A marathon is a feat of endurance, physically and psychologically pushing entrants to the brink. Nevertheless, pounding ordinary places like local streets and parks can get boring after a while. From the mighty Mount Everest to Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, we look at a selection of the world’s most idiosyncratic marathons.
1. Everest Marathon
With a starting line in Gorak Shep, Nepal, Everest Marathon invites opponents to test their mettle with the world’s highest altitude marathon. Just to reach the altitude start line, competitors must hike for 15 days, with the event organizers recommending climbing the two nearby 18,000-foot-high mountains enroute to aid acclimatization.
From Gorak Shep, the route to Namchee Bazaar is mostly downhill, although the course does incorporate two steep uphill sections. Competitors must negotiate unusual hazards, such as yak trains and rickety suspension bridges, as well as other dangers such as hypothermia, pulmonary edema, and altitude sickness.
2. The Great Wall Marathon
China’s Great Wall is one of the most impressive engineering accomplishments in human history. Existing in one form or another for more than 2 millennia, the wall is more than 13,100 miles in length. Since 1999, the Great Wall has also been the scene of a particularly grueling marathon.
The 26.2 course of the Great Wall Marathon encompasses several traditional villages located within a few miles of the wall. Once competitors reach the Wall itself, the challenge starts in earnest, with participants ascending and descending an astonishing 5,000-plus stone steps. The toll this takes on runners’ legs is particularly tough, earning the event a reputation as one of the world’s most arduous races.
3. Man vs Horse
Staged in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells, Man vs Horse gives participants the opportunity to compete against horses and riders over a course of green pastures, dappled forest paths, and flowing streams. Since the race’s inception in 1980, humans have only managed to outrun their equine opponents three times.
With prize money rolling over every year until a human winner emerges, the prize grew by £1,000 a year from 2007 until 2022, when Ricky Lightfoot defeated Kim Alman on Invictus. Born in Cumbria, England, 37-year-old Ricky Lightfoot works as a firefighter, and is an experienced ultramarathon runner. Other races Lightfoot has won include the Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira, the Dodo Trail in Mauritius, the Otter Trail Run in South Africa, Trail du Colorado in Réunion, the IAU Trail World Championships, and Denmark’s Hammer Trail.
4. Marathon du Medoc
The Marathon du Medoc is fondly referred to as the longest marathon in the world, despite spanning the standard marathon length of just over 26 miles. This is because running forms just part of the event activities. Along the way, participants are required to stop off for multiple classes of local wine, paying homage to Medoc’s world-class vineyards. Entrants are also invited to enjoy a variety of fine foods, including sumptuous foie gras, succulent steak, gourmet ice cream, and a variety of cheeses.
The Marathon du Medoc is an irreverent event, with the focus firmly on fun and 90 percent of entrants running in fancy dress. With a general target time of 6 hours 30 minutes, the race is not about speed, but simply having a good time.
5. Antarctic Ice Marathon
For those with an interest in extreme experiences that push them to the limits, this marathon is the ultimate adventure. Staged in mainland Antarctica, the race spans the standard 26.2 miles, although there is also a half marathon option. Competitors battle across the ice, braving the excruciatingly low temperatures.
With huge variations in terrain and weather conditions from one year to the next, it is impossible to establish an average finish time. However, in 2013, Fiona Oakes of the UK finished the women’s event in a record time of 4 hours, 20 minutes, and 2 seconds. The men’s event winner, Petr Vabrousek of the Czech Republic, also set a record that year, finishing in 3 hours, 34 minutes and 47 seconds.
6. Lewa Safari Marathon
For those willing to literally run for their lives, the Lewa Safari Marathon presents the unique opportunity to race through northern Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Running a marathon through an African wildlife conservancy presents some unique challenges, with participants sharing the reserve with various species of large predator, including lion, leopard, wild dog, and hyena.
Known for being one of the most challenging and rewarding marathons in the world, the Lewa Safari Marathon follows the conservancy’s dirt roads, the route leading participants across the savannah, trailing riverbanks, and then on through acacia woodland. More than just a personal challenge for participants, the Lewa Safari Challenge has raised vital funding for Kenyan conservation projects for more than two decades. By participating, each competitor supports local people and raises awareness of the threats posed to African wildlife.