Great Britain’s Mo Farah ran 10,000 meters (approximately 6.2 miles) in just a hair over 27 minutes, 30 seconds en route to the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Farah, who’ll defend his title in a few months at the Rio Games, insists that gym ball crunches and a pasta- and grilled-chicken-filled diet are the keys to his success.
And while those are great tips, we’d like to add that seeing stunning scenery and listening to live bands while running and resting up at Forbes Travel Guide-approved hotels are great ways to help with your time, too. Since you probably won’t be lining up alongside Farah anytime soon, we found the next best things at marathon starting lines from California to China.
Maratona di Roma
Race day: April 10
There must be something magical about attempting extreme physical feats in the shadows of iconic venues such as the Colosseum and Circus Maximus. We’re not really sure how else to explain why more than 11,000 marathoners (and another 50,000 entrants in the 5K) took to the Rome streets in 2015.
But even beyond those famed landmarks, the race — this 22nd edition will commemorate the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that’s taking place through November — also passes sights like Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls and Castel Sant’Angelo. If you can overcome the urge to stop for photo ops, you’ll be rewarded at the finish with a medal that has a “2016 Jubilee Edition” inscription on it.
Check in here: Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel & Spa. It doesn’t matter if you need a carb-rich pre-race meal (Pauline Borghese) or an open space for some post-race training (Villa Borghese park is next door), this regal address answers the call.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Race day: November 13
Not counting the time you had to storm through a crowd to make your 7 p.m. reservation at Scarpetta, you’ve never needed to exert much physically around Sin City. But with this event, we’ve finally found something in the city that’s more focused on electrolytes in your body than bright lights and dinging slot machines.
As is the case with all of the other Rock ‘n’ Roll races around the globe, live music will be heard strategically along the route cutting through Las Vegas Boulevard. Acts like Kissed Alive and Count’s 77 will help you push along the course while a yet-unnamed headliner (Kid Rock performed last year) will await you at the finish line.
Check in here: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. While music and medals are great, the real prize comes when you check into your room here. Mere minutes from the three-mile marker, this Four-Star has plenty for those suffering from sore limbs (Sahra Spa & Hammam) and famished stomachs (18 eateries).
Rio de Janeiro Marathon
Race day: May 29
Mo Farah and the other medal contenders won’t start competing for Olympic glory until early August, so consider this Rio race as a sort of warm-up to the Summer Games action. With a dynamic route stretching from Recreio to Copacabana — all sorts of beautiful coastlines and verdant scenes will be in your peripheral view — this race easily earns a gold medal for its logistics.
If you don’t think you have quite what it takes to endure the whole marathon, opt for the less-strenuous Olympikus Family Run on the same day. Though it’s only a 6K, any finisher is still considered a winner in our book.
Check in here: Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro. Not that being within walking distance of the race’s course isn’t wonderful enough, but this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star treat also manages to run circles around the competition when it comes to aesthetics (89 dazzling rooms and suites) and amenities (jaw-dropping rooftop bar).
Great Wall Marathon
Race day: May 21
This unforgettable Beijing race is one of the most challenging marathons in the world, but it’s worth it to be able to say you conquered the UNESCO World Heritage site’s thousands of steps.
It’s an uphill climb at the start, as you have to trek toward the wall entrance, but then the route merges with the Great Wall of China itself. Expect to cover brick paths, village trails and one notoriously steep “Goat Track.”
Check in here: Waldorf Astoria Beijing. Back in the city, stay in this recently opened hotel. Top-notch amenities like tablet-controlled room technology and electronic toilets will make you forget the grit of the painstaking ascent to the wall and leave only pleasant memories of the triumphant views as you recline in a silk-lined suite.
Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris
Race day: April 3
One of the largest in the world, this marathon draws nearly 60,000 runners to Paris. Starting at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe, the race carves its path through the City of Light along the Champs-Élysées, follows the Seine and trails by the most well-known sites, including the Louvre, Place de la Bastille, Notre Dame cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. After completing this circuit, you won’t need to tour the city.
There’s also a non-timed 5K held the day before the marathon that’s perfect for rookie runners, the Paris Breakfast Run, that finishes at the Eiffel Tower.
Check in here: Le Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris. A convenient five-minute walk from the marathon’s starting line, this impressive palace hotel is where you should fuel up. Carbo load at the Le Royal Monceau’s Il Carpaccio, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
Virgin Money London Marathon
Race day: April 24
The London race will hit a spectacular milestone this year, as it is poised to welcome its millionth runner at the finishing line. But before you start planning your post-race victory party, you’ll have to pass underneath London Bridge and over the Tower Bridge and wind through Greenwich to make it to the end at Buckingham Palace. Keep an eye out for the costumed racers around you — past participants have dressed up like a penguin, a double-decker bus and a snail.
Dozens of pubs along the route are hosting special marathon-themed events so spectators can raise a glass (preferably filled with the official marathon beer, London Pride) to the race.
