With the year 2020 ahead, there’s no better time to plan one of life’s greatest physical challenges — a marathon.
The marathon is a long-distance race with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (approximately 26 miles 385 yards), usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, who reported the victory. The marathon can be completed by running or with a run/walk strategy. There are also wheelchair divisions.
The marathon was one of the original modern Olympic events in 1896, though the distance did not become standardized until 1921. More than 800 marathons are held throughout the world each year, with the vast majority of competitors being recreational athletes, as larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants.
Here are the 10 best to run in 2020
Kingston City Marathon, Jamaica
To beat the hot Jamaican sun, this race starts early, at 4.30am, taking runners up through sleepy suburbs of Kingston to the city’s botanical gardens and back. It’s a hilly route and you’ll have to get a move on to finish before the sun really gets going around 7.30am. Jamaicans are better known for sprinting than marathons, so you may find yourself running alone once the small field spreads out. The best thing about running in Jamaica, however, is the post-race recovery — and the popular thing to do after the race is head to the nearby Hellshire or Fort Clarence beach, eat freshly caught fish and splash in the warm waves.
When: 15 March
Paris Marathon, France
This is a mostly flat, fast Paris marathon course takes in some of the city’s most famous landmarks. Starting on the Champs Elysées, it winds passed Notre Dame, the Place de la Bastille and the Eiffel Tower, through two of the city’s wooded parks and along the banks of the Seine before finishing on Avenue Foch in sight of the Arc de Triomphe. With 40,000 runners taking part, it’s one of the world’s biggest marathons, and while in previous years the race had a reputation for being ignored by Parisians, in recent years the crowd support has been whole-hearted and full voiced. At 35km the organisers hand out cheese and wine, just to make sure you know exactly which city you’re running in.
When: 5 April
Big Sur International Marathon, California, USA
While this is at times a challenging and hilly course, the Big Sur International Marathon is worth the effort, as it’s known as one of the most scenic and beautiful marathons in the world. It snakes through California’s redwood forests and along the coast-hugging Hwy 1, offering runners spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Along the route there is an eclectic roster of live music to help keep you moving, including the surreal sight of a tuxedo-wearing musician playing a Grand Piano on the famous Bixby Creek Bridge at the halfway point.
When: 26 April
Great Wall Marathon, China
So iconic you can see it from space (almost), the Great Wall of China also hosts one of the world’s toughest marathons. Aside from the heat — temperatures can reach close to 40°C during the race — the main challenge is the many steep climbs, including a total of 5164 steps. The event is a sellout each year with 2500 runners from over 60 nations taking part. As well as two lengthy sections along the top of the wall, the race offers some relief from the climbing with a flat section in the middle on asphalt and gravel roads, taking you on a tour through picturesque Chinese villages and rice fields.
When: 16 May
Kenya Safari Marathon
Racing in Kenya is not for the faint-hearted, but while usually all you have to worry about is how super-fast everyone is, in this race across the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, the biggest concern is lions. And elephants, cheetahs, and rhinos. Don’t worry, though, the Kenya Safari Marathon in aid of Tusk — which is now in its 20th year, raising valuable funds for local community and wildlife projects — has you covered, with armed rangers dotted along the route and two helicopters patrolling the sky. The race offers runners a rare opportunity to cross the wild plains of east Africa on foot, passing herds of antelope and zebra along the way, and competing with (or trying to keep up with) the Kenyans.
When: 29 June
Berlin Marathon, Germany
If you hope to run a fast time, you may want to consider following in the footsteps of the greats with a jaunt around Berlin’s marathon course. One of the six “Major Marathons” (along with Tokyo, Boston, London, Chicago and New York), Berlin’s speedy course has seen 10 marathon world records, including all of the last seven men’s world records. The course is almost perfectly flat, as well as wide and straight, especially in the first two miles, which means you’re unlikely to get stuck in the crowd if you’re a hotrod speedster. The route is hardly boring, though, with the highlight the passage through the Brandenburg Gate near the end, a poignant symbol of the division that marked the city in the years before the Berlin Wall came down.
When: 27 September
Marathon du Medoc, France
Serious marathon runners with their gels and Garmins may want to look away now. Runners in the Marathon de Medoc, which follows a scenic route through the region’s famous vineyards, are obliged to wear fancy dress and are expected to get involved at the 23 wine stops along the way. As well as glasses of the famed vintages, there are plenty of local food specialities on offer to help line the stomach — things like oysters, cheese, steak and ice-cream. It’s not your typical running fare, perhaps, but this isn’t your typical marathon. Expect fun and vomiting in equal measure.
When: 12 September
Loch Ness Marathon, Scotland
The black waters of Loch Ness have long held a fascination for visitors to Scotland, and not only because of the possibility of spotting the elusive Nessie. This may well be the UK’s most scenic marathon, following long stretches along the shoreline of the loch, with spectacular views of the Highlands across the water. A far cry from the bustle of city marathons, this race is friendly and informal with lots of local support — when you arrive at the finish in Inverness you’ll find a hot meal waiting for you.
When: 4 October
New York City Marathon, New York, USA
Racing down First Ave in Manhattan, the skyscrapers glinting in the sun, the cheering crowds five-deep on either side, is one of the most uplifting experiences in running. The New York City Marathon is a festival from start to finish, taking you on a tour of the city’s five boroughs, the roads lined the entire way with people encouraging you, holding up hilarious placards and handing out food and drink of every description. Just save a little energy for the rolling hills of Central Park at the end.
When: 1 November
Athens Authentic Marathon, Greece
It was 490BC when Greek soldier Pheidippides ran 26 miles from the ancient city of Marathon to Athens to proclaim victory over the Persians in the battle of Marathon. The rest, as they say, is history. The Athens marathon follows in Pheidippides’ famous footsteps, crossing through the scenic hills outside the city (this is not a fast course) on the way to one of the greatest finishes in marathon running: a lap of the ancient Olympic stadium — which was also the venue for the first modern Olympics in 1896.
When: 8 November