Many races around the world claim to be the best race out there.
They all have their reasons.
Some race are great for personal records, some races have the steepest hill while other races have the most challenging courses.
While I personally want to run every single race there is to run in all the lands, I know it isn’t realistic. It is safe to say that between the races I’ve run and the races that all of my friends and family have run, I know which races are breathtaking, painstaking, and delightful all rolled into one.
That is what makes a race a “bucket list” item.
A race that makes you feel every single emotion possible with an intensity that you didn’t know you were capable of.
Not only am I a person who wants to run all of the races, but I’m also a person that wants to get the most out of the races I do run.
It’s for that reason that I compiled all of my race knowledge into what I like to think of as the “List O’ Races to Run Prior to the Kicking of the Bucket” sounds fancy, huh?
It’s not. It’s only a list of the most incredible races ever. It’s simple.
You have to run them.
1. Patagonian International Marathon
Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is the setting for this race.
As you make your way through the rolling, mostly gravel course, you’ll see views that look like real life paintings.
These views more than make up for the ferocious wind and cooler temperatures. Even though the remote location makes logistics for this race a bit frustrating, it’s worth it to breath in deep as you see the clouds meet the top of the mountains and waterfalls cascade down the side of the cliffs.
2. Sparkasse Marathon der 3 Länder
This race may appeal to the travel bucket list as well.
With a starting line in Germany, a trek through Austria, a short stent in Switzerland and a Finish Line in Austria you can check three countries off your list.
Though this race is small, the mixture of scenery and warm and cheering spectators make it one of the most special races in the world. Beginning on a mainly asphalted course alongside Lake Constance, the course enters Austria after about 6 miles.
From there you head through small villages, rolling pastures and a few miles of soft gravel paths through a forest. Swinging thru Switzerland and then back to the lakeside made for a scenic and amazing experience. The weather here is generally cool this time of year and the beer is abundant, it is Germany.
This race does take place during Oktoberfest, so it’s easy to make a run-cation out of this race.
3. Maratona di Roma
Rome. Full of attractions and history, this is spectacular place for a long run.
This marathon is like a tour thru one of the world’s most alluring cities.
Starting at the Colosseum, you’ll run along the Tiber River and over many a cobblestone block. It’s not really acceptable to look away from the scenery, but sometimes necessary on those old cobblestones. You’ll even be able to take a gander at the Spanish Steps and the Pyramid of Cestius. Logistically this race is easy to organize and the trip is one that everyone should take in their lifetime.
4. Boston Marathon
This race is widely known as a challenging and beautiful experience.
Boston in April is cold, rainy and windy and those adverse conditions make the course even more challenging.
A mostly downhill start makes it tough to set an appropriate pace that won’t destroy your quads before you approach the Newton Hills.
These hills are small in comparison to some other races on the list, but they are between mile 16 and 21 of the race.
Their placement makes them feel like Kilimanjaro.
By the time you get to the last hill, affectionately called, “Heartbreak Hill”, you’re nearly done for. You’re wishing you were on the couch, eating cookies and not even thinking about running. This is part of the race where I began to cry. You feel like you can’t go anymore, but you know that you’re so close you can’t give up now.
Once you get to the top, it’s smooth sailing, downhill, adrenaline-fueled bliss to the finish line.
5. Big Sur International Marathon
Considered one of the World’s largest rural marathons, the Big Sur International Marathon has staggering sights and even more staggering winds. This race has some brutal uphill climbs and winds at the summit threatening to shove you back down to the bottom. It’s a beautiful start, the large and historic Redwood trees line the course for the first few miles. With miles 10-12 being a 500 foot climb, you’re looking for some pain relief just as you feast your eyes upon a sprawling and breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean.
6. The Great Wall Marathon
Undoubtedly the toughest race in the world, this race has one of the highest drop-out rates.
Many runners are unable to finish after the exhaustion sets in.
Hot and humid conditions make for heavy breathing and quick exhaustion. Intense climbs and rocky village trails lead to the mother of all homestretches, the 5,164 step climb to the top of the Great Wall.
The views during this climb are amazing, which is good considering that you and most of your running mates will be bent over the wall trying to find the willpower to move on.
7. Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu
This race is not for the lighthearted. The Inca Trail Marathon is full of climbs on winding, dirt trails. Refurbished steps from the ancient Incan empire, line the way.
The elevation changes in this race are unrivaled, climbing 10,400 feet and descending a total of 11,000 feet over the full length.
This race is extremely difficult and worth every second you spend looking at the most peaceful and beautiful place on this planet, Machu Picchu.
8. Charlottesville Marathon
Nestled in a quaint little college town this race is a bit of a sleeper.
It’s fairly rolling and smooth. The mountainous scenery makes for a nice atmosphere. It’s not that you have to worry about it. With this race, you always worry about what lies ahead. Steep downhills and a climb up a mountain at the end takes more out of you than you’d expect.
9. Australian Outback Marathon
Appealing due to its off-the-grid feel. Off-road running along fire trails and over soft-sand dunes make this race unlike any other. The unusual sights and exotic lands create a perfect view worth the haul. By haul I mean, the long and remote trek out the course. It’s almost as exhausting as the race itself. Also, sand dunes get hot.
Click here to view the official race website
10. Colorado Marathon
This race is mostly shaded by the most gorgeous canyon I’ve ever seen.
The first 15 miles are cool but the sun beating down is still very bright. When you exit the canyon, you’re tired and the sun nearly attacks you. This is almost as mentally exhausting as the upcoming big hill. This race is beautiful and quick due to the terrain. It’s also known to be optimal for setting a Boston qualifying time.
This bucket list is chocked full of stunning views and challenging obstacles.
Whether you’re looking for scenic, speedy or strenuous races, this list covers them all. Each race will have its own set of challenges you’ll need to train for.
Some of these races even require travel preparation as well.
I will say that if there’s one thing running has taught me, it’s that you can’t do anything successful without preparation and with these races the preparation is more than worth it.