Marathon running is an international favorite, and let’s face it they’re a whole lot of fun; whether your goal is to complete the race in a certain time or simply to finish the race at all. But as an avid runner with a sensible budget, you can’t just be traveling the entire globe looking for the best marathons. To help you out I’ve put together a list of the top 5 marathons that every runner should attend (and some of them might just surprise you!)
1) The Pyongyang Marathon
Yes, you did just read that correctly, the Pyongyang marathon in North Korea. This marathon is an extremely new event, with 2017 being its fourth ever run. The marathon has received official recognition from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
The race’s route takes you around the city of Pyongyang as well as slightly out into the local countryside before heading back to finish at the Kim Il Sung Stadium. All participants get the chance to take part in the race’s opening ceremony (a lap of the stadium) in front of a full capacity crowd of 50’000 people. As you might expect, the race is fairly tightly controlled, with various officials making sure you don’t venture off the beaten track. Moreover, as a foreign runner, you’re only allowed to take part in the marathon as part of an officially sanctioned tour group visit, prices for which start at about €1300 per person.
From the experiences of past competitors you are allowed to take photos, however, you shouldn’t be surprised if these are checked by an official before leaving. You might also find that whilst some members of the North Korean public love taking pictures with runners, others will scatter away from the camera. Nonetheless, I’m sure it would be a unique, once in a lifetime kind of experience.
2) The London Marathon
Since its conception in 1981 England’s London Marathon has been one of the worlds most popular marathons, attracting 37’000 runners in 2016 and 2017. The marathon is also filmed and broadcast live by the BBC, meaning you might get a chance to have your efforts remembered on film.
The route itself is a grand tour of London’s best and brightest. It starts in and around Greenwich park and takes runners past the Old Royal Naval Barracks, past the Cutty Sark and towards Surrey Quays and the Docklands. From there the route takes runners along the famous Tower Bridge on through Canary Wharf and London’s financial district. From there, competitors move towards the center of London via the Embankment, before running past Big Ben and Buckingham Palace and finishing alongside Saint James’ Palace. The race is also popular because of England’s temperate climate, and because the course is pretty much flat, meaning that the London Marathon is a great circuit to set a personal best time.
Due to the massive popularity of the event places can be a little tricky to get hold of. The race uses a ballot system where you’ll basically have to cross your fingers and hope. There’s also the option to run for a specific charity, and promise to raise at least a certain amount in order to secure your place. There are also specific places reserved for runners with championship qualifying times.
3) The Boston Marathon
For my next marathon recommendation, we’re heading to the States. Boston is the oldest, and definitely the best known, marathon in America. The race actually starts outside Boston in Hopkinton before taking participants through various New England Towns on its way to the center of the City. Although a lot of the route has a downhill trend, be prepared to push hard for the finish as you battle ‘Heartbreak Hill,’ a 600m ascent between miles twenty and twenty-one, just when your glycogen stores will be pretty much depleted!
The main draw of the event, and the reason it makes this list is the atmosphere. Since 1901 the Boston Red Sox have played a home game on the same day, with spectators of the sport leaving the game and proceeding to the race course to cheer on participants. There is also the ‘scream tunnel,’ a 400-metre tunnel where students of Wellesley Women’s College gather to cheer on runners as loudly as possible. it’s been said that the supporters at the tunnel can be heard from more than a mile away!
4) The Great Wall Marathon
As you might have guessed from the name our next marathon takes us to Tianjin in China, for one of the most unique marathons in the world. The race starts near Huangyaguan village (which is about 2 hours to the northwest of Beijing) From there it takes participants straight to the Great Wall to enjoy beautiful views of the chinese countryside. Eventually, runners veer off from the wall to finish the race in Yin and Yang Square.
However, certainly don’t go expecting any personal bests. The extreme ascents and descents required during the course (including no less than 5,164 steps!) mean that most runners take about 50% longer to complete this course than they would a typical marathon. So if you’re used to completing your 26 miles in 4 hours, expect this one to take about 6.
Unless you’re a Chinese national you’ll have to book your place as part of a marathon tour group. Places start from around $1300 (£1050).
5) The Big Five Marathon
Last but certainly not least I’m recommending the Big Five Marathon in Limpopo, South Africa. As you’d expect from the name ‘big five’ the event is basically a safari as well as a marathon. Runners meet in one of Africa’s biggest game reserves, completing their race amongst Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards, and Buffalo.
The race both starts and Finishes at Lakeside Lodge, before taking runners past Ravineside Lodge and the Entabeni Monolith. However, it’s at Yellow Wood Valley that things get tricky. Runners have to navigate an extremely steep descent before heading down into deep sand for a nine-kilometer loop only to come straight back up the same incredibly steep hill you just came down! If you can get past this section, then the rest of the route should be pretty straightforward.
Just like the Great Wall Marathon, don’t go expecting any personal bests, largely because of the high heat, dry surroundings, and big hills, but also because you’ll probably be slowing down every few minutes to take in the breathtaking surroundings.