7 international marathons worth traveling to
The settings of these long-distance races attract participants from all over the world.
They may all be 26.2 miles, but not all marathons are created equal.
Some have a compelling history; others have striking scenery. For a lucky few, the appeal lies neither in the historical legacy nor the physical attributes, but in the spirit of the event – the indescribable but always-palpable atmosphere that arises from shared sporting endeavors.
After months of training, running an uninspired course can be anticlimactic, so why not look to marathons farther afield, where the stunning scenery, lively spirit and engaging history will spur you forward? We’ve drawn up a shortlist of marathons that are worth a trip.
American runner Meb Keflezighi after winning the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
For many, Boston is the high point of the international marathon calendar. It’s the oldest and most highly regarded. It’s also notoriously difficult to secure a spot. The qualifying standards are tough, and the hilly course is grueling. So much so that one particularly agonizing ascent has been coined Heartbreak Hill.
Runner Esther Erb, who finished 20th in 2014, said of the event: “The crowd support was incredible, and there is just so much history of greatness on that course. ... it was a completely unforgettable experience.”
If you manage to earn a spot in the esteemed race, you’ll find it’s as thrilling as it is difficult. Not only can you enjoy running alongside the crème de la crème of the running world, but you’ll also get to savor the electrifying atmosphere, with half a million spectators cheering you on.
Napa Valley Marathon
Marathons were never meant to be easy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyable. On the route of the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon (held annually in March), runners race from Calistoga to Napa, passing through the mostly flat route through vineyards. It’s a small field with a maximum of 3,000, so there’s ample running space, as well as plenty of delicious local wine to indulge in afterward.
Last year’s winner, Jennifer Kadavy, summed up its appeal. “What makes the Napa Marathon so appealing is that it is a rolling course, with minor elevation changes," she said. "The weather is never too harsh since the race is in March. The scenery is beautiful – during a marathon, it's nice to have something to look at to keep you from stressing about pacing, especially in the early parts of the race when you are trying not to overdo it. The award for the winner is perfect for Napa – cases of wine and wine-tasting coupons!”
Tel Aviv Marathon
William Kiprono from Kenya raises his national flag as he celebrates winning the 2015 Tel Aviv Marathon. (Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)
Clear, blue skies. Majestic beach. Vibrant nightlife.
It may sound like an ideal vacation, but there's more: You can experience it all while simultaneously running a marathon.
Easily Israel's biggest sporting event, the Tel Aviv Marathon attracts 40,000 runners on average to the annual February race, which takes participants from the challenging yet picturesque route across the city to a finish-line block party, complete with cheering crowds, music and celebratory beverages in abundance.
Past the gleaming white Bauhaus designs, along the waterfront and through ancient Jaffa, runners get a sense of Tel Aviv's happening vibe. Entrants with a penchant for celebration will find it here – by the bucketload.
Held in upstate New York, this marathon is a real looker. It takes place during fall (Oct. 4, 2015), and the route runs through the gorgeous Finger Lakes wine district, which means entrants are treated to inspiring scenes of fall foliage.
Wineglass also has appeal for runners looking to meet qualifying limits, as 2014 champion Bryan Morseman pointed out. “It's a pretty fast course as well, so if you’re looking for a Boston qualifier or a personal best time over the marathon distance, I would take my chance on running this gorgeous race.”
Wineglass is relatively flat and manageable, and participants are rewarded with more than just scenery. Upon registration, runners receive a small bottle of wine from a local producer, while finishers are presented with a unique glass medal made at the Corning Museum of Glass.
Athens Classic Marathon
Runners traverse the Athens Panathenaen stadium for the final lap of the 30th edition of the Athens Classic Marathon on Nov. 11, 2012. (Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)
As a bucket-list marathon, the Athens Classic has no problem pulling in the crowds.
“Those who are familiar with the inspiring Greek history include the Athens Marathon at the top of the list of important races,” said Paul Samaras of Apostolos Greek Tours, an official travel agent for the race.
Many eager runners are keen to celebrate the origin of their sport, and the competition for a running spot at the Athens Classic is fierce. With numerous quad-busting hills in the latter half, it is not for the faint-hearted. But then again, what marathon is? “Some runners consider the Athens Marathon course challenging; with proper training and starting with a moderate pace, it is easily manageable,” advised Samaras.
Twin Cities Marathon
The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon sees runners embark on a scenic tour of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, weaving through historic neighborhoods and past pretty, shimmering lakes. It takes place in fall (Oct. 2-4, 2015) in mild weather, which 2014 champion Esther Erb (who also placed 20th in Boston) describes as “perfect marathoning temperatures.”
For potential runners, Twin Cities has a few race quirks. “There are two things to look out for on the Twin Cities course,” warned Erb. “One is that it has a lot of long curves, and if you don't take the tangents (stay on the inside of the curves and take the shortest route to the next curve), you might easily run 42.8 kilometers instead of 42.2 kilometers. The other thing to remember is that there are two miles at the end of the race (from mile markers 21-23), where you are going up a very long hill that is gradual enough that you almost don't realize how much it is taking out of you. My tip is just run by feel and don't look at your watch – push through it, knowing that there is a great downhill on the other side.”
Paris International Marathon
Competitors run past the Eiffel tower during the 37th edition of the Paris Marathon on April 7, 2013, in Paris. (Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)
Key to the appeal of the Paris Marathon is the city itself. The route covers all of its big-name monuments, packing in more Paris sightseeing in a few short hours than an average tourist does in a week. It starts on Avenue des Champs-Elysees, continues on past the Louvre and Place de la Bastille, taking in the Seine, Pont Neuf and the Eiffel Tower along the way.
If the sights don’t keep you motivated, the quarter of a million or so onlookers combined with the promise of wine and cheese at the 35-kilometer mark should do the trick.
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