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, 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.
1. BOSTON MARATHON, BOSTON
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.”
2. WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER, NEVADA
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.
3. GREAT WALL MARATHON AND HALF, CHINA
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.
4. ANTARCTICA MARATHON AND HALF, ANTARCTICA
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.
5. REEBOK SPARTAN BEAST, VARIOUS LOCATIONS
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.
6. MARATHON DES SABLES, MOROCCO
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.