The combination of travel and fitness is not new. From spa vacations to hiking, fitness-focused travelers have scoured the globe in search of the ultimate experience in exercise and adventure. Destination races are one more way for runners to see the world around them: on foot, as they traverse courses through city streets, alongside panoramic ocean views and often circumventing the world’s most popular travel destinations.
The number of destination races seems to increase every year, with distance choices ranging from 5K runs to marathons. Although local races are convenient and comfortable for many runners, the lure of a destination race allows runners and their families to see the sites before or after an event. The combination of running and travel can be a great motivator for runners and a way to include the entire family as part of a travel experience that everyone can enjoy.
While the definition of “most scenic” is always in the eye of the beholder, here are five destination races around the world that provide memorable vistas and experiences that are impossible to replicate:
The Big Sur Marathon
Starting in Big Sur, Calif., and rolling along the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel, the Big Sur Marathon is one of the most renowned destination races in the United States, often selling out in record time. Runners will experience mountain ranges and sweeping ocean views with every step. Running on a closed-off Pacific Coast Highway, 9,000 runners make their way along the challenging course that winds through redwoods and ranches and offers unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean. Runners that are interested in the destination but not the full marathon have six distance options to choose from, including a relay and 5K.
The Venice Marathon
In its 29th year, the Venice Marathon in Italy takes runners from the charming countryside near Padua along what is known as the Riviera del Brenta – the beautiful riverside area where wealthy Venetians built vacation mansions in the 18th century. The last kilometers of the race are in historic Venice, where runners race alongside the Giudecca Canal to Punta della Dogana, before crossing Grand Canal on a 170-meter pontoon bridge toward Piazza San Marco. The Venice Marathon is held every fourth Sunday of October – a perfect season in Venice.
The Marine Corps Marathon
The fourth largest U.S. marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., winds through the nation’s capital, traversing historic monuments along the Potomac River. The Marine Corps Marathon is nicknamed "Marathon of the Monuments,” and its 30,000 runners will experience the U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Known for energetic crowd support and military involvement, this race is a favorite of local and traveling runners as a perfect fall marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon weekend also includes a 10K race and a kids run.
[Read: How to Prepare for a Marathon Race.]
Great Wall Marathon
While the Great Wall Marathon may not be the ideal race for runners looking for a personal best times, the experience of running from Yin and Yang Square in the village of Huangyaguan to the Great Wall is the ultimate in unique destination races. With 5,164 stair steps along the course, runners should expect to elongate their race times in return for vistas of rural villages, rice paddies and of course, the historic Great Wall of China. The race also offers shorter half-marathon and a 5.5-mile fun, “non-competitive run along the wall.” Registration for the race also includes a travel itinerary to explore Beijing.
Although the vistas may not be epic, competing in a runDisney race in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., or Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., provides incredible access to two of the most magical places on earth. Runners dash across the start line wearing costumes and smiles that are unseen in many other running events. The popularity of the Walt Disney World Marathon, Disney Princess Half Marathon and Tinker Bell Half Marathon have runners planning bicoastal race experiences in the same year to earn the coveted “Coast to Coast Race Challenge” medal. In addition to the seven popular Disney races, the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon in Disneyland is now on the menu of choices.