We decided to list down what we feel are the top Ten running events to do before you die. There are other lists for the hardest, longest, craziest and most popular, but this list is all about doing something a bit different, something special, something that will make people say “wow!” when you tell them you’ve done it. We spent a long time and put a lot of thought into this, it wasn’t easy and almost had to be a top 12, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it! In order to qualify, the events had to be incredible, once-in-a-lifetime type events in majestic settings and they had to ultimately be unique. You may wonder why we haven’t included any of the big city marathons, but not to take anything away from the achievement of accomplishing such an event; they are all essentially running 26.2 miles on pavements or roads. Of course they include magnificent scenery incredible atmosphere, but this list is not about just that, it’s about incredible events that would leave you not only feeling proud, but as if your life had been forever changed by doing just one of these events! So without further ado, here is our list; in no significant order, as that would be simply too hard to do:
1. Everest Marathon
Firstly this is listed in the Guinness book of records as the worlds highest marathon, with the start being at 5184 meters! Bear in mind you can get altitude sickness at 3000 meters, just getting to the start is no easy feat; this involves a 15 day trek after arriving at Kathmandu. In order to get into the event you have to prove you have good recent experience of trail marathons, simply saying you have run 10 road marathons won’t cut it! Secondly you are running on Mount Everest! So expect rocks, Ice, snow, scree, Yak trains, narrow suspension bridges, even forest trail and of course the most majestic scenery. You will need a medical to enter the race, you must be under 65 and there are normally only about 75 non-Nepalese places per race, with all proceeds going to the Everest marathon fund; which helps with Nepalese health and education projects. Although the course is overall a downhill event, don’t underestimate the race; there are some very steep sections that will leave some of the best fell runners gasping for breath! So, for altitude, scenery and pure kudos, this had to make it onto our list. Visit Everest Marathon for full details.
Source: Everest Marathon
2. Great Wall Marathon
Next we move North East into one of the “modern” seven wonders of the world; to a marathon where you are guaranteed to “hit the wall”! Many people regard simply visiting the Great Wall a once-in-a-lifetime excursion; let alone running on it! Hosted on the third week in May every year, expect hot humid conditions and lots and lots of steps! 5164 steps of all shapes and sizes, from only a couple of inches high, to giant 18 inch obstacles that will have you on your hands and knees! Although not all of the marathon is run on the wall itself, you will encounter one large section of the wall at the start and the second time you hit this wall section is at around the 21 mile mark; of course the event planners decided you will “run” up the wall on the second section as this is exactly the point where most people want to give up on most marathons anyway…sadistic genius’s! The rest of the run encounters ancient villages and forest tracks with a few local roads to mix things up nicely; needless to say the scenery is incredible and therefore you won’t just be gasping for breath. Full details can be found on The Great Wall Marathon website.
3. The Empire State Building Run Up
OK, so as if all those steps weren’t enough, we decided that this completely unique event had to be on the list; it’s the shortest event on the list at only 0.2 miles, but that is all steps! Not really a run as such, although most do attempt to run up the 1576 steps to ascend the 86 stories of one of the most iconic buildings in the world! For the best this can take only 10 minutes, but this race is very exclusive and generally only 400 runners per year are entitled to participate in small waves. The prize for completion is one of the most exclusive medals in the world and bragging rights over most of your friends, that you ran up the Empire State Building! The majority of the places are acquired via the official charity of the event (Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation) and you can find out more on the NYRR (New York Road Runners) website.
4. The North Pole Marathon
Our next event is not only the most northerly, but also the coldest marathon in the world; one of the most expensive and the only marathon in the world to be run entirely on water! (Frozen water of course, which is interesting to think that all there will be between you and a 14,000 ft deep watery doom is 6 feet of ice! Add to this temperatures around minus 40 Fahrenheit marshals with rifles (due to the threat of Polar bears) and very inclement weather conditions and it makes for arguably one of the hardest events on our list. The course is actually an interesting format of a 2.62 mile loop that you lap ten times and again this has it’s own challenges as Richard Donovan (race organiser and finisher) says:
“You misjudge distance constantly. When you run it the first time, it seems so much longer than it is. That’s where the mental part comes in…You think, ‘will I be able to hold on?’ but you learn to manage your emotions”
So if you have a spare 11,900 Euros for the entry fee and you have the ultimate mental endurance, this is definitely the event for you for more info visit The North Pole Marathon website.
