The World’s Best Marathons

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The London Marathon is one of the best running events in the world, but it’s not the easiest marathon to get a place in, with the ballot heavily oversubscribed every year. Of course, if you are struggling to land a London entry, there are plenty more marathons to sign up for in the UK, from big-city races to country trails and coastal paths – but if you fancy something a bit different you could do worse than treat yourself to a running holiday. These marathons from all over the world all come highly recommended by runners, plus you get to enjoy exploring a new destination – once you’ve got the small matter of 42.2km out of the way, that is.

Marathon de Paris


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Great for sightseeing, the Paris route starts on the Champs-Élysées and winds its way past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame and along the banks of the Seine. Next race 3rd April 2022,

“I took my mum with me for a long weekend in Paris when I ran as she’d never been before, so she got to see the sights and I got some support as well.

“It’s a good way to see a lot of the major landmarks and starting with the Arc de Triomphe behind you is pretty amazing. Paris is a beautiful city and the run takes you through some of the parks, which you probably wouldn’t see on a standard visit to the city. It’s a very international race with all kinds of runners from all over the world.

“My only disappointment was that it wasn’t as well supported as London. You can’t beat a London crowd.” – Royston Crandley, security trainer

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon

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The world’s oldest annual marathon, Boston holds a certain prestige among runners as you need to gain a qualifying time to register, with only the fastest runners in age and gender groups selected. For men aged 18-34, the qualifying time is 3hr, and for women 18-34 it’s 3hr 30min, with the target times rising for older age groups. Next race 18th April 2022,

“When I ran it in 2015, it was as part of a challenge to run eight marathons in 20 days on three continents. I’d finished the Marathon des Sables [250km across the Sahara] five days earlier and after Boston I was coming back to run the London Marathon. I went to just get round but ended up having one of those runs where everything clicks and got a good time.

“The course is tough but, like most US marathons, the support is brilliant – the crowds whoop it up to 11. You hear a lot about the notorious Heartbreak Hill that comes 20 miles into the race and has taken down many a runner, but it’s not until you hit those last six miles that you realise just how much impact the hills have had.

“Boston has a special finish. It’s marked on the road year round and is a symbol of how the race has a special place in the hearts of the people of the city.” – Kieran Alger, journalist

Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon


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Organised by UK charity Street Child, the Sierra Leone Marathon raises money to provide education and support children devastated by Ebola. Next race 1st-6th June 2022,

“I went to the first Sierra Leone Marathon in 2012 as my company, Tokio Marine Kiln, was the main sponsor. I’ve since done the half and this year I’m going to volunteer.

“One of the great things about going with Street Child is that you have a couple of days beforehand to see the projects you’re raising money for. Seeing that the money you or your company have raised is enough to build a school in a rural area where they don’t have electricity and have never had a school before makes all the running just fall into the background. You only need to raise £40 to send a child to school for a whole year.

“On the marathon itself you pass through a wide range of scenery, incredibly beautiful countryside and jungle, and mud-hut villages where the kids come out and start jumping up and down and high-fiving you. Street Child has a big presence in the city of Makeni where the race finishes, so people will say ‘thank you’ as you run past – the whole atmosphere is amazing. The main challenge is the heat. You set off early in the morning but when I ran it got up to 38°C with 90% humidity, which can be hard to cope with when you get to mile 20.

“The race has lots of local runners as well as international runners, and 2016 is the first big marathon since Ebola, so it’s important for helping people gain confidence in visiting the country.” – Simon Bianco, energy underwriter

Rio Marathon


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If Rio de Janeiro isn’t near the top of your holiday bucket list then we’re going to assume you’ve already been. And what better place to relax after a marathon than the white sands of Copacabana beach? We’d recommend taking the train up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer though – your legs won’t appreciate the hike. Next race June 2022 (date TBC),

“My favourite marathon in the world is the Rio Marathon. It’s a top-tier experience while a little exotic and different compared with the more obvious major world marathons.

“The start is 42km away from Central Rio, so you have a chance to mingle with the locals and calm your nerves on the bus ride to the start.

