The Most Unique Marathons In The World

Running a marathon is not for the faint of heart. While most people think running 26.2 miles for fun is crazy, others are addicted to the distance.

Throughout the world, there are countless marathons with various themes, destinations, and purposes. But some are much different from the mainstream marathons that we typically think of. Some marathons are set in hostile climates, while others involve running next to free-ranging lions! Whether they’re fun and goofy or downright dangerous in their intensity, see which marathons stand out amongst the rest in the world.

One race starts at the lowest point in North America and ends at the highest summit.

The Man Vs. Horse Marathon Started With a Pub Argument

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Held in the town of Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, the Man Versus Horse Marathon is an annual event each June. Runners on foot compete against riders on horseback in a 22-mile race. The race came about after an argument in a Welsh pub in 1980.

Two men were arguing that after a significant distance, a man could beat a horse in a race and the other disagreed. The first race was then organized that year. Since its inception, a horse has won every year up until 2004 when a man named Huw Lobb won. A human took the title again in 2007 when Florian Holzinger finished the race first.

You Have To Hike For 15 Days Before You Can Run The Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon

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The Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon is an international marathon that is located at the Mt. Everest Base Camp. The race follows through the sherpa trails of the Khumbu Valley on May 29th every year.

There are a variety of races people can participate in ranging from the Extreme Ultra (60 km), Full Marathon (42 km), and the Half Marathon (21 km). The marathon is a tribute to the ascent of Mt. Everest by Late Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. As if the marathon itself isn’t hard enough, it’s a 15-day hike to get to the Base Camp.

The Pack Burro Race Is An Homage To The Goldrush

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The Pack Burro Race in Fairplay, Colorado is an annual race involving a human runner and a burro. It is an homage to the Goldrush era, and all competitors complete an off-road marathon along with their donkey which carries approximately 33 pounds of mining equipment. Must-have items include a pick-ax, shovel, and gold pan.

There are short-course and long-course races depending on the competitor’s preference. Runners are forbidden from riding the donkey and any sign of abuse to the animal results in immediate disqualification. There is prize money for the first eight racers to cross the finish line as well as bragging rights until next year.

The Badwater 135 Ultramarathon Takes You From The Lowest To Highest Points

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The Badwater 135 has been described as being one of the world’s hardest footraces. It is a 135-mile straight shot from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, California. The race begins in the Badwater Basin of Death Valley, the lowest elevation in North America, and finishes at the summit of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the United States.

The race covers three whole mountain ranges with 6,100 feet of cumulative descent. Throughout the race, the runners travel through many landmarks, in temperatures over 110 degrees. It is a non-stop run from start to finish with all winners completing in less than 24 hours.

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The Big Five Marathon Lets You Run With African Wildlife

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The Big Five Marathon is located in the savannahs of South Africa. The race gets its name from the Big Five Games which are: lions, elephants, leopard, buffalo, and rhinos. The course travels through the private enclosures between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park.

Although the runners are running in view of free-roaming wildlife, the animals and runners are closely watched by helicopters and armed rangers to prevent any accidents. The marathon is revered for its beauty as well as difficulty running in the South African sun. The Big Five Marathon hosted its first race in 2005 and has been held annually since.

The North Pole Marathon Will Have You Running In Circles

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The North Pole Marathon came about after solo runner Richard Donovan unofficially ran it back in 2002. He had also won the South Pole Marathon 10 weeks prior and became the first person to complete marathons at both poles.

The first official North Pole Marathon happened on April 17, 2003, with ten brave competitors. The race is on a small 2.62 mile-long loop on the ice of the Arctic Ocean which competitors then run around ten times. There are individual competitions with a male and female division, team competitions, and even a half marathon.

The Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Is A Real Party

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The Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series has been a Las Vegas tradition for over 20 years. It combines running the marathon course while jamming out to live bands, cheer teams, and all kinds of action.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and half marathon are the only night that the Las Vegas strip is closed because of a private event, so they do it big. Along with the live entertainment, there is also a pre and post-run headline concert and a stop on the course where couples can tie the knot if they’re feeling the love that night. Sounds more like a party than a marathon!

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Tusk’s Safaricom Marathon Is A Big Deal In Kenya

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The Tusk’s Safaricom Marathon and Half Marathon take place in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya’s Laikipia district. It has been an annual race since 2000 and is considered to be one of the hardest marathons around.

It welcomes competitors of all abilities with some participants using the race as a way to get up close and personal with the wildlife on the conservatory. The marathon is one of Kenya’s biggest fundraising and sporting events and is considered a “must do” by the world’s top marathon runners.

The Midnight Sun Marathon Can Only Happen In The Summer

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Beginning in 1989, the Midnight Sun Marathon offers races for all ages and skill levels. However, it’s the full marathon that makes it such a unique race. Located in Tromsø, Norway, the run occurs during the midnight sun.

The midnight sun is a phenomenon in which the sun remains visible at midnight during the summer months in places north of the Article Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. Running at night during this particular time of the year gives the runners a whole new marathon experience. It’s yet another marathon that is highly regarded by marathon lovers because it can’t happen anywhere else.

The Marathon De Sables Is Brutal And Dangerous

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Described by the Discovery Channel as “the toughest footrace on Earth,” the Marathon De Sables is a six-day multi-stage race across the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Participants must be self-sufficient carrying their food, water, and gear with them at all times during the race. The race is over 156 miles through dunes, salt plains, rocky mountains, and other harsh conditions.

