If you’re going to set a big goal like running a marathon, you might as well make it as easy to achieve as possible. And anything you can do to ensure the 26.2-mile run is as painless as possible is a smart tactic. So why run through the ho-hum streets of your hometown when you can race through stunning scenery in a far-flung locale? Consider this list of the world’s best marathon locations to inspire you to lace up and get training:
Race day: November 9, 2014
Run the race where it all started: The trek begins on an ancient battlefield in the town of Marathon. This course is challenging, as it begins near the Aegean Sea and climbs up toward Athens. But we think the chance to follow in Pheidippides’ footsteps from Marathon to Athens, passing by the Tomb of Marathon where the Athenian soldiers who died in the legendary battle are buried, makes up for any uphill discomfort, especially when you reach the finish line at the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896. It also doesn’t hurt that this is the same route as the 2004 Summer Olympics marathon, so you can channel your inner champion.
Check in here: Hotel Grande Bretagne stays true to the spirit of Greece with classic Greek décor (grand columns, intricate moldings) and unrivaled views of the city’s historical landmarks such as the Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill. The luxe hotel is less than a mile from the finish line, and you can catch a bus from Greek Parliament across the street to venture to Marathon.
Race day: March 1, 2015
With a smaller field than most—organizers accept only 2,300 racers annually—the Napa Valley Marathon allows runners some elbowroom. The route runs along the Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley, and winds south from Calistoga down to Napa. The scenery? It’s simply stunning, with views of the valley, fruit trees and dormant vineyards flanked with gold-colored mustard flowers. Except for the last stretch into Napa, this is a rural race—just you, the road and Wine Country. It’s a great race for beginners, as the majority of the course is downhill (with the exception of the oh-so-beautiful rolling hills in the first six miles). Keep in mind that you can’t use headphones, but the picturesque surroundings make up for the lack of tunes.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Calistoga Ranch features a Four-Star spa with bath therapies using water from local hot springs. Located about four miles from the start, guests can take advantage of the resort’s Mercedes-Benz Drive Program and go for a spin (to the start line) in the newest model.
Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris
Race day: April 12, 2015
Some say there’s no better way to see the City of Light than by entering the Paris Marathon—the course runs beside the banks of the Seine and past some of the city’s greatest sites (Place de la Bastille, Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, and across the river, you’ll spot the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral). Between 35,000 and 40,000 racers start on the Champs-Élysées and run a winding loop through the city finishing near the Arc de Triomphe. It may be one of the largest marathons in the world, but it’s also one of the coolest to run. You get to see parts of the city that you’d never think to venture into as a tourist (think Bois de Vincennes), as well as just about all of the staples.
Check in here: The grand Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris is a short walk from the Champs-Élysées start line, and features guest rooms with classic Parisian flair and bright Louis XVI décor. Relax with a treatment in the Versailles-esque spa before savoring a hard-earned dinner at venerable Le Cinq.
Race day: April 26, 2015
The race route passes the most iconic landmarks of England — Big Ben, the Tower of London, the London Eye — and runs along the River Thames and across the Tower Bridge at mile 12 (a highpoint—literally—for racers). Though you’ll get a whirlwind of a history lesson, you’ll also be plenty amused (and hopefully distracted) by the crazy costumes and entertainment along the way. Nearly 40,000 people run in the London Marathon each year, making it one of the largest in the world. Competitors start at Greenwich Park and zigzag through the city until they cross the finish line at Buckingham Palace. Celebrate in British fashion by popping into a nearby pub for a pint.
Check in here: For a quintessential London experience, book a room at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Savoy, which is known for hosting the rich and famous. It’s less than a mile from the finish line, allowing you to make a beeline for a post-run celebratory drink at the beloved American Bar—it was here that the bartenders’ bible, The Savoy Cocktail Book, was born.
Race day: April 20, 2015
As the oldest and most prestigious race in the United States, running in the Boston Marathon is a lifelong goal even for veteran runners. Racers must qualify with a time (based on age and gender) from another marathon run in the past year and a half in order to participate. The Patriots’ Day event starts outside of Boston in rural Hopkinton and winds through several New England towns until it ends on Boylston Street in the center of the city. After you’ve conquered the infamous Heartbreak Hill between miles 20 and 21, it’s all downhill from there.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Boston is just steps away from the finish line, so you can quickly retreat to the luxury hotel to recuperate. We suggest booking a massage at Five-Star The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Boston. And if you’re toward the front of the pack, you can refuel with lunch at Four-Star Asana, while watching your fellow runners continue to race by.