Source: NP Marathon
5. The Médoc Marathon
From one of the hardest to possibly one of the most fun; assuming you like wine! We weren’t sure about adding this event initially as there are a lot of hashing events out there, but this is not only about the wine it’s the whole atmosphere that puts this event on our list. Running through the historic Medoc wine region in the south west of France at the end of the summer would be an incredible experience by itself; however when you add the festival atmosphere of the event and the multitude of fine wines, artisan cheeses, foie gras and other gastronomic delights that are offered to the passing runners by local producers this makes the event one of the most enjoyable marathons out there. Every year there is a theme, which encourages everyone to get involved and dress up to add to the party atmosphere. For more info on this lovely race visit Medoc Marathon.
Source: Marathon Du Médoc
6. Hood to Coast Relay
The largest relay run in the world and a fantastic team event, the Hood to Coast (HTC) has been running (excuse the pun) since 1982 and has been fully subscribed for the last 16 years! It is the largest due to a capacity of 1050 teams, each consisting of between 8 and 12 runners. Each runner is required to complete a minimum of 3 legs out of the 36 legs that make up the beautiful 199 mile course, starting at the top of Oregon’s tallest mountain; Mt Hood (11,234 ft) and finishing on the Sandy beach of Seaside Oregon where there is a massive beach party for all the participants! This has made it onto our list as the team atmosphere and scenery is incredible, your team will be split into two vehicles and you’ll run through the night; the legs allow for all abilities meaning a mixed ability team simply adds to the fun. Visit Hood To Coast for more info.
7. Marathon des Sables
Notorious! Is the only word that sums up this event, you’ve probably heard of the Marathon Des Sables (MDS) from that crazy, haggard old guy in your running club or maybe from one of the many stories about the event. Either way it doesn’t get such a reputation for no reason; it’s 150-156 miles over 6 days through the Sahara Desert and you have to be completely self-sufficient for the entire ordeal! It all started in 1986, when a French concert promoter decided to create this gruelling event, it now attracts over 1000 runners per year. The daily temperature averages 120 Degrees Fahrenheit (yes that’s pretty much 49 degrees celsius!), you’ll be sleeping in the desert, except on the longest stage; which at 50 miles normally means travelling through the night as well. So if you fancy this true Ultra-marathon and have a spare £4000 to spend why not find out more on the official MDS website.
8. Chasqui Challenge
So from the ridiculous to the sublime now with another high altitude event; the Chasqui challenge packs the Inca Trail marathon with another 73.8 miles of terrain into a nice 14 day event; however this is more of a trip than an event, as the entire challenge involves some sightseeing and hiking as well as pure running. During the challenge you’ll not only encounter mountains, rivers, Inca steps, ceremonial baths, tunnels, monasteries, temples, ancient fortresses, but also the Inca ruins and of course Machu Picchu. The challenge starts in Cusco at 11,150 feet and you spend most of the time above that altitude, by breaking the challenge up into bite-sized chunks, you can be assured that this is more of a running holiday than an ultramarathon event, nether-the-less you’ll still leave with the deepest satisfaction of finishing one of the most breathtaking events out there. For full details on the event visit the Andes Adventures website.
9. Jungle Ultra Peru
Keeping with the South American theme, the Jungle Ultra is a 230km event that will certainly push you to your limits. Starting high in the Andes in the cloud forest at 10,500 ft you will descend deep into the Amazon basin through dense jungle at temperatures of around 35 degrees at 100% humidity! You’ll need to be self-sufficient and expect a mandatory kit-list as nothing can be left to chance in this extremely remote and hostile environment; don’t forget your hammock as you won’t want to sleep on the jungle floor! There are over 70 river crossings, where you’ll wade, raft and even zip-line across! So for the ultimate jungle adventure race there is not much more than this; to enter visit the official website.
10. Tough Mudder/Spartan/Obstacle Races
“Probably the toughest event on the planet” is the slogan of the Tough Mudder and some say the Spartan is harder; however either way both these crazy obstacle events are far removed from any of the traditional running events above and that’s why they make it into our list. These events, generically known as obstacle races, are designed to push you to your physical and mental limits by introducing obstacles that you would certainly not encounter on normal runs. Think climbing 3 meter walls; crossing monkey bars, mudpits, ice pools; running up slippery ramps; crawling through mud, tunnels, under cargo nets and running through live high voltage electrical wires! This gives you a rough idea of the extreme nature of these events, but the only real way to know is to experience them first hand, so what are you waiting for? For more info and to sign up check out the Tough Mudder and Spartan websites.