Although water rations are provided, if you exceed your rations you receive a time penalty. It is truly a marathon of warriors that are willing to put their lives on the line to successfully cross the finish line. Started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, it has become an annual event that draws adventurers from all over the globe every year.

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The Great Wall Marathon Is Historic And A Bit Hairy

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Held on the third Saturday of May each year, the Great Wall Marathon travels along the Huangya Pass, Tianjin section of the Great Wall of China located East of Bejing.

Since starting in 1999, it has been described as one of the hardest marathons around with thousands of stairs to ascend and descend. It is the first and longest international marathon that is entirely on the Great Wall of China. Because of this, there are numerous hazards associated with the race such as loose stones, weak steps, and slippery conditions if wet.

Marathon du Medoc Will Test How You Hold Your Liquor

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The Marathon du Medoc in Bordeaux, France, combines wine, running, and hanging out with friends. The marathon is an exact 26.2 miles through the scenic vineyards of Frances Medoc region. Here, they are expected to have 23 glasses of wine throughout the race while wearing the most ridiculous clothing possible.

They are also provided with snacks such as oysters, foie gras, steak, cheese, and more. The point of the marathon isn’t to get a good time but to have a good time participating in one of the most backward marathons on earth. It’s a marathon not for the faint of heart and definitely for those who can hold their liquor.

The Only Man To Complete An Underwater Marathon

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Back in 2003, serial marathoner, Lloyd Scott managed to perform a marathon under Loch Ness in Scotland. He also broke the record for being the first man ever to complete an underwater marathon. Wearing a 121-proud antique diving suit, it took him 12 days to complete.

This wasn’t his first epic marathon, but he notes that it was one of his hardest. During his underwater travels, he fell 26 feet off a 328-foot ledge before being caught by his safety line. He recalls that there was minimal visibility the whole time and that it was a freezing and eerie experience.

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Polar Night Half Marathon Is Cold Yet Spectacular

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Although the Polar Night Half Marathon is only half the distance of a typical marathon, it’s still quite daunting. However, the main draw to it is the beauty of the route and ability to see the aurora borealis while running. It happens annually at the beginning of January during the Polar night, when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon.

Participants follow torches lining the trail so that the aurora borealis isn’t affected by light pollution. Even though it isn’t a full marathon, it is still recommended by running fanatics because it’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else since it’s the northernmost half marathon in the world.

Grand To Grand Ultramarathon Is The Ultimate Way To See The Grand Canyon

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The Grand to Grand Ultramarathon takes place in six stages over the course of seven days. In total, it’s 170 miles stretching from the starting point at the north rim of the Grand Canyon and finishing at the summit of the Grand Staircase. During the course, you travel through sand dunes, slot canyons, open desert, buttes, and more.

The race is also completely self-supported meaning that you must rely on yourself and your own equiptment to get through each of the stages on a daily basis. The race occurs at the end of September each year, which can mean very hot temperatures during the day and cold at night.

The Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Pichu Has The Most Impressive Finish Line

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Also considered to be one of the hardest marathons in the world, the Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Pichu is not for the faint of heart. It is 26.2 miles along Inca trails, stairs, and tunnels with a gain of 10,400 feet and a loss of 11,000 feet in elevation.

However, the finishing line is at the legendary ancient lost city of Machu Pichu. The first Inca Trail Marathon was in 1996 although there is no “official” marathon because it is located in a national park. Runners don’t wear bib numbers, and there is a limited amount of participants accepted each year.

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The Jungle Ultramarathon Will Chew You Up And Spit You Out

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The Jungle Ultramarathon is located in the Manu National Park in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. The terrain ranges from jungle to rainforest to cloud forest. It’s a 143-mile race that is split into five stages of grueling and relentless conditions.

Throughout the race, runners can expect to encounter river crossings, heavy rain, mudslides, and night running. It’s a self-sufficient race, so runners are responsible for carrying their gear with only water being available at the checkpoints.

Jungfrau Marathon

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The Jungfrau Marathon in Interlaken, Switzerland is a race to the top of Jungfrau mountain in the Bernese Alps. Although the race may not seem like a big deal at first, things pick up the pace as soon as you reach the steep slopes of the mountains.

From there, it’s a non-stop uphill battle that would bring any sane person to their knees. Runners quickly ascend the mountain and end 2,100 meters above sea level with a panoramic view of the Alps. While running, there’s also the occasional bagpipe player to help you press on and try to forget about the cold.

The Big Sur Marathon Is A Must-Do For Running Lovers

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The Big Sur Marathon starts in Big Sur and ends in Carmel, California. It follows along Highway 1, the nation’s first nationally-designated Scenic Highway. The route features views of redwood forests, a 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean, coastal mountains, and pastures.

The most iconic portion of the race is crossing the Bixby Bridge which is at the halfway point of the race. It is the world’s largest rural marathon and is considered by many marathon runners to be at the top of the list of must-do races. To top it all off, at the end of the race, runners are greeted by a musician playing a grand piano.

Walt Disney World Marathon Takes You Through Four Different Disney Parks

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The Walt Disney World Marathon is an annual race held every January in Orlando, Florida. It takes place over an entire weekend with a series of competitions including a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Marathon, as well as Goofy and Dopey Challenges.

The first marathon was held in 1994 and had 5,588 runners and has been a staple of Walt Disney World since. It is hosted by runDisney, with the full marathon taking place in four Walt Disney Parks such as the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom.