Marathon tourism proves just the ticket
The Great Wall in China is probably the hardest and Beaujolais the easiest – with former war zones in between
Hitting the Wall yet? Runners compete in the Great Wall marathon at Huangyaguan (Yellow Cliff Pass) Great Wall of China in Tianjin. The race is regarded as one of the most challenging marathons in the world. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Had you so wished, you could have run a marathon through the Gaza Strip which, at 41km long, is almost perfectly marathon-proportioned. That was until Hamas decided they didn’t like the sexes running together and banned . . . you guessed it . . . women. Organisers at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency were forced to pull the plug on the event in 2013.
It seems that whatever your interest, whatever random place you would like to visit, there is probably a marathon event for you.
Some 48,000 run the vastly over-subscribed New York City marathon where, like the great city itself, every nation on earth is represented. The Paris Marathon draws 40,000 for a spectacular route that snakes along the banks of the Seine, down the Champs Elysees, past the Eiffel Tower to finish near the Arc de Triomphe.
Runners looking for unique experiences are also amply catered for. Fancy running through a former war zone? Check out the Rwandan International Peace Marathon. How about running in the footsteps of Jesus? Try the Tiberias marathon.
China hosts what is considered the world’s most onerous marathon that careens up steep sections of the Great Wall.
For one day of the year tourists are evicted from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, giving runners an unimpeded route around the 12th-century Wonder of the World.
There is a marathon across the dazzling white plains of the Antarctic, a night run in Norway where the Northern Lights lick the skies above you and the “Big Five” marathon/safari in South Africa where you had better be light on your feet around the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo on whose turf you are running.
There is no greater training target than having a marathon trip to look forward to – the perfect motivation to push you out the door on those soggy evenings.
Martin Joyce is managing director of Sports Travel International which has been organising package marathon holidays for 25 years and on the day we speak, he has the happy, if vaguely hassled, tone of a very busy man.
Applications for the London marathon have just closed and New York was opening the following day. He was also co-ordinating a field of runners to fly to the Tokyo marathon last weekend.
Later in the year, he will accompany 400 Irish runners to New York, a marathon he describes with evident admiration.
“New York is the world’s number one marathon, no doubt about that. It is everybody’s dream. Two million spectators come out to view it, the start is spectacular, you run the five boroughs and finish in Central Park. It’s the sheer atmosphere in the city, it takes over for the weekend.”
It is one of six annual world running events that make up the World Marathon Majors, “a bit like the Golf Classics of running”, he says. Also included are London, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo and Berlin. They are wildly popularity.