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The Best Marathons in the World Worth Travelling For

In North America, marathon season runs from May to October, but if you’re among the running obsessed, all you need is an airplane ticket to keep your race legs strong year-round.

January

International Marathon of Marrakech: This desert marathon starts at 8 a.m. and takes place in January, when the average temperature in Marrakech is 13°C. Run through the city’s palm-lined streets, past its iconic pink buildings and through two of its famed gardens: Agdal, the walled retreat, and Menara, a former olive grove-turned-oasis built in 1147.

For post-race relaxation: Book a hammam scrub at the luxe La Villa des Orangers, followed by a standout dinner. The menu changes seasonally, but past favourites include the tangia, a rustic rabbit stew cooked in a terracotta urn or steamed sea bass with thyme and preserved lemon, cauliflower with Sichuan pepper and shellfish butter.

6, rue Sidi Mimoun, Marrakech, 212-524-384638, villadesorangers.com

Tokyo Marathon

Photo: Tokyo Marathon Foundation

February

Tokyo Marathon: One of the largest races in Asia and one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, Tokyo’s annual marathon is a bucket-list-worthy race. In 2017, over 300,000 people applied for the 36,000 spots. 

For a fast-food fix: Head to Blacows, a diner-inspired burger joint in the city’s Shibuya neighbourhood, for a patty made with 100-percent Black Wagyu beef.

1F, 2-11-9 Ebisunishi, Shibuya 150-0021, Tokyo, 81-3-3477-2914, kuroge-wagyu.com

The Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon

March

The Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon: Kick off your Napa Valley getaway by running past a number of vineyards, including Beringer Vineyards and Opus One Winery. First-time marathoners will appreciate the relatively flat course, while runners of all levels will enjoy scenic views of grapevines and rolling countryside.

For a farm-fresh pick-me-up: Refuel at the nearby Bruschetteria Food Truck where executive chef John McConnell tops toasted sourdough with porchetta or ingredients from the Clif Family farm. You can usually spot the truck parked by Velo Vino, the Clif Family Winery’s bicycle-themed tasting room.

709 Main St., St. Helena, 707-968-0625, cliffamily.com

Virgin Money London Marathon

Photo: Jon Buckle for Virgin Money London Marathon

April

Virgin Money London Marathon: Another of the marathon world’s big six, this race boasts a challenging route, but that’s not its only claim to fame. During the 2016 marathon, 31 Guinness World Records were broken, including the fastest marathon completed in a film character costume, the fastest marathon completed in an animal costume and the fastest marathon completed in a four-person costume. (The team dressed up as a fire engine.) The 2018 race is already breaking records; 386,050 applied for a spot at the race, the highest number of applicants for any marathon in the world.

For post-race recovery: The ESPA Spa at the Corinthia Hotel London is spread across four floors. Head to the Thermal Floor, which features saunas, steam rooms, an ice fountain, swimming and vitality pools and special sleep pods.

Whitehall Place, London, 44-20-7930-8181, corinthia.com

Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon

May

Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon: Ottawa’s annual marathon is known as one of Canada’s fastest, thanks to its relatively flat elevation. A circuit race, it’s one of Canada’s largest Boston qualifiers, and runners pass by some of the city’s top highlights, including 24 Sussex Drive, Parliament Hill and the National Gallery of Canada.

For pre-race carbo loading: Head to Supply and Demand, the black-and-white bistro in Wellington West, for fresh pasta. The menu changes seasonally but you can expect such creative combinations as squid ink rigatoni with tuna and prosciuotto meatballs or ricotta agnolotti with ramps, morels and fiddleheads.

1335 Wellington St. W., Ottawa, 613-680-2949, supplyanddemandfoods.ca

Midnight Sun Marathon

Photo: Marius Hansen

June

Midnight Sun Marathon: One of the world’s northernmost marathons, this Norwegian race takes place at the end of spring, when the sun doesn’t set in Tromsø, and kicks off at midnight. Personal bests might be hard to achieve – in addition to taking place in the middle of the night, there are some steep hills to scale – but the experience is worth it.

For an ice-cold beer: You may have to wait a few hours for it to open, but there’s no better way to celebrate than by cracking open a cold one at Ølhallen, the city’s beer hall.

