On The Road

Seven Of The World’s Most Awe-Inspiring Runs

Where to break a sweat – and get an eyeful while you’re doing it

  • Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Photograph by Mr Pascal Tournaire/UTMB®

One of the great things about running as a form of exercise is that you can do it just about anywhere – on your street, in a local park, wherever. But running can also be an excuse for great adventures, a chance to immerse yourself in new cultures, experience incredible natural settings and push your endurance, mental and physical, to the limit. So, with that in mind, here are the running events worth travelling for.

Rim To Rim, US

  • Photograph by Mr Myke Hermsmeyer

The Grand Canyon is neither the deepest gorge in the world, nor the widest, but it is nonetheless one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring – a 277-mile-long chasm that yawns from four to 18 miles wide and reaches depths of more than a mile. Covering the 21 miles between the South Rim of Arizona’s Grand Canyon and the North Rim is high on the bucket list for seasoned trail runners. The most popular route combines the South and North Kaibab Trailheads. Elite trail runner Mr Jim Walmsley shares a bit of advice for running the canyon: “Go easy on the way down,” he says. “If you go down too fast, you blow your legs and you can’t climb back out.” A few intrepid runners, such as Mr Walmsley, will cover the course there and back, the 42-mile Rim To Rim To Rim, which has a height gain (and loss) of upwards of 10,500ft.

What to pack

Big Five Marathon, South Africa

  • Photograph by Albatros Adventure Marathons

If combining the thrills of an African game drive with the challenge of a marathon is enticing, look no further than the Big Five Marathon. The race takes place in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the Limpopo province of South Africa. Participants attend a pre-race game drive in the conservancy, then the following day, you set off. Some 30 rangers patrol the course to make sure no lions are present. While lions have failed to undermine a race in progress, pachyderms once posed a problem. Bananas at an aid station attracted the elephants, and part of the course had to be closed, which added another five miles to the total. Lions and elephants may be the least of your problems. In some spots, you’re on game trails; in others, there’s deep sand to negotiate. But where else will you share a running trail with wildebeest?

What to pack

  • Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Striped Stretch-Mesh Tank Top

Great Ocean Road Running Festival, Australia

  • Photograph by Great Ocean Road Running Festival

This event takes advantage of the spectacular views from Australia’s most iconic stretch of tarmac, the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay in the state of Victoria. “When you drive the Great Ocean Road, you can’t focus on the scenery too much, as it’s a fairly dangerous road if you’re not paying attention,” says Olympian Mr Steve Moneghetti. “When you’re running it, you can absorb the environment you’re in.” While incredibly scenic, the course is not easy. It undulates most of the way, up and down bluffs, with later points in the race in view but deceptively far away. The villagers en route make everyone feel like a winner, even if you’re a seven-hour runner. In addition to the marathon, there’s a 60km ultra event, a half marathon, 14k, 6k and 1.5k.

What to pack

Conquer The Wall Marathon, China

  • Photograph by Albatros Adventure Marathons

For more than 2,000 years, the Great Wall has stood as a psychological, if not physical, barrier between China and the rest of the world. Since 1999, it has been repurposed, at least in small part, as a running course. “The Conquer The Wall is like running two marathons,” says endurance runner Mr Mosi Smith. “If you want a predictor for time, anticipate taking two-and-a-quarter times your normal marathon pace. It’s really more of an adventure trail run than a typical marathon.” Not all of the course is on the wall, and many sections resemble a rough trail run. The restored sections of the wall are the most challenging because the steps – more than 10,000 – are uneven, an intentional part of the design to slow advancing armies. “Overall, the experience of running on the Great Wall is completely surreal,” says Mr Smith.

What to pack

Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc, France

  • Photograph by Mr Pascal Tournaire/UTMB®

Launched in 2001, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc takes runners on a truly heroic trek, covering more than 9,600m in elevation gain over 103 miles while touching three countries (France, Italy and Switzerland). The race, which begins and ends in Chamonix, follows the famed Tour Du Mont-Blanc trail, a route that’s generally covered by hikers in seven to nine days. The fastest UTMB finishers complete the course in a bit more than 20 hours in good conditions. The highest point on the course is the Grand Col Ferret, which sits at 2,490m on the border with Switzerland. During the race’s daylight hours, weather permitting, runners are treated to constantly shifting vistas of the Alps’ tallest mountain, Mont-Blanc, which rises to 4,810m. At times, your only company may be curious ibex, a species of wild goat that calls the Alps home.

What to pack

Marabana Marathon, Cuba

  • Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

The Marabana, a fusion of marathon and Habana, is Cuba’s premier running event. The loop route starts in front of the Capitolio on the edge of Old Havana and makes its way along the Malecón, Havana’s famous esplanade, before winding through a host of neighbourhoods and circling back to the start. Most participants, nearly 90 per cent, opt for the half marathon, 10k or 5k alternatives, because of the heat and humidity. “Many runners will sign up for the marathon,” says Ms Karen Hoch, who oversees marketing efforts for Marathon Tours & Travel. “But as we get closer, they switch to the half marathon. I think they become a little less focused on the race itself and more on enjoying their short time in Cuba.” Participants are encouraged to bring extra sneakers to leave for local runners, as running shoes are in short supply.

What to pack

Petra Desert Marathon, Jordan

  • Photograph by Albatros Adventure Marathons

The ancient city of Petra, with its famous rock-cut architecture, is a wonder for any history buff. If you want to combine a bit of running with your history, the Petra Desert Marathon is for you. The course ambles past many of Petra’s famous mountain-carved tombs and monasteries before entering the lunar-like landscape of the Jordanian desert. Near the 30km mark there’s a 3km climb that will have many runners hitting the proverbial wall. Those who persevere reach a ridge that looks across much of the course and the surrounding mountains. You’re treated to a steep downhill on road to reach the finish line. There’s time before and after the race to tour Petra’s historical wonders, including the Siq, a narrow gorge with walls rising up to 200m in height that winds 1.2km through the mountains before ending at Petra’s most elaborate temple, the Treasury.

What to pack

  • Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Mesh Shorts

  • Aesop SPF50 Protective Body Lotion, 150ml

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