Big Sur International Marathon
Race day: April 26, 2015
California’s most beautiful drive is the route for this footrace. You’ll hug the coast on Highway One from Big Sur all the way up to Carmel. The hills and the headwinds are difficult, but the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean along the jagged coast serve as inspiration to push through the pain (especially around mile 10 when you start the climb up to Hurricane Point). It’s one of the largest rural marathons in the world, bordered by ranches and redwoods on one side and the never-ending Pacific on the other. The point-to-point course tends to sell out year after year, so if you’re looking to conquer the hilly terrain in 2015, book early.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Post Ranch Inn is located just off Highway One in Big Sur, and each of the 40 rooms features either a majestic mountain or ocean view, just like the race route. You can prep for the marathon (or recover from it) with a morning yoga class and fuel up at Four-Star Sierra Mar Restaurant with divine dishes such as a rack of Oregon lamb with coffee-roasted carrots and turnips.
Race day: May 3, 2015
Vancouver debuted a new course in 2012—it’s now a point-to-point race that takes more advantage of the scenic city sites, including its unique neighborhoods, world-class parks and its expansive seawall. The trek, limited to 5,000 participants, begins in Queen Elizabeth Park and goes through several neighborhoods, passing the beaches at Spanish Banks and entering Stanley Park before finishing in Vancouver’s downtown. In total, you’ll wind through 12 different areas of the city, and 70 percent of the course flaunts shoreline views. In 2014, event organizers added more on-course entertainment than ever.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Rosewood Hotel Georgia sits in the heart of Vancouver, about a half-mile from the Pender Street finish line. The iconic hotel is home to Four-Star Hawksworth Restaurant, where you can reward yourself with a dynamic dinner (think local ingredients with big flavor), and the Five-Star Sense Spa, which offers the perfect post-race relaxation environment.
Great Wall Marathon, Tianjin, China
Race day: May 16, 2015
If visiting the Great Wall of China is on your bucket list and you’re a glutton for punishment, then this marathon may be for you. Runners should expect the race to take about 50 percent longer to complete than an average marathon due to extreme ascents and descents (there is an 8-hour time limit). The route starts near the village of Huangyaguan, a couple hours northeast of Beijing, and heads straight to the Wall. While going up and down the 5,164 steps of the millennia-old structure, you can expect stunning 360-degree views of China’s countryside. The course then heads through scenic villages and rice fields before looping back to the Wall again for the final portion of the race, when you’ll finish in the center of Yin and Yang Square.
Check in here: In order to participate in the Great Wall Marathon, you’ll have to book a marathon package (unless you are a resident of China) through a travel agency. Marathon Tours & Travel offers a six-night itinerary that includes accommodations at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Peninsula Beijing.
Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel
Race day: May 31, 2015
It’s the only point-to-point marathon in France that you can actually see the finish line (the Couesnon dam in front of Mont Saint-Michel) from the start. In fact, you’ll be able to spot that beautiful fortified village for the majority of the 26.2 miles. Snug against France’s northwest coastline, the course runs from Cancale in Brittany, through the mussel capital of Vivier-sur-Mer into the yachting haven that is Cherrueix and finally toward the towering fortified island village of Normandy’s Mont Saint-Michel. The relatively flat terrain makes it easy to concentrate on the vistas of the vast Bay of Mont Saint-Michel and the imposing view of the island municipality, a former monastery and hulking edifice on the shoreline.
Check in here: Les Maisons de Bricourt, an enchanting Relais & Châteaux hotel, sits near the start of the race in Cancale and captures the joie de vivre of the region with its easy, breezy waterfront locale. If you’re bringing along the whole family, book one of the private seaside homes. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, you can catch the shuttle back to the property and indulge in fresh oysters—Brittany is known for them, after all.
Big Five Marathon, Limpopo, South Africa
Race day: June 20, 2015
This race is like a marathon and a safari in one. It’s also one of the toughest, as the entire course ambles through the hills and valleys of Entabeni Game Reserve in the Waterberg district of South Africa. The reserve is a privately owned wonderland of wildlife and varied landscape. You’ll be rewarded with up-close views of antelope, giraffes and zebras—one leg of the race even takes runners through lion territory. The start time of the event depends on the location of the big five game (lions, African elephants, Cape buffalo, leopards and rhinos) on race day, so you know it’s the real deal.
Check in here: Like the Great Wall Marathon, you’ll have to make a vacation out of this race, too. There are multiple options when it comes to itineraries, depending on if you want to stay five or seven nights and which hotel you prefer. Hotels include the beautiful Legend Golf & Safari Resort (just in case the marathon wasn’t enough activity for you).
Photos Courtesy of DPPI Media-Vargiolu and www.adventure-marathon.com