“The mostly flat point-to-point course runs along the beach the entire way through the most famous beaches in Rio – Barra, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo – while Christ the Redeemer and the Serra do Mar mountains provide an excellent backdrop for your marathon photos.” – Jessica Frey, CEO, Virgin Sport

Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromsø, Norway


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Because of the city’s location within the Arctic Circle there’s 24-hour daylight, so you get to run in the light at night. Next race 18th June 2022,

“For me travelling and running go hand in hand. I try to steer away from the mainstream races and go to cool places for the stories and the adventure.

“At Tromsø the race starts at 8pm so you finish around midnight, but it’s still light. Even though the sun’s out the temperature drops at night so it’s cold – it’s all very surreal. You lose all sense of time.

“The course crosses the island through villages and past churches, and even though it’s late people are sitting outside their houses cheering you on. All the bars and restaurants are still open, so when you approach the town centre you get some very loud support and, of course, you can join them when you finish. You have to take it in.” – Alan Li, elevated service and support engineer

Lewa Safaricom Marathon, Kenya


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Set on dirt roads across savannah plains and through acacia woodland, the Lewa Safaricom Marathon is held in a wildlife conservancy home to elephant herds, buffalo, giraffes and more. Runners raise funds to support conservation, education and local community programmes. Next race 25th June 2022,

“I was in Kenya researching my book Running With The Kenyans when I took part in the Lewa Marathon. It’s not often you get to run through a wildlife conservancy where lions are roaming. Not to mention cheetahs and rhinos. For safety there was a helicopter circling above and spectators were only allowed to stand at water stations where there were armed guards on hand. Luckily I didn’t see any lions, but I did get a bit too close to an ostrich, which was rather nerve-racking.

“Lewa is quite a tough race: it’s hot, hilly and at altitude, but the epic scenery and being out in the wilds on foot was thrilling – and occasionally a bit scary. It’s amazing to race in Kenya, the country of the world’s greatest marathon runners, and the supporters got particularly excited every time I passed because I was the first mzungu (white person). The whole thing was an experience I’ll never forget.” – Adharanand Finn, author of The Way Of The Runner and Running With The Kenyans

Le Marathon du Médoc, Bordeaux


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The slowest marathon you’ll ever run, Médoc takes in Bordeaux’s vineyards with 23 wine stops and local specialities such as foie gras served up on route. Fancy dress is mandatory and the atmosphere is “party”. Next race 10th September 2022,

“I honestly believe Marathon du Médoc is the best race in the world – and I’m saying that as someone who doesn’t like wine. Marathons are hard and typically they’re solo ventures, you’re running in your own little world, but Médoc is big groups of people running together in fancy dress and having a huge party.

“The weather’s great and the scenery as you run through local vineyards and past chateaux is beautiful. You stop off at each vineyard to try the wine and there’s an amazing atmosphere at each one with bands, cheese, ham, oysters, bread… And every village you pass, people are out cheering and offering you snacks and drinks. I’ve run it three times now and I tend to go with a massive group of friends. We usually have a big night the night before, but this is the type of race that it’s absolutely fine to do with a hangover.

“All of my personal worst marathon times have been at Médoc. In fact, I was the last finisher a few years ago. I could have gone slower but there was a group of monks ringing bells bringing up the rear. You had to stay ahead of them to stay in the run.” – David Hellard, member of the British Military Fitness Race Team and co-host of the Bad Boy Running Podcast

Berlin Marathon


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Flat and fast, Berlin is the race where most marathon world records have been set, including the current one – 2hr 1min 39sec by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge in 2018. Along with Tokyo, Boston, London, Chicago and New York City, Berlin is one of the World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and best-known marathons in the world. It’s not easy to get a spot in the Berlin Marathon and this year’s ballot results have already been announced, but you can secure a place by signing up with a running holiday company like Destination Sport Experiences who will also sort out your accommodation. Next race 25th September 2022,

“Berlin attracts some of the best runners in the world but it’s not just for PB chasers. Just like in London you get all kinds of people taking part – people with different speeds, people dressed as dogs and spacemen, people from all across the world… Plus it’s a great city to celebrate in afterwards.

“The course starts in the city centre on a dead straight road, which is cool as you can see crowds behind and in front so you get a sense of just how big it all is and how many people are running. The route loops around the outside of the city and finishes under the Brandenburg Gate, where the crowds are massive and hundreds of people are out cheering you.

