Top Ten Destination Marathons - Page 2

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Marathon de Paris in Paris, France
Marathon de Paris in Paris, France  (ASO/Maindru)

5. Marathon de Paris in Paris, France
Date: Second weekend in April
Tour the City of Light in springtime, take on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and find yourself choosing from wine and cheese at water stops. This is the Marathon de Paris, and you might temporarily forget the pain of 26.2 miles. One of five World Marathon Majors, it is 40,000 participants strong and a European adventure set against a backdrop of all the things we know and love about Paris. Runners set off on the point-to-point course from the Arc de Triomphe and head straight for glory down the Champs-Élysées toward Place de la Concorde and Place de la Bastille. After the sweeping green of Bois de Vincennes park (look for camels), several miles hug the river Seine as the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower come into view.

All of this would be enough, but there’s also amazing crowd support representing nearly every country plus the most indulgent water stops known to marathon racing. Where else but in Paris can you get mineral water, dry and fresh fruits, and sugar every three miles, not to mention cheese, wine, beer, oysters, and sausages later in the race, when you’re just about ready to throw in the towel?

Tip: France requires a one-page medical certificate from your doctor saying you are fit to run, but you can send it in after you register.

4. The Bourbon Chase in Lexington, Kentucky
Date: Chases a full moon with a weekend in either September or October
Known for its bourbon and derby-winning thoroughbreds, Kentucky might just be the coolest and most unexpected place for you and your running BFFs to run a 200-mile overnight relay. Here’s what you can expect from The Bourbon Chase: historic cities, stunning horse country, and world-famous distilleries along the scenic Kentucky Bourbon Trail—basically, the very best of the Bluegrass State. The boutique-style running event caps at 250 teams of 12 (or six for Ultra squads seeking torture), which jibes with race's M.O. of being great (read: loads of fun), not big.

Runners kick off the point-to-point relay near Bardstown at Jim Beam, pass Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark, soak in historic Danville and Harrodsburg, and weave through Four Roses and Wild Turkey before crossing the Kentucky River into Horse Country. There, exhilarated runners meet deep, rolling green pastures and many of the world’s most spectacular racehorses en route to the bourbon-tastic finish in Lexington. Oh, you betcha there’s bourbon at the finish (what more powerful incentive?), not to mention festive Kentucky food, beer, and bluegrass music.

Tip: For the brave and the strong, every distillery marks an exchange point where two half-ounce pours of bourbon can be optionally imbibed (by visitors and support staff, not runners or drivers).

3. Bank of America Chicago Marathon in Chicago, Illinois
Date: First Sunday in October
One of five elite World Marathon Majors, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is a dream for big-city race enthusiasts. It’s a flat, fast, point-to-point course perfect for setting a Boston qualifying time. Marathoners start on the city’s front yard facing Lake Michigan before setting off through an urban maze of landmark metropolitan towers and architecture, iron bridges, and famous waterways. Underground streets echo with cheers as runners pass historic parks and green-blue lakefront. But the marathon’s real pièce de résistance may be in its all-out diversity. Runners ranging from novice to elite and representing more than 100 countries push through a lively course spanning 29 Chicago neighborhoods, including Boystown, Lincoln Park, Greektown, Pilsen, and Chinatown. As far as big-city races go, there’s no better place than Chicago to feel such tremendous crowd support without feeling lost in the crowd (thank you, Midwestern charm).

Tip: Chicago’s notoriously unpredictable October weather can range from hot and steamy to downright frigid, so be on the ball and prepare for either.

2. Athens Classic Marathon in Athens, Greece
Date: Early November
Born of myth and heroic tragedy, the Athens Classic Marathon has become the race of a lifetime. “For distance runners,” said author and 1968 Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot, “Marathon tugs at the soul as Jerusalem and Mecca do for religious pilgrims.” Sprung from the 409 B.C. Battle of Marathon, legend has it that a Greek messenger named Pheidippides ran 25 nonstop miles from Marathon to Athens to proclaim Greek victory over the invading Persians, only to die immediately after from exhaustion. In 2010, Burfoot finally made the same pilgrimage as the event celebrated its 2,500-year anniversary.

Following the original Olympic course used in 1896 and again for the 2004 Athens Games, the point-to-point race is limited to 12,500 runners who basically run uphill for the first 20 miles, then descend into Athens. Uninspired terrain is offset by remarkable ancient landmarks as well as olive leaves offered by locals. Runners start in the town of Marathon, circle the Soros burial mound—where 192 Athenians were killed and laid to rest after the Battle of Marathon—and finish in the awe-inspiring, white-marble Panathinaiko Stadium.

Tip: Participants get 50 percent off all public transport in Athens and entrance fees to archaeological sites and the New Acropolis Museum.

1. Big Sur International Marathon in Big Sur, California
Date: Last Sunday in April
It’s hard not to gush over the Big Sur International Marathon, consistently named one of the best destination marathons and one of the top marathons overall in America by the likes of Runner’s World and Forbes. Let’s start with the utterly spellbinding Pacific-coast scenery surrounding a point-to-point course that hugs the rugged edge of the western world. And then there’s the challenge of a 275-foot elevation loss matched by 18 quad-popping hills, including brutal Hurricane Point (which bests even Boston’s famously steep Heartbreak Hill). But it’s mile 13 and the tux-wearing pianist playing inspirational tunes on a grand piano that had me at “Chariots of Fire” (rumor has it that you’ll catch a first listen of the music at mile 12 as it carries over Hurricane Point). Let’s not forget changes in scenery that have you tucking into redwood forests, passing the Carmel Highlands, and crossing over bridges like the iconic Bixby.

Big Sur is limited to 4,500 runners and sells out in less than a month, so procrastinators be warned. Those not up for the full 26.2 can register for other marathon-day events, including a marathon relay; a 5K run; and nine-, 10.6-, and 21-mile distances for walkers and runners. For more crazy, take on the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge and conquer both world-famous marathons back-to-back in less than two weeks’ time.

Tip: Did I mention the hills?

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