For many runners, that first step of the 26.2-mile marathon journey will begin in a scenic or historic locale in one of the many exotic corners of the world. Marathon running is a perfect way to combine a competitive spirit with a love of travel. Millions of people worldwide take on marathons each year; more than 500,000 finish one in the United States alone, according to “Running USA.”

With more than 800 marathons around the world, according to the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, runners have plenty of potential destinations. Here are a few of the most notable:

For the Big Dogs

Serious runners often take on big-name marathons, which happen to be held in world-class cities beloved by travelers – including the Tokyo Marathon, Chicago Marathon and the largest in the U.S., the TCS New York City Marathon. The oldest annual marathon in the world, the Boston Marathon takes place on the third Monday in April, also known as Patriots’ Day. Considered one of the most difficult courses, it culminates in the aptly named “Heartbreak Hill.” Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is no easy feat and will only grant you the opportunity to submit for registration, bib number not guaranteed.  

For the Newbies

While every marathon is the same distance, they run the gamut from flat and relatively enjoyable to grueling and not for the faint of heart. For those new to marathons, there is a lot to learn – from proper nutrition and training to handling the mental aspect of a race – and course selection is key. The Walt Disney World Marathon, held every January, features a manageable 16-minute-per-mile pace requirement and a scenic course that takes runners through all four Disney theme parks and ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mouse ears aren’t required, but they’re an acceptable addition to running gear. Touted by “Runner’s World” as one of the 10 best starter marathons, The Flying Pig is held every May in Cincinnati, Ohio. Celebrating the city’s history as a major pork producer, the Pig gets off to a hilly start but settles into a comfortable course, with more than 150,000 rowdy spectators.

For the Quirky Competitors

Definitely not for the slow-moving runner, the Big Five Marathon in South Africa takes participants through the Big Five game reserves in Africa, with no fences, rivers or other separations between runners and game – rhinos, lions, elephants and more. If sharing terrain with wildlife isn’t a deal-breaker, there’s also extreme terrain, including sharp descents, and the arid climate to contend with. For night owls, not to mention those who love stunning views, the Midnight Sun Marathon winds runners through Tromsø, Norway, in the evening, with most finishing around midnight. Luckily, the sun doesn’t set in the region between May and July, so participants enjoy Arctic scenery. The 30th Midnight Sun will be held June 22, 2019.

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