There’s no disputing the thrill of running through New York City, Boston or Chicago on some of the nation’s landmark routes. But there are plenty of other diverse and unusual races to take in too, including some incredibly challenging terrains up in the Arctic circle or across desert valleys. This is truly the land of the ultra endurance athlete.
- New York Marathon, New York
Follow in the footsteps of Katie Holmes and try to beat her time – 5hours29mins. This November run is possibly the world’s favorite marathon, attracting a high proportion of international runners from a range of countries. This is the original big-city marathon and a destination in its own right starting at Verrazano Narrows Bridge on Staten Island and meandering through five boroughs to finish in Central Park. Crowds on First Avenue can be six-deep!
- Hawaiian Ironman, Kona, Hawaii
This was the first modern long-distance triathlon event and still packs a punch. The 3.86 km swim, 180.2 km bike ride and 42.2 km run is one of the ultimate events on the international circuit. Understandably therefore, a qualification process is required to take part in this event. But if you’re into the sport you’ll probably want to travel here just to watch.
- Boston Marathon, Boston
This is the world’s oldest marathon, beginning in 1897 as inspired by the 1896 Summer Olympics. With fabulous crowd support, a top-class field starts in Hopkinton in April and passes through seven small towns to finish in central Boston. Included in the journey is the infamous Heartbreak Hill, a climb of 280 vertical feet.
- Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, San Francisco, California.
Another triathlon for serious “embrace the pain” athletes with a frigid swim from Alcatraz Island to shore (2.4km), followed by a 29km bike ride and a 13 km run in the extremely hilly terrain of the San Francisco Bay. This run includes the notorious "Sand Ladder", 400 uneven log steps climbing up a beachside cliff.
- Western States One Hundred, California
This 100 mile (161 km) ultramarathon takes place on trails in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains on the last weekend of June. It involves a total elevation change of 38 000 feet and is run over rugged single-track mountain trails, snow and ice fields, hot valleys and rivers. It is one of four 100-mile races that comprise the Grand Slam of Ultra running.
- Nunavut Midnight Sun Marathon, Ottawa, Canada or Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska
These marathons in July and June respectively are held within the Arctic Circle during summer to take advantage of the summer warmth and long daylight hours. The courses offer scenic vistas and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.
- Wildflower Triathlon, Lake San Antonio, California
This Half-Ironman distance race held on or near May 1 has become a highlight on the race-calendar for many professional triathletes. It is known for its hilly terrain and has three races of different lengths. It is also one of the largest triathlon events in the world with over 8000 athletes attending each year.
- Gulf Coast Triathlon, Panama City Beach, Florida
This popular half-ironman event in May requires a level of stamina and skill. It’s a good chance to see some of the world’s premier athletes and enjoy the natural surrounds. The 1.2-mile swim is in the Gulf of Mexico, the 56-mile bike ride takes you through Panama City Beach and the surrounding countryside and the 13.1-mile run is a circular course with ample time on the stunning beachfront.
- Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii
December is the perfect time to run in Hawaii when the Northern Hemisphere is cloaked in cold, wet weather. The race starts at 5am to avoid the heat but it’s still hot and humid by the end. This is a big race with a big atmosphere, thanks largely to a contingent of some 30,000 Japanese runners. It starts at Ala Moana Beach Park and passes Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Koko Head Crater.
- Badwater, Death Valley
Another event for the masochistic ultra marathon runner. Some consider this 135-mile trek as the most demanding on the planet. It is held on paved highway at the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. That means it gets pretty hot and shoes are known to melt in the conditions – hence the famed white line running! There are hills to contend with and the ascent up Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States.