Looking for some inspiration to choose a bucket list marathon?
Here’s my pick of some of the most life-affirming, awe-inspiring marathons around the world.
One of the best things about running a marathon is that it gives you the opportunity to travel.
Sure, running local marathons is awesome – but when you combine a marathon with an overseas trip (especially somewhere a little exotic or with an interesting culture), they can become unforgettable experiences.
I recently tapped our community of runners to find out what their top bucket list marathons were – and they didn’t disappoint!
From major city marathons to remote, exotic routes – and a couple of ultras in there too – this list is bound to whet your appetite and get you thinking big for your 26.2 mile run.
So next time you start to dream big…start here!
Bucket List Marathons: The Complete List
1. The Great Wall Marathon
The Great Wall Marathon epitomises a Bucket List experience – you’ll run up and down over 5000 steps and you make your way along the iconic Wall.
Don’t aim for a PB though, all those steps will challenge even seasoned marathon runners.
“An incredibly intense, difficult, and hugely satisfying run” said Martin Evans, who also warns runners about the heat, “the heat during our run was brutal and far more impactful than the steps.”
The race is often praised for it’s excellent organisation, with multi-lingual staff and doctors present throughout.
Just take care – if you haven’t run a marathon before, ensure you train for the stairs and heat. Every year some runners DNF, with a few requiring stretchers and IVs. Fortunately the medical team get great reviews.
2. The Big Sur Marathon
Location: California, USA
Called “the marathon on the Ragged Edge of the Western World”, the Big Sur Marathon is coveted by seasoned marathon runners – and not that easy to get a spot for.
Taking place over the historic ‘Highway 1’, the route starts in Big Sur and runners head north over undulating hills and spectacular coastline views, finishing in the town of Carmel-On-Sea. With one big climb at the half-way point (Hurricane Point) and numerous rolling hills between miles 22 and 25, you want to have your hill training down before attempting this one!
The support and sense of community surrounding the Big Sur marathon is second-to-none; prepare yourself for classical musicians on the course, free strawberries as you enter Carmel, and loads more from the locals.
It’s another 26.2 miler that you should run for the experience, and not the PR: “You can run a good race at Big Sur, but running a personal best or personal record would be quite a feat given the hills and some years, given the winds” says Susan Ibach, 2018 finisher.
3. The World’s Fastest Marathon
Location: Granada, Spain
The ‘World’s Fastest Marathon’ is advertised thus as it is almost entirely downhill running; it averages a descent of 4.6%, which is 1,938m of altitude drop over the 26.2 miles.
Granada is an awesome setting for a race; an hour’s drive from the balmy Mediterranean – it is a great place to spend some time both before and after the race.
A word of warning from an earlier finisher: “The last 12km is pretty much flat and it was incredibly hard to switch running style after running downhill, pounding your quads, for 30km! We had trained for running downhill, but the actual race was far harder than we had imagined.“
Running downhill promotes eccentric movement; therefore for this race, you want to train both on the downhills, and running flats after hitting the downhils.
Definitely a PR friendly race…if you don’t want to mention to your friends that it was practically all downhill!
4. The Boston Marathon
Location: Boston, MA, USA
The daddy of city marathons, the Boston marathon has become legendary.
It’s the world’s oldest annual marathon, started in 1897 and one of the hardest to get into – you have to run a BQ (Boston Qualifier) within a target time for your age and gender, which can be brutal (here’s my guide).
Heartbreak Hill is the famous elevation climb that can break elite and recreation runners alike. While the climb itself is relatively slight, it’s located between miles 20 and 21 making it tough on the legs and mind.
5. Loch Ness Marathon
Location: Inverness and Loch Ness, Scotland
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting the lush highlands and historic locations of Scotland, then the Loch Ness marathon gives you that opportunity.
Running along the banks of Loch Ness (can you spot Nessy, the monster?) before finishing in the iconic city of Inverness, the route provides sweeping vistas of the best of Scotland – and ends in a host town which highlights the best in local culture.
Usually held in early Autumn, the Loch Ness marathon provides an opportunity to run in cooler – though sometimes wet – conditions.
The route has some rolling climbs in there – nothing too drastic, but enough that it may mar any attempt at a PR.
Still, not every race is about hitting a target time – sometimes it’s all about the experience.
This is one of those races.
6. The Walt Disney World Marathon
Location: Disneyworld, Florida, USA
One for your inner child!
The Disney marathon is actually a festival of running, set over a few days – and taking place across the DisneyWorld theme parks!
The series of events held over several days means you can actually complete more than one race, including the Dopey Challenge – running 5k, 10k, half marathon, and a marathon over 4 days.
Sounds like fun, right?
7. Comrades Marathon
Location: Durban – Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
The first thing to note about the Comrades marathon is that, despite the name, it’s actually an ultramarathon. At 90.2km, this isn’t a race you can simply should up to – it requires an ultramarathon training approach.
What’s more, the route direction alternates each year. Given the altitude difference between the start and end points, the race is uphill one year, and downhill the next. Surprisingly, many runners prefer the uphill route – running downhill for 90km can be extremely tough as DOMS sets in.
Before You Sign Up For Your Bucket List Marathon, Learn My Marathon Training Strategies
I’m a long-time marathon runner, ultrarunner, and UESCA-certified running coach.
Having helped hundreds of runners achieve their marathon goals, I know what it takes to train for a marathon – and what strategies to use to train smart and maximize results, while minimizing the risk of injury.
Get started with my FREE 5-day Marathon Training Bootcamp, where I share with you the most essential lessons and tips for getting marathon-ready!