26.2 miles. It’s a stretch that strikes fear into even the most cardio-capable hearts. And rightly so — because marathons are tough. Whether it’s cramp, fatigue or dehydration, there are enough potential pitfalls (both literal and figurative) when it comes to running a marathon that these races should send shivers down your conditioned calves; and tug at those hamstrings with trepidation.
But that’s why it pays to enter into a beautiful, incredible race. Sign up for one of the world’s best marathons and you won’t be thinking about a niggling knee or a troublesome blister. You’ll have other things on your mind. The view of one of the Far East’s most iconic landmarks, for example. Or the teeth-chattering temperature of the Arctic tundra. Below, we’ve laced up a list of the most incredible marathons to run and revere in 2022. So limber up; the starting line’s in sight…
The Polar Circle Marathon is the coolest race on Earth
Let’s start with something ice-cool. Although, if the current wintry weather is taking its toll on your training, this one might not be for you. Because, with temperatures frequently dipping below -10°C, this Greenland-run race is not only one of the coldest marathons on Earth, it’s also one of the most striking visually.
You’ll run under impossibly blue skies, past musk oxen and arctic foxes, and breathe the ludicrously fresh air of the tundra as you barrel your way down a snow-covered gravel road. It’s a serious memory-maker of a marathon — from the start line to the small township of Kangerlussuaq, where the finish line lies.
When’s it happening? 29th October, 2022
The Big Five Marathon will be the wildest experience of your life
If you’re easily dispirited or discouraged, it’s probably best to give this South Africa-set marathon a miss. Why? Because some of your running mates might be slightly quicker than you. We’re talking cheetahs, gazelles and antelopes. At least, with wild creatures including rhinos and lions on the prowl, you won’t be short of motivation to pick up your feet.
Once again, the terrain is a challenge here; deep sand, dirt tracks and pebbled roads making up the 26.2 miles of the course. The heat, also, can reach upwards of 25°C during the day. And then there’s all the other animals; from black mambas and hyenas to wild dogs. Just pray (or should that be prey?) you don’t get cramp…
When’s it happening? 18th June, 2022
The Big Sur Marathon is big on challenges and beauty
Along with the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges, the Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most iconic river-spanning structures in the United States. From blockbuster films to video games, it’s been recreated and represented countless times. And, should you enter the Big Sur Marathon, you’ll be able to add your own sweat-soaked story to its hallowed history.
This beautiful course runs the ragged edge of the western world. To begin, you make a beeline for Carmel on California’s scenic ‘Highway 1′. Among the sights you’ll see along the way; towering redwoods, crashing waves, coastal mountains and verdant pastures. Truly breathtaking (but hopefully not too breathtaking…).
When’s it happening? April 24th, 2022
The New York City Marathon is the ultimate city-based race
On the opposite coast of the United States, the New York City marathon is the perfect way to take a big bite out of the Big Apple. Held on the first Sunday of November each year, the course takes in such sights as Staten Island, Fifth Avenue, Harlem, Brooklyn and Central Park. As city tours go, it’s pretty comprehensive.
It’s also the largest marathon anywhere in the world, with over two million spectators lining the course to cheer runners on every year. So, if the wild and remote races elsewhere on this list don’t get your heart thumping — and you need a little more motivation to keep your pace — this is the marathons most likely to push you to a personal best.
When’s it happening? 6th November, 2022
The ‘World’s Fastest Marathon’ is your chance to break a record
Speaking of personal bests, this Spanish-set event is the perfect race if you’re hoping to shave seconds — or, more likely, minutes — off your best marathon time. With a course that starts high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, almost the entire 26.2 mile route is downhill, with only 900 metres or so not actively declining.
It’s a route designed to shatter records, and has an overall altitude drop of 6,358 feet from start to finish. But it’s not just about serious speed — there’s also much to enjoy along the way. The sweeping, curving road on which you’ll run is lined with towering trees, and the views remain unparalleled from the starting section, all the way down into the historic city of Granada.
When’s it happening? October 8th, 2022
The Iceland Volcano Marathon will motivate you to explosive speeds
If the wild animals of the ‘Big Five’ Marathon above weren’t enough to get you shifting, how about an active volcanic zone? Nothing says ‘speed up!’ like lava rocks and erupting geysers on your tail — and Iceland’s most geothermally-charged marathon has both in volatile, incendiary spades.
Starting near the country’s famous Lake Mývatn, and skirting the divergent boundaries of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, this marathon takes you across the ‘Dimmuborgir’ lava fields, through patches of black volcanic sand and around the craters of several active volcanos — the biggest of which is the Hverfjall crater, over a kilometre wide.
When’s it happening? September 10th, 2022
The Petra Desert Marathon will train up your inner adventurer
Best know for its starring role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the ancient city of Petra is the starting point for this challenging historic marathon. Once you’re off, you’ll tear past historic tombs, mountainside carvings and caves before delving into the hot, arid desert.
With temperatures here as high as 35°C, you’ll likely only see the Wadi Rum desert through sweat-misted sunglasses. But, despite making your way through a hilly route with very little shade, there are few post-race celebrations as welcome or memorable as a restorative swim in the nearby Dead Sea.
When’s it happening? 3rd September, 2022,
The Great Wall Marathon sees culture meet competition
It’s the only endurance race visible from space. But, despite the breathtaking views and the chance to make your mark on an age-old monument, it’s also achingly challenging. Which makes it fortunate that it’s on hiatus this year. Running next in May 2023, The Great Wall Marathon is one to get training for now.
Why? Because some sections of this race actually take you up the steps of the Great Wall itself. And, taking place on the cusp of summer, terrain trouble is only the start of your problems — humidity will be the real challenge. However, if you can conquer this clamminess, it’s worth it for the final few miles; a panoramic course that winds through the lower valley and into local villages.
When’s it happening? May 20th, 2023,
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