flat and fast, Berlin is the race where most marathon world records have been set, including the current one, 2hr 2min 57sec by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in 2014. Along with Tokyo, Boston, London, Chicago and New York City, Berlin is one of the World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and best-known marathons in the world.
Next race 24th September 2017, bmw-berlin-marathon.com
IT’S A GREAT CITY TO CELEBRATE IN AFTERWARDS“Berlin attracts some of the best runners in the world but it’s not just for PB chasers. Just like in London you get all kinds of people taking part – people with different speeds, people dressed as dogs and spacemen, people from all across the world… Plus it’s a great city to celebrate in afterwards.
“The course starts in the city centre on a dead straight road, which is cool as you can see crowds behind and in front so you get a sense of just how big it all is and how many people are running. The route loops around the outside of the city and finishes under the Brandenburg Gate, where the crowds are massive and hundreds of people are out cheering you.
“I’d definitely recommend it, even if just to say you’ve run on a world-record course.” – Ben Rajan, automotive engineer
Walt Disney World Marathon, Florida
You run through the Disney parks and get cheered on by Mickey! Next race 7th January 2018, rundisney.com
YOU GET TO GO ON A ROLLER COASTER IN THE MIDDLE OF IT“You run through all four parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot – and everyone dresses up, plus you get to go on a roller coaster in the middle of it. You start running early in the morning before the parks open and have your photo taken as you run past Cinderella’s castle. At Animal Kingdom you can ride the Expedition Everest rollercoaster, which gives you a major energy rush, and all the way round there’s so much awesome stuff to look at and Disney characters you can stop and have your photo taken with. Once the parks open, all the people visiting are cheering you on, so there’s great support.
“Runners stop off at the bars and food stalls to get something to eat or drink. People cross the line holding margaritas and beers. I went for a giant turkey leg.
“If you’re going to Disney don’t run for a good time, run for the amazing experience instead.” – Rhia Docherty, volunteer refugee worker
Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromsø, Norway
Because of the city’s location within the Arctic Circle there’s 24-hour daylight, so you get to run in the light at night. Next race 17th June 2017, msm.no
“For me travelling and running go hand in hand. I try to steer away from the mainstream races and go to cool places for the stories and the adventure.
YOU LOSE ALL SENSE OF TIME“At Tromsø the race starts at 8pm so you finish around midnight, but it’s still light. Even though the sun’s out the temperature drops at night so it’s cold – it’s all very surreal. You lose all sense of time.
“The course crosses the island through villages and past churches, and even though it’s late people are sitting outside their houses cheering you on. All the bars and restaurants are still open, so when you approach the town centre you get some very loud support and, of course, you can join them when you finish. You have to take it in.” – Alan Li, elevated service and support engineer
Lewa Safaricom Marathon, Kenya
Set on dirt roads across savannah plains and through acacia woodland, the Lewa Safaricom Marathon is held in a wildlife conservancy home to elephant herds, buffalo, giraffes and more. Runners raise funds to support conservation, education and local community programmes. Next race 24th June 2017, lewa.org
I DID GET A BIT TOO CLOSE TO AN OSTRICH“I was in Kenya researching my book Running With The Kenyans when I took part in the Lewa Marathon. It’s not often you get to run through a wildlife conservancy where lions are roaming. Not to mention cheetahs and rhinos. For safety there was a helicopter circling above and spectators were only allowed to stand at water stations where there were armed guards on hand. Luckily I didn’t see any lions, but I did get a bit too close to an ostrich, which was rather nerve-racking.
“Lewa is quite a tough race: it’s hot, hilly and at altitude, but the epic scenery and being out in the wilds on foot was thrilling – and occasionally a bit scary. It’s amazing to race in Kenya, the country of the world’s greatest marathon runners, and the supporters got particularly excited every time I passed because I was the first mzungu (white person). The whole thing was an experience I’ll never forget.” – Adharanand Finn, author of The Way Of The Runner and Running With The Kenyans
Athens Authentic Marathon
This is where it all began. The marathon was introduced in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The race between the town of Marathon and Athens follows the route run by the messenger Pheidippides in ancient Greece to announce victory in battle over the Persians. Next race 12th November 2017, athensauthenticmarathon.gr
“I signed up for Athens two days after my first marathon in London. I’d run my home marathon and I liked the idea of running in the home of the marathon.
“On the day of the race, coaches take you to the starting point in Marathon. Local families come out of their houses with olive branches [a traditional symbol of goodwill], handing them to as many runners as they can. You’ll see some people trying to run the whole distance carrying them.
YOU FINISH IN THE ORIGINAL OLYMPIC STADIUM“The route itself is one long road back to Athens; you don’t pass many villages, there’s a 12km hill, and until you get to the city the crowds are sparse, but you don’t care because you’re running from Marathon to Athens and that’s always in the back of your mind. You finish in the original Olympic stadium with the Acropolis over your shoulder, and you forget all about the 42km before because you’re in this amazing, historic place. Plus you get to eat your way around the city afterwards, which is exactly why I’m hooked on running.” – Sasha Watson, management consultant
Le Marathon du Médoc, Bordeaux
The slowest marathon you’ll ever run, Médoc takes in Bordeaux’s vineyards with 23 wine stops and local specialities such as foie gras served up on route. Fancy dress is mandatory and the atmosphere is “party”. Next race 9th September 2017, marathondumedoc.com
BIG GROUPS OF PEOPLE RUNNING TOGETHER IN FANCY DRESS“I honestly believe Marathon du Médoc is the best race in the world – and I’m saying that as someone who doesn’t like wine. Marathons are hard and typically they’re solo ventures, you’re running in your own little world, but Médoc is big groups of people running together in fancy dress and having a huge party.
