These top-notch international destination races are worth the flight
This week, 33 enterprising individuals, including recently retired pro runner Ryan Hall and prolific racer Mike Wardian, are attempting to complete the World Marathon Challenge. Kicking off January 23 on Union Glacier in Antarctica and finishing one week later in Sydney, Australia, the event offers entrants the opportunity to run seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Basically, for a cool $38,000, you can find out how immune you are to jet lag.
Exciting as this trip sounds, it seems unlikely that the participants will have much time for sightseeing. Which is a shame, because destination races provide an excellent reason to travel somewhere you’ve also wanted to visit. For those seeking inspiration, here’s a list of stellar international races (of various lengths) that you can do on your own travel schedule—one for each continent.
King George Island, South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
The World Marathon Challenge specifically points out that its race takes place within the Antarctic Circle. The Antarctica Marathon, run on King George Island, cannot make the same claim—but the race’s organizing company, Marathon Tours and Travel, offers entrants a more immersive, educational experience that includes an ocean voyage across the Drake Passage, onboard lectures, and wildlife excursions. At $6,990, it’s also a bargain compared to the seven continents in seven days challenge. (The rate includes two weeks of room and board, including three nights in Buenos Aires and travel to Ushuaia, but not travel to and from Buenos Aires. More info on pricing here.) But book soon: only wait-list spots remain for 2018 and 2019.
Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon
Namche Bazaar, Nepal, Asia
The apex of marathon tourism in more ways than one, the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon is your chance to test your legs and your lungs over 26.2 miles through the Himalayas. The course begins at Everest Base Camp (elevation: 17,598 feet) and descends along rugged mountain trails to the finish at the Sherpa capital, Namche Bazaar (11,306 feet). Given the extreme altitude, runners are required to arrive in Kathmandu two weeks before the race to partake in a gradual acclimatization program that includes visits to Buddhist monasteries and treks through some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. The $2,700 race entry fee ($2,500 for the “camping option”) includes room and board for the three-week journey.
Durban/Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Africa
For dedicated ultramarathoners, the flagship events in their sport often take place on the trails of the American West or in the European Alps. But the Comrades Marathon in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province should be on every ultrarunner’s bucket list, even if most of the race is on paved roads. Comrades’ inaugural running occurred nearly a century ago, making this the oldest ultra in the world. The course spans 55 miles between Durban and Pietermaritzburg and alternates its start and finish every year; in 2017, the finish is in Pietermaritzburg. The predawn start time means that on clear mornings, runners get to experience a South African sunrise as they embark on a route that will eventually be lined with barbecuing (braai being a national obsession) spectators.
Stockholm, Sweden, Europe
If you want to run a major city marathon but prefer something more low-key than London or New York, the Stockholm Marathon is for you. Trust us: this is one of the most beautiful urban marathon courses in the world. The route covers much of central Stockholm’s waterfront and takes runners past architectural marvels like the Royal Palace and Opera House, as well as the wooded greenery of the Djurgarden, the king’s former hunting grounds. The finish is on the historic track of the 1912 Olympic Stadium. Also, this race takes place in Stockholm in June, when the sun sets at 10 p.m. and the local population comes alive with all the fervor of a Scandinavian summer.
Seward, Alaska, North America
Word has long been out about the world’s most vicious 5K. Every July Fourth, the small port town of Seward, Alaska, becomes the scene of a vaguely medieval spectacle as hundreds of runners traverse from downtown up to the 3,022-foot summit of Mount Marathon and back again, trying not to break any bones in the process. (To be clear, that’s 3,000 feet of vertical in less than two miles.) Recent course survivors include ultra superstar Kilian Jornet and standout collegiate runner and local favorite Allie Ostrander. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than the race itself is getting in: adult entries are limited to 700 spots per year. Your best bet is to apply via the race’s lottery system, which last year saw more than 1,000 aspiring masochists compete for roughly 250 spots.
Bogotá Half Marathon
Bogotá, Colombia, South America
Late July/Early August
With former winners including Geoffrey Mutai, Priscah Jeptoo, and other gods of the sport, the Bogotá Half Marathon is the premier distance running event in South America. The IAAF has designated the race a Gold Label event, the international governing body’s mark of distinction for events that maintain world-class standards in all matters of planning, execution, and athlete perks. The course begins and ends in Simón Bolívar Park, the green sanctuary in the heart of the Colombian capital. It’s flat throughout, but be mindful that Bogotá sits at an elevation above 8,500 feet.
Australia’s iteration of San Francisco’s costumed bonanza Bay to Breakers takes place every August in Sydney, when a massive wave of humans makes its merry way from Hyde Park to the famous Bondi Beach, a distance of about 8.7 miles. Like the Bay Area event that inspired it, City2Surf has been around for decades and counts as one of the world’s largest footraces. Last year, the race had more than 80,000 entrants, so if you’re not into mass events, you should probably steer clear.