Storgata 4, Tromsø, Norway, 47-77-62-45-80, mack.no

Australian Outback Marathon

July

Australian Outback Marathon: For a truly spectacular running holiday, consider this Uluru adventure race in the heart of the Australian outback. Varied terrain, including hard-packed earth trails, soft sand and asphalt roads, make this a challenging race, but it’s more about the experience than the results. Enjoy spectacular views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, sandstone monoliths that are sacred to Australia’s aboriginal people.

For your post-race protein fix: Head to Pioneer BBQ and Bar, a casual DIY barbecue restaurant at nearby Ayers Rock Resort. Take your grill game to the next level, and cook your own steaks, kangaroo, barramundi and emu sausages.

Outback Pioneer Hotel Ayers Rock Resort, Yulara, Australia, 61-2-8296-8010, ayersrockresort.com.au

Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon Vancouver

Photo: Phillip Chin

August

Lululemon SeaWheeze Half Marathon: Winding along the Vancouver waterfront, this half-marathon is more than a run, with pre- and post-run festivities spanning two days. Get to know fellow competitors at the race package pickup party, which includes a yoga session at the Vancouver Convention Centre. After the race, head to the SeaWheeze Sunset Festival in Stanley Park, an official after-party featuring group yoga, live music and provisions from local businesses.

For a bucket-list-worthy dinner: Celebrate your accomplishment at Kissa Tanto, named Canada’s Best New Restaurant in 2016 by Air Canada enRoute. Dig into the tajarin, a thin, rich egg noodle similar to tagliatelle that comes topped with butter, roasted mushrooms and miso-cured yolk.

263 E. Pender St., Vancouver, 778-379-8078, kissatanto.com

The Kauai Marathon

Photo: Jo Evans

September

The Kauai Marathon: Hills, heat and humidity – the conditions at this Hawaii marathon make it gruelling. The starting gun goes off at 6 a.m. to minimize the tropical weather’s impact, and the gorgeous route offers plenty of distractions.

For the best pre-race sleep: Book a room at the luxe St. Regis Princeville, where the beds are so comfortable, you can buy the exclusive Simmons-designed mattresses, bedding and pillows for hotel-quality sleep at home.

5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville, Hawaii, 808-826-9644, stregisprinceville.com

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Photo: Canada Running Series

October

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon: Toronto hosts several marathons, but this one is the fastest in Canada and second fastest in North America – an ideal race for setting personal bests. Its 25,000 yearly participants collectively raise millions for local charities.

For a victory cocktail: Head to the Gaudí-inspired Bar Raval to toast your achievement with artisanal cocktails. Try the refreshing Jacques Fresco (Tio Pepe Fino, Guerra Blanco, lime, frankincense, cava and mint) or the Doctor’s Order (Bulleit, Byrrh, tawny port, lemon, deathwish syrup, Angostura and Peychaud’s). Named one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants in 2015 by Air Canada enRoute.

505 College St., Toronto, thisisbarraval.com

November

Athens Marathon: This race begins in Marathon and ends at Athens’ Panathenaic Stadium, the world’s only white marble stadium and the setting of athletic competitions in ancient Greece. It’s fitting that the modern version of the original marathon is considered one of the most difficult to run, thanks to its elevation.

For a hotel near the finish line: Just a 12-minute walk from the finish line, AthensWas is a chic and minimalist boutique hotel with mod furnishings, beautiful views and bathrooms stocked with luxe Korres toiletries.

Dionysiou Areopagitou 5, Athens, 30-21-0924-9954, athenswas.gr

December

Intertrust Cayman Islands Marathon: Run along George Town’s waterfront through South Sound, an exclusive neighbourhood populated with multimillion-dollar homes, and through the island’s financial district before closing the loop on this fast, flat race.

For the perfect brunch: This Caribbean marathon kicks off at 5 a.m., so brunch is the best way to celebrate post-race. Try the buffet at the Caribbean Club’s Luca, where you can treat yourself to eggs Benny, fresh seafood, a custom pasta dish and free prosecco refills.

871 W. Bay Rd., Canal Point Dr., Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands, 345-623-4550, caribclub.com