Top 5 Marathons Worth Travelling For

The best places to run 42 kilometres, from marathon runner and Altitude member Andrew Braithwaite.

Great Wall Marathon

Great Wall Marathon

Photo: Klaus Sletting Jensen for Albatros Adventure

Don’t expect to set a best time at the Great Wall Marathon – the course, set northeast of Beijing, will test your quads and calves with its ups and downs, especially the 5,164 steps that carry you along the Great Wall of China. Attracting a field of 2,500 runners, the race winds through small villages of Ji County, but the highlight is the six kilometres – three at the start and three to finish – of running and climbing over the Huangyaguan section of the Wall, built some 14 centuries ago. Be grateful for the restorative sips of water at aid stations – organizers carry in 15,000 bottles of water on foot the day of the race.

May 16, great-wall-marathon.com

Ottawa Marathon

Ottawa Marathon

This race in the nation’s capital isn’t just Canada’s largest, but its speediest, too – in 2014, the flat course allowed Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia to run the fastest time ever for a marathon on Canadian soil. Besides offering an excellent opportunity to qualify for Boston, the Ottawa Marathon also serves up a terrific tour of historic landmarks, with the course winding past the National War Memorial, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian War Museum. You’ll cross the border into Quebec for kilometres 20 to 25 in Gatineau, so after surviving the finishing kick along the Rideau Canal, you can tell your fans that you ran a marathon in two provinces in one day.

May 24, runottawa.ca

Athens Marathon

Athens Marathon

Nicknamed “The Authentic,” this marathon begins east of Athens in the coastal town of Marathon and finishes in the famed Panathenaic Stadium, originally constructed some 2,500 years ago. The challenging course – it was run in both the 1896 and 2004 Olympics – recreates the legendary run of Pheidippides, the messenger who travelled by foot from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek military victory over the Persians in 490 BC. It is said that, upon delivering the news, Pheidippides collapsed and died. But if you’ve adequately carbo-loaded with plenty of pre-race moussaka and baklava, you will meet a better fate.

November 8, athensauthenticmarathon.gr

Honolulu Marathon

Honolulu Marathon

Photo: Honolulu Marathon Association

Hawaii’s aloha spirit permeates this popular race, with fireworks at the 5 a.m. starting gun to say hello, and a puka-shell necklace and Portuguese malasada snacks at the finish line to congratulate you on a job well done. There are no qualifying times or entry limits, and the scenery can’t be beat –run Waikiki Beach and then tackle the hilly volcanic crater pushing up Diamond Head Road. Besides the exotic Hawaiian landscape, there’s also a real multicultural feel to this race, with a bit more than half of the field travelling from Japan.

December 13, honolulumarathon.org

Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon

Photo: FayFoto – Boston

The world’s most famous road race – which was held recently – actually begins in the small Massachusetts town of Hopkinton, but everybody knows where it finishes: at Copley Square in downtown Boston. First run in 1897, the Boston Marathon course is lined by half a million spectators, none more passionate than the women of Wellesley College who form the Scream Tunnel at the race’s halfway mark. The qualifying standards are notoriously fast, but if you need to experience Heartbreak Hill once in your life, many non-profit organizations reserve race bibs for fundraisers – runners raised US$38.4 million for charity in 2014.

Every year on Patriot’s Day, baa.org