Check in here: Claridge’s. This Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel places you close to the action at the finish line but far enough away to be removed from the madness. The Art Deco gem was a favorite of stars like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant back in the day but now, it’s your luxe race-day home base.
The route starts in Nice, at the gorgeous Albert 1st Gardens. From there, travel to Cannes, passing through quaint Mediterranean villages. It’s almost a lesson in the history of French architecture, from the Belle Epoque Hotel Negresco to the finish line at the Beaux Arts InterContinental Carlton Cannes.
Check in here: Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel. The French Riviera has plenty of accommodations, but this glamorous hotel wins us over. The retreat sits halfway between Nice and Monte Carlo, with 17 acres of gardens, an enormous saltwater pool and a peaceful spa.
Big Sur International Marathon
Race day: April 24
While New York and Boston may have more prestigious races, Big Sur boasts impressive scenery that deserves a spot on anyone’s marathon bucket list. The largest rural marathon in the world, Big Sur brings you through winding Highway 1 along towering redwoods, peaceful meadows and craggy cliffs with dramatic ocean views.
Expect gentler terrain in the beginning, but things get more difficult at Mile 10, when you climb up the dreaded 560-foot Hurricane Point. Reserve your energy for the last 13 miles, when you’ll hit about 13 other hills.
This popular race sells out quickly — 2016 is fully booked — so reserve early for 2017.
Check in here: L’Auberge Carmel. After crossing the finish line in charming Carmel, head to this nearby Four-Star European-style inn. It sits only blocks from the beach, and chef Justin Cogley’s modern California cuisine at the hotel’s outstanding Five-Star Aubergine is the best reward for a job well done.
BMO Vancouver Marathon
Race day: May 1
Runners from more than 50 countries will fly to Vancouver for the 45th anniversary of this race. You’ll tour the Canadian city, as the course leads you through 12 neighborhoods, six beaches, three parks and the picturesque Seawall, the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. The best part is the views — you’ll get a glimpse of everything from snow-capped mountain ranges to cherry blossom trees. Even better: 70 percent of the race offers shoreline vistas.
This year, organizers added a 2.5K walk to encourage more people to enter and tripled the size of the free three-day Health, Sports & Lifestyle Expo, which debuted in 2015.
Check in here: Fairmont Pacific Rim. About a quarter mile from the finish line, this Four-Star hotel delivers unobstructed views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park and Coal Harbour. Head to its Willow Stream Spa for the Van Active Feet, a lower-leg and foot treatment that revitalizes runners, and then visit the spa’s deck for Jacuzzis, an infrared sauna, meditation pods and more city and harbor panoramas.
Nantucket Half Marathon
Race day: October 9
This 13.1-mile run may be small — the race field is less than 400 people — but it lands on our list because it is in Nantucket, an exclusive, unique destination, and has a small-town feel.
One of the most scenic half marathon courses on the East Coast, the route traverses gravel and dirt roads (some with challenging but short sandy sections), tree-lined bike paths and lightly traveled streets with Atlantic Ocean views. The course is gently rolling, but you are never more than a few feet above sea level. It will show you different sides to the charming island.
Check in here: The White Elephant or The Wauwinet. Keep close to the action by staying in The White Elephant. The in-town Four-Star hotel is a 10-minute stroll to the cobblestone-lined Main Street and its boutiques and restaurants. To revel in the quieter side of the island, check into The Wauwinet, a Four-Star hotel that sits across Nantucket Bay next to the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge.
Race day: September 25
For one of Europe’s top marathons, join more than 45,000 participants in racing through Germany’s capital as a million spectators cheer you on. A slew of live bands plays everything from classical to jazz to samba along the course to keep you energized.
As you make your way on the flat track, you’ll spy Berlin landmarks like the 230-foot-tall Victory Column, popular Potsdamer Platz and the tree-lined Unter den Linden. The grand finale is passing through the iconic Brandenburg Gate before hitting the finish line.
Check in here: Hotel Adlon Kempinski. Just steps from Brandenburg Gate, this 1907 hotel is the place to rest your weary limbs. Book a room facing Pariser Platz to get a view of the tourist-filled square and then reserve a bespoke massage or a water-based watsu treatment at the spa.
Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon
Race day: March 6
While we typically travel to Napa for the wine, this race offers another compelling reason to visit the picturesque area. The marathon follows the winery-dotted Silverado Trail while dipping into quaint St. Helena and Yountville and ending in downtown Napa.
Despite the surrounding rolling vine-strewn fields (which you will experience firsthand for the first six miles), most of the course is flat and downhill, reaching about 380 feet above sea level to 80 feet above sea level at the finish line.
Check in here: Calistoga Ranch, An Auberge Resort. This serene Four-Star hotel resides in sleepy Calistoga, which is also the starting point for the race. Return here after vanquishing the 26.2 miles to replenish yourself in the Four-Star spa’s mineral pool — the area’s hot springs are known for their therapeutic qualities, which help in post-race recovery — or try a restorative milk and honey bath or a peaceful cabernet soak.