Around the World in 26.2 Miles

The race that proved fatal for the Greek Pheidippides some 2,500 years ago is now one of the world’s most popular competitive formats. Here are six marathons that any runner worth his or her salt would love to tackle.

Text: Cristóbal Bley
Tokyo Marathon 2011

PHOTO: getty images


Like everything in Japan, marathons are taken seriously. And despite being relatively new (inaugurated in 2007), this race has quickly become one of the top six marathons in the world. Unlike the rest of these long-distance events, the Tokyo Marathon is held before the end of winter, in February, almost always in the rain and considerable cold. The race is a blend of the professional and the picturesque: you’ll see world-class athletes from around the globe lined up with runners dressed as anime characters who use the event as a good excuse to snap selfies.

February 28, 2016
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PHOTO: getty images


Central Park is home to dozens of statues, from Shakespeare to Bolivar to Columbus, but over the past 20 years, the figure of a short man in sportswear has become one of the most popular. This mustachioed man looking at his watch is Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York Marathon, a race that began with barely 100 people in 1970. Today, this world-class marathon receives nearly a million applications every year, but only 50,000 runners get to participate. The event is featured on the news around the world, especially the famous stretch along the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. The marathon passes through all five of the city’s boroughs before concluding in Central Park, near the statue of Lebow, a Romanian immigrant who himself ran the current version of the marathon just once: in 1992, two years before his death. It took him five hours, 32 minutes and 34 seconds, one of the worst times of that year, but the crowd cheered him on as though he were taking first place.

November 1
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Berlin Marathon

PHOTO: getty images


The fastest open marathon in the world, thanks to its flat, even topography and climate (early fall), the 26.2-mile race in Berlin has produced ten world records (itself a record). Until 1990, the marathon was only run on the western side of the famous wall that still divided the city. After the Berlin Wall came down, the route expanded and now passes through the entire German capital. Both the start and finish take place at Brandenburg Bridge, and over the weekend, multiple races are run, including wheelchair and rollerblade versions.

September 25
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PHOTO: sharon garber


The Ultimate Guide for Marathons has repeatedly declared the Big Sur version to be the best in the world. Without the bombast of the races run in some of the world’s largest cities, this marathon is more recreational than competitive, and every year, some 4,500 participants flock to this location on California’s coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They come for the scenery as much as the race: Big Sur is famous for its dense forests, sharp cliffs and wild Pacific Ocean. The race starts at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, heads north and crosses the Bixby Creek Bridge (one of the highest concrete bridges in the world) with the finish line in the seaside town of Carmel.

April 24, 2016
To participate, you must enter the lottery, which opened on July 15.
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The best marathon runners of all time come from this country in sub-Saharan Africa, a region of endless savannahs and the cradle of humanity some 200,000 years ago. None of the most prestigious marathons are run in these parts, but some local competitions pay tribute to the fact that many of the most indomitable and tireless competitors on the planet hail from these parts. One such race is the Rift Valley Marathon, near Mosoriot, Kenya. It crosses through several small African villages, passing through parks where you can spot lions and other Discovery Channel-worthy wildlife before reaching altitudes of up to 8,200 feet.

March 2016
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PHOTO:  latinstock / corbis


Argentina’s capital is a city in perpetual flux, always varying in terms of pace and intensity, but its marathon – held every spring – is an enduring constant. This year will mark the 31st edition of the race, and the route alone makes it worthwhile. The Buenos Aires Marathon begins near the Palermo Zoo, passes by the Hipódromo horse racing track, hits the neighborhood of Belgrano and then heads south through the luxurious streets of Recoleta, into the downtown, passing the Obelisk, and crossing through San Telmo, La Boca, Puerto Madero and back again. The climate is almost always amenable – the average temperature is 68ºF – and any rainfall merely makes the run more refreshing. Last year’s race attracted more than 10,000 participants, making it the most popular marathon in South America.

October 11
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