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10 Best Marathons to Travel the World

The Best International Marathons

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“Run a marathon” is a pretty popular bucket list item. But so many of us who mentally (or literally!) jot it on our lists, don’t get into the specifics, like which marathon we hope to run before we die. But if you’re going to run that far, shouldn’t you do it somewhere awesome? (Check out 7 Travel Destinations That Answer the Call of the Wild.) Sign up for an international marathon and you’ll not only feel compelled to hit the pavement on the reg, but you'll also have a seriously great vacation to look forward to. Here, 10 expert-recommended picks to help you flesh out your 26.2-mile goal!

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London Marathon

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The London Marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors, a series of the largest, most renowned marathons in the world. “This is a spectacular marathon where the spectators make for a grand experience,” says running coach Jenny Hadfield, author of Marathoning For Mortals. The 26.2 end at Buckingham Palace—maybe you’ll get a glimpse of Will and Kate! (If not, you could always try one of these 7 Sporty Date Ideas Inspired by Will and Kate.)

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Athens Marathon

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The Athens Marathon is the race that started it all; following the original route that Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon. “I think it's a great way to appreciate and experience the idea and inspiration behind the marathon,” says Francis Diano, running coach and NYSportsMed’s running director. Plus, well, it’s in Greece.

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Berlin Marathon

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Another of the six Majors, the Berlin Marathon is one of the fastest marathon courses on record (flat course + trusty tailwind = speedy times!), says Diano. If you're chasing a BQ (Boston Qualifier) time or looking to PR, this may be the ticket. (Find out Why the Boston Marathon Is Such a Big Deal.)

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Dublin Marathon

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“This is a fun destination and a beautifully scenic run,” says Hadfield. Plus, the Dublin Marathon is relatively flat, so it’s another good race for those looking to score a PR. You’ll finish in the center of the city, so head to the Guinness factory post-run to pull your own celebratory brew!

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Paris Marathon

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“Um, it’s Paris in April—what is better than that?” says Hadfield. The Paris Marathon race of nearly 50,000 runners starts at the Arc de Triomphe and weaves past iconic landmarks like the Bastille and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

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Two Oceans Marathon

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“This one is on my bucket list. It’s billed as the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Marathon’,” says Hadfield. It’s a bit misleading though: The Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa is actually not a 26.2 mile marathon, but instead a series of races of various distances including an ultra marathon and a half marathon. Regardless of the distance you choose, it’s worth the trip. It happens over Easter weekend, so there’s plenty of pre- and post-race celebratory activities to enjoy.

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Great Wall Marathon

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Yup, the Great Wall Marathon in Taijin, China is actually on the Great Wall of China! “This is not your typical marathon; peppered with uneven surfaces and rapid ascents and descents, it’s a great way to challenge you're muscles and cardiovascular endurance past the typical stress of a "normal” Marathon,” says Diano. In fact, it’s considered one of the world’s most challenging. But at least you get a great view of China's countryside while you suffer! (Check out 8 Extreme Fitness Challenges.)

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Tokyo Marathon

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The Tokyo Marathon is the third and final international marathon amongst the majors (the other three are stateside: Boston, New York, and Chicago). “Take advantage of the known organizational and logistical skills of the Japanese; it’s a flat and slightly chilly race (takes place in February), but a great way to explore the jungle of Tokyo,” says Diano, noting that this race is also known for having great post-race entertainment and food (post-race sushi and sake anyone?).

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Antarctica Marathon

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If you want to run a marathon on all seven continents (a common goal amongst marathoners!), this is, of course, a must-run. “It’s a challenging marathon, and the expedition of a lifetime,” says Hadfield. You’ll take a Zodiac ride to the starting line and see glaciers, icebergs, seals, penguins, and whales along the route. But sign up now if this one appeals: The race is sold out through 2017!

Photo: Corbis Images

Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Pichu

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Marathoners talk about how the crowd “gets you through” tough parts of the marathon. Not the Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Pichu. “This (literal) trail run is not flocked by spectators or cheerers,” says Diano. In fact, its not really a typical marathon at all. There is a set season for it and you can run as long as you have a permit during that time. Diano advises that you go with a tour group as they organize everything for you so you can just show up ready to run! One big perk: you  skip the stress of pounding the pavement in favor of nature’s natural surface, he says. You’ll climb 10,400 feet in elevation and descend 11,000. (Check out Hill Running: 5 Reasons to Love the Incline.)

Photo: Corbis Images

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