“The weather’s great and the scenery as you run through local vineyards and past chateaux is beautiful. You stop off at each vineyard to try the wine and there’s an amazing atmosphere at each one with bands, cheese, ham, oysters, bread… And every village you pass, people are out cheering and offering you snacks and drinks. I’ve run it three times now and I tend to go with a massive group of friends. We usually have a big night the night before, but this is the type of race that it’s absolutely fine to do with a hangover.
“All of my personal worst marathon times have been at Médoc. In fact, I was the last finisher a few years ago. I could have gone slower but there was a group of monks ringing bells bringing up the rear. You had to stay ahead of them to stay in the run.” – David Hellard, member of the British Military Fitness Race Team and co-host of the Bad Boy Running Podcast
New York City Marathon
Everything’s always bigger in America, including their races. With more than 51,000 finishers in 2016, New York is the world’s largest marathon and one of the six Marathon Majors. Next race 5th November 2017, tcsnycmarathon.org
“The race begins on Staten Island. You get the ferry to the start and as you pass the Statue of Liberty you get a real sense of where you are. The race itself crosses five bridges and goes through all five boroughs of New York – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. You’re running through neighbourhoods so you get a chance to see a different side of the city and I think it’s the local communities that really make the race. Everybody lines the streets and cheers, and church choirs and bands come out in each neighbourhood. It’s definitely the best-supported marathon I’ve run.
“As you come into Manhattan there’s just a big wall of noise and the last five miles as you’re coming to the finish in Central Park are packed with supporters. It’s such a great place: the expo is brilliant, the streets are wide and hardly anyone runs in fancy dress so you’re not going to get beaten by Buzz Lightyear.” – Simon Hazel, geologist
Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon
Organised by UK charity Street Child, the Sierra Leone Marathon raises money to provide education and support children devastated by Ebola. Next race 28th May 2017, sierraleonemarathon.com
“I went to the first Sierra Leone Marathon in 2012 as my company, Tokio Marine Kiln, was the main sponsor. I’ve since done the half and this year I’m going to volunteer.
“One of the great things about going with Street Child is that you have a couple of days beforehand to see the projects you’re raising money for. Seeing that the money you or your company have raised is enough to build a school in a rural area where they don’t have electricity and have never had a school before makes all the running just fall into the background. You only need to raise £40 to send a child to school for a whole year.
“On the marathon itself you pass through a wide range of scenery, incredibly beautiful countryside and jungle, and mud-hut villages where the kids come out and start jumping up and down and high-fiving you. Street Child has a big presence in the city of Makeni where the race finishes, so people will say ‘thank you’ as you run past – the whole atmosphere is amazing. The main challenge is the heat. You set off early in the morning but when I ran it got up to 38°C with 90% humidity, which can be hard to cope with when you get to mile 20.
“The race has lots of local runners as well as international runners, and 2016 is the first big marathon since Ebola, so it’s important for helping people gain confidence in visiting the country.” – Simon Bianco, energy underwriter
The world’s oldest annual marathon, Boston holds a certain prestige among runners as you need to gain a qualifying time to register, with only the fastest runners in age and gender groups selected. For men aged 18-34, the qualifying time is 3hr 5min, and rises to 3hr 10min from 35-39, 3hr 15min if you’re 40-44 and so on. Next race April 16th 2018, baa.org
“When I ran it in 2015, it was as part of a challenge to run eight marathons in 20 days on three continents. I’d finished the Marathon des Sables [250km across the Sahara] five days earlier and after Boston I was coming back to run the London Marathon. I went to just get round but ended up having one of those runs where everything clicks and got a good time.
THE CROWDS WHOOP IT UP TO 11“The course is tough but, like most US marathons, the support is brilliant – the crowds whoop it up to 11. You hear a lot about the notorious Heartbreak Hill that comes 20 miles into the race and has taken down many a runner, but it’s not until you hit those last six miles that you realise just how much impact the hills have had.
“Boston has a special finish. It’s marked on the road year round and is a symbol of how the race has a special place in the hearts of the people of the city.” – Kieran Alger, journalist
Marathon de Paris
Great for sightseeing, the Paris route starts on the Champs-Élysées and winds its way past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame and along the banks of the Seine. Next race 9th April 2017, schneiderelectricparismarathon.com
“I took my mum with me for a long weekend in Paris when I ran as she’d never been before, so she got to see the sights and I got some support as well.
“It’s a good way to see a lot of the major landmarks and starting with the Arc de Triomphe behind you is pretty amazing. Paris is a beautiful city and the run takes you through some of the parks, which you probably wouldn’t see on a standard visit to the city. It’s a very international race with all kinds of runners from all over the world.
“My only disappointment was that it wasn’t as well supported as London. You can’t beat a London crowd.” – Royston Crandley, security trainer
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