The best running races in the world all share a few key elements: an exceptional course, extremely enthusiastic spectators, outstanding organization and, perhaps the most important factor of all for many runners, a great challenge to conquer. That challenge might present itself in the form of a traditional marathon, a multi-day road race event, a trek though one of the Earth’s most unforgiving terrains or a grueling course lined with an unthinkable amount of obstacles.
Those are just a few of the defining characteristics of some of the most remarkable road races in the world.
Whether you’ve run more marathons than you can count on two hands and are looking for your next exciting race endeavor, or you're new to the sport and are on the hunt for some race inspiration, here’s a look at some truly one-of-a-kind courses that definitely deserve a spot on your must-run bucket list.
If you’re totally
insane determined, then go ahead and add running 26.2 miles up, down and all around The Great Wall of China to your bucket list. Or, you could opt for the half distance or 8.5K fun run — each slightly less challenging but still incredibly rigorous. Whichever you choose, there’s no doubt in our minds that that this remarkable race deserves a place on every athlete’s running bucket list. In 2014, the event sold out to 2,500 runners from more than 60 countries, so be prompt to register if you’re adamant about checking this doozy of a race off your list.
Likely you’ve heard of the Spartan Race before. Perhaps you’ve even participated in one (after all, the event continues to see more and more participants every year). But if you truly want to put your status as a warrior, runner and all-around athlete to the test, then you need to conquer the Spartan Beast. It’s the most difficult of the three different races offered by Spartan (sprint, super and beast) and its course is designed to test not only your physical endurance and grit, but the inner workings of your mind, too. Within a 13-mile course, you’ll face more than 30 signature obstacles, and, if you’ve previously completed a Spartan sprint and super course, you’ll earn your official badge as a Spartan TRIFECTA athlete.
No round-up of bucket list races is complete without a mention of the New York City Marathon. “The NYC Marathon is one of the most grueling and incredible race experiences — from the pulsating gospel choir in Harlem to the bridges and the international cast of crazy people running 26.2 miles and the variety of spectators,” says Elizabeth McCourt, a New York City-based executive and leadership coach and founder of McCourt Leadership Group. “I got hurt at mile 14 and had a random spectator pick me up off the ground and help me get moving again — that's the kind of experience you have.” It’s undeniable: year after year participants continue to praise this race for its extraordinary course renowned for having some of the most rowdy and cheerful spectators of any race in the world.
A truly iconic race, even just qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a well-respected achievement of true athletic resilience. “It’s a slam dunk because of its history, spectators and all-around aura,” says Patrice Malloy, founder of Malloy Marketing Group and a 17-year veteran of the running industry. Ask any runner and they’ll tell you: crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon is well worth the hard work it takes just to earn a spot at the start. As one previous racer summed it up nicely on MarathonGuide.com, “If you're looking for a festive atmosphere and a moment to celebrate your running achievement, Boston can't be beat.”
Have you been dreaming of running a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon all over the course of four consecutive days? Of course you have, you crazy runner, you! If this sounds like your idea of fun, then get your name on the list for RunDisney’s Dopey Challenge (and once registration opens, do it fast — Disney races tend to sell out within a few hours). In addition to the sheer joy of striding merrily through Disney World for four days straight, you’ll also earn six shiny new medals — one for each individual race (that’s four), plus one for completing the Goofy Challenge (comprised of the half and full marathon) and, of course, one to commemorate your completion of the 48.6 miles that make up the Dopey Challenge.
If you’re a truly passionate runner, then your race bucket list likely includes a handful of courses you’ve been eyeing partly because you’re looking for an excuse to travel to the area. Add the Bali Marathon and Half to that list. “It was really cool to run through rice fields and small villages,” Barbara Elaine Singer, an award-winning author and life reinvention coach says of the race. “The children dressed in ceremonial outfits and cheered us on. Also, they played the tradition Balinese Gamelan and drummed through the course.” We can’t think of a better way to experience the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of this extraordinary Indonesian Island.
If you complete a Tough Mudder, yeah, you’re pretty tough. But if you complete the World’s Toughest Mudder, well then you’re one of the “Toughest Mudders” of all time. The final cumulating event of the Tough Mudder global calendar, this 24-hour (yes, you read that correctly — it lasts for an entire day) obstacle race is designed to push athletes far beyond their physical and mental limits. The course features twice as many obstacles per mile compared to traditional Tough Mudder races, and at the end, the first-place man, woman and 4+ person team are awarded with the honor of being named the “toughest” people on the planet.
This race might not have the sparkly, magical allure of Disney World or a slew of obstacles waiting to test the limits of your determination, but what it does have is history. And it has a whole lot of it. The course winds along the oldest public road in America — Old Sandwich Road, that is — and guides participants through bushy forest landscapes, over old stone bridges and past six historic sites. Adding to the race’s appeal, 5.6-miles of the course covers a soft, dirt running surface, the starting line is situated just next to the ocean, and runners can choose from a 5K, 10K, half marathon or one-mile track distance.
A race without a finish line doesn’t sound like an event that could attract very many runners, yet this year’s Red Bull Wings for Life World Run hosted more than 101,000 runners in 12 different time zones. How exactly is that possible? Here’s how it works: the race starts at the exact same time, on the same day in more than 35 different locations worldwide. Instead of a fixed finish line, each race is controlled by a “catcher car” that chases runners, increasing its speed incrementally. When a runner is passed by the catcher car, their race is complete and they’re shuttled off to celebrate with their fellow WFL racers. The final male and female runners left standing are eventually declared the winners. Why should you add this race to your bucket list, you ask? Well for starters, it’s truly a one-of-a-kind event. But even more importantly, all proceeds from the race go to the Wings for Life foundation, which funds research into finding a cure for spinal cord injury.
What other marathon boasts seals, penguins whales and icebergs as part of its course scenery? “[It’s] an unforgettable, and for some, a life-changing experience,” Malloy says of this frigid but splendidly scenic, once-in-a-lifetime race. “I ran the half marathon and kept saying to myself, ‘I can't believe I am racing on Antarctica’,” she added.
This utterly ridiculous race was dubbed “The Toughest Footrace on Earth” by the Discovery Channel, and once you hear what it entails it’s not hard to understand why. A multi-day ultramarathon, the course covers between 150 to 156 miles. Oh yeah, and this all takes place in the 120-degree heat of the Sahara desert. Runners are required to be self-sufficient, meaning they must carry all necessities (except for water) as they fight their way across this grueling course. Reflecting on his experience as a participant in the race, ultra-runner Kieran Alger said, “What a week that was. Still one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life.” If you’re the type of athlete who thrives on truly trying challenges, then the MdS absolutely deserves a spot on your
absurd inspiring bucket list.