“I’d definitely recommend it, even if just to say you’ve run on a world-record course.” – Ben Rajan, automotive engineer

New York City Marathon


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Everything’s always bigger in America, including their races. With more than 51,000 finishers in 2016, New York is the world’s largest marathon and one of the six Marathon Majors. Next race 6th November 2022,

“The race begins on Staten Island. You get the ferry to the start and as you pass the Statue of Liberty you get a real sense of where you are. The race itself crosses five bridges and goes through all five boroughs of New York – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. You’re running through neighbourhoods so you get a chance to see a different side of the city and I think it’s the local communities that really make the race. Everybody lines the streets and cheers, and church choirs and bands come out in each neighbourhood. It’s definitely the best-supported marathon I’ve run.

“As you come into Manhattan there’s just a big wall of noise and the last five miles as you’re coming to the finish in Central Park are packed with supporters. It’s such a great place: the expo is brilliant, the streets are wide and hardly anyone runs in fancy dress so you’re not going to get beaten by Buzz Lightyear.” – Simon Hazel, geologist

Athens Authentic Marathon


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This is where it all began. The marathon was introduced in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The race between the town of Marathon and Athens follows the route run by the messenger Pheidippides in ancient Greece to announce victory in battle over the Persians. Next race 13th November 2022 (date TBC),

“I signed up for Athens two days after my first marathon in London. I’d run my home marathon and I liked the idea of running in the home of the marathon.

“On the day of the race, coaches take you to the starting point in Marathon. Local families come out of their houses with olive branches [a traditional symbol of goodwill], handing them to as many runners as they can. You’ll see some people trying to run the whole distance carrying them.

“The route itself is one long road back to Athens; you don’t pass many villages, there’s a 12km hill, and until you get to the city the crowds are sparse, but you don’t care because you’re running from Marathon to Athens and that’s always in the back of your mind. You finish in the original Olympic stadium with the Acropolis over your shoulder, and you forget all about the 42km before because you’re in this amazing, historic place. Plus you get to eat your way around the city afterwards, which is exactly why I’m hooked on running.” – Sasha Watson, management consultant

Walt Disney World Marathon, Florida


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You run through the Disney parks and get cheered on by Mickey! Next race 8th January 2023,

“You run through all four parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot – and everyone dresses up, plus you get to go on a roller coaster in the middle of it. You start running early in the morning before the parks open and have your photo taken as you run past Cinderella’s castle. At Animal Kingdom you can ride the Expedition Everest rollercoaster, which gives you a major energy rush, and all the way round there’s so much awesome stuff to look at and Disney characters you can stop and have your photo taken with. Once the parks open, all the people visiting are cheering you on, so there’s great support.

“Runners stop off at the bars and food stalls to get something to eat or drink. People cross the line holding margaritas and beers. I went for a giant turkey leg.

“If you’re going to Disney don’t run for a good time, run for the amazing experience instead.” – Rhia Docherty, volunteer refugee worker

London Marathon

London Marathon

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With crowds as raucous as New York’s and a course that’s almost as fast as Berlin’s, the London Marathon is a truly great marathon both for PB-seekers and for those just looking to have a good time. It’s not the easiest to get into as a result – the ballot for the 2022 event is already closed, but you can still apply for a charity place.

The route starts in Greenwich and finishes in the shadow of Buckingham Palace on the Mall. Two of the biggest highlights along the way are passing the crowds at Cutty Sark and going over Tower Bridge, where the noise of the crowd is almost deafening. Next race 2nd October 2022,

“I very much enjoyed the race – what an experience! The crowd were immense and my fellow runners were very supportive. Everyone is cheering you on and that was without doubt the main reason I got myself over the line.” – Marc Gadian, journalist

Running The Jerusalem Marathon

One of the best ways to discover a new city is to put on your trainers and just run. Yes, you need to be aware of no-go areas and have a rough idea how to get back again, but there’s a lot to be said for getting a little bit lost. Going out and exploring gives you a real feel for the city on the ground; you discover hidden parks, interesting restaurants and tiny shops, winding backstreets and neighbourhoods you’d miss on the main tourist trail.

Wherever I go in the world I pack my trainers, and it’s now an excuse to travel in the first place. Pick somewhere you’ve always wanted to go but haven’t really had reason, find a half marathon or marathon to run and book it. In March this year, that’s how I found myself in Jerusalem. Not a place I’d ever really thought of visiting, but when Coach asked me if I wanted to run the marathon there… Well, of course I did.

