Though the finish line of any long race is just about the most beautiful site in the world for most distance runners, some races pack in a whole lot of beauty well before that glorious end point. In fact, some destination marathons and half marathons have views so breathtaking that you might even forget that you’re running 26.2 miles (42 kilometers) or 13.1 miles (21 kilometers) to enjoy them!
These five stunning courses have some of the best views in the world that are sure to distract you from the leg cramps—or most of them, anyway! Pack your bags, lace up your running shoes, and try these courses around the world for shimmering coastal views, stunning cityscapes, lush European countryside, World Heritage Sites, and (actual) lions.
Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon
Save room in your money belt for your passport, because the Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon takes you through three countries! Ok, so you don’t actually need a passport when the race takes you across the borders between Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, but by the time you finish this race you’ll have three new (mental) passport stamps. Along the way, you’ll take in views of these three countries that include the world’s largest open theater, a seventh century abbey, and Lake Constance.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon Weekend
Though you don’t typically find the words “Las Vegas” and “wellness vacation” in the same sentence, they come together for the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon weekend. These evening races—which include a full marathon, a half marathon, a 10K (6.2 miles), and a 5K (3.1 miles)—shut down the Las Vegas strip for a one-of-a-kind experience, and are perfect for runners who don’t love the early morning wake-up call that's associated with most long-distance races.
Big Sur International Marathon
Driving Highway 1 in California is serene, but not nearly as rewarding as running it. The Big Sur International Marathon takes runners along Highway 1 from the Big Sur starting line to the Carmel finish line with glistening views of the Pacific Ocean all along the way. Just as enticing as the views is the elevation: This coastal marathon’s finish line is 346 feet (105 meters) lower than its starting line.
Great Wall Marathon
If you are up for the challenge, the Great Wall Marathon is the ultimate bucket-list race. Since 1999, runners have traversed the Great Wall of China—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and taken in the sights in the small villages and farmland that surround the wall on this iconic course. Deemed one of the most challenging marathons in the world, this marathon crosses the Great Wall (once for the full marathon and twice for the half), and includes grueling treks up steep elevations and stairs. Prep for the inevitable blisters by putting plenty of bandages in your toiletry case!
Big Five Marathon and Half Marathon
If you are looking for an extreme way to improve your PR (personal record, a.k.a. your fastest time ever), running alongside lions is a surefire way to pick up the pace! There is no divide separating runners from the big five game of lions, elephant, rhinos, buffalos, and leopards in South Africa’s Big Five Marathon, and, therefore, nothing blocking the stunning savannah view as well. Though you shouldn’t fret about your wild animal running buddies, pay extra attention to your footing along the course, which takes you through uneven dirt roads and sand.