My knowledge of Jerusalem was limited to a vague recollection of Bible stories at primary school. I didn’t realise until the taxi pulled up after the transfer from Ben Gurion Airport just how hilly it is. Really, really, chuffing hilly! Jerusalem is built on seven of the things. All I could think was: “Shit, I have to run up those hills!” The highest point on the marathon course, Mount Scopus, home to the Hebrew University, is 826 metres above sea level, rewarding runners with amazing views across the city and over to the Dead Sea.

And no hill is just a hill: the Mount of Olives is the spot where Jesus is said to have ascended to Heaven. Similarly no church just a church: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of his crucifixion. But to think of Jerusalem only in terms of history is to do it a disservice. Just like every city, people of all ages live and work here – there are modern shopping centres, office blocks and a fun nightlife. And the food is fantastic.

Unfortunately, two days before the race a long-standing medical problem flared up and I found myself in an Israeli hospital. It left me exhausted with haemoglobin levels too low to run 26.2 miles and, weirdly, I was gutted that I couldn’t take on those hills after all. Luckily the marathon is part of a whole day’s festival of running.

Founded by the mayor, a keen runner, in 2011, the marathon festival is designed to bring people of all faiths and backgrounds together to enjoy being active. Alongside the full marathon there’s a half marathon, a 10km and a 5km course designed for families, with around 30,000 people taking part in all the races this year (2,000 for the marathon). I figured if I couldn’t do the full, I could at least have a crack at the half, which covered much of the same route.

The race itself took place on a Friday, to allow for the sabbath, and started at 6.45am (ouch) before the heat of the day hit. While I couldn’t run the whole way – rather, shuffle for 30 seconds then walk for five minutes – once I’d got over the pride factor of being overtaken by someone running in flip-flops, I loved this race. It was one of the most interesting official routes I’ve run, taking you through local neighbourhoods, along cobbled streets on the outskirts of the Old City and past the Western Wall where worshippers gather to see in the sabbath singing, dancing and praying every Friday evening. At certain points the marathon and half marathon course merge and you find yourself running alongside the elites – this year’s winner was Shadrack Kipkosgei from Kenya in 2hr 16min 33sec.

The atmosphere was great throughout. The streets weren’t crowded but the support was joyous and enthusiastic; there were people on stilts giving you high fives, supporters dressed as superheroes crouching on the ancient city walls and big groups of young people running together singing. I finished in around 2hr 42min – a massive personal worst and more than an hour slower than my usual half marathon time – but there was so much to see it felt like one of the quickest races I’d ever done. It taught me that pace isn’t everything. When you’re running abroad the best advice I can give you is to look around, enjoy it, and run for a good time not a fast time. That, and get insurance. Next year, Jerusalem, I’m coming for those hills properly.

Five things I've learned racing abroad

1. Get insurance

You might only be going away for a couple of days, but if you lose your luggage and have to buy new trainers, or end up needing medical care outside the EU, you’re going to have to shell out. If I hadn’t spent £30 on annual insurance I’d be down around £600 after my hospital trip.

2. Leave time to pick up your race number

Check when booking whether you have to collect it from the marathon expo. Going to a race in Paris, I booked a Eurostar that got in about 8pm the night before, only to realise I needed to pick up my number by 5pm. If you don’t get your number in time you may not be able to run.

3. Take food and race nutrition with you

Stuffing your face with local food is all part of the fun, but if you always have porridge on the morning of a race and use tried and tested gels throughout the run, trying to find what you’re looking for overseas can be an added stress. So take some with you.

4. Plan something relaxing for the next day

The day after a race your legs may well be useless, so it’s not the best time to be hiking to the top of a mountain and climbing a tower. In Jerusalem I took a trip to the Dead Sea and just floated about for the day, before heading to Israel’s second city, Tel Aviv, for a night out.

5. Read the race info before you go

Some countries, such as France, require you to have a medical form signed by a doctor saying you’re fit to run. Make sure you check this and contact your local surgery before you go – most doctors charge a small fee for this service.

More About Marathon Running

Charlotte Thomas

Charlotte Thomas is a freelance journalist and health and fitness blogger at Lunges & Lycra.

With contributions from