Marathon Destinations
If you’re going to run a marathon, you might as well do it someplace beautiful. (Photo: Courtesy Andes Adventures)

6 Marathons that Are Actually an Excuse to Travel

With so much to do and see, you'll forget you have a race to run

Marathon Destinations
Megan Michelson

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If you’re going to run a marathon, you might as well do it someplace beautiful. These international marathons still involve running 26.2 miles, but the scenery is stunning enough that you may not even notice the distance fading by. Plus, these overseas destinations have other draws, like a chance to see the midnight sun over a Norwegian fjord, camping in the Andes, or soaking in a Japanese onsen after the race.

Best for Sightseeing: Kyoto Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(JURI POZZI/Stocksy)

Kyoto, Japan; February 16

Need proof that the Kyoto Marathon (from $155) is a stunning run? The hilly course cuts through not one but seven Unesco World Cultural Heritage sites. You’ll pass historic shrines and temples, the Katsura River, and the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Stay in a ryokan, or traditional inn, where you’ll wear a kimono and sleep on futon a mattress; check out Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo (from $70), which has its own onsen. The Kifune Shrine, outside the city and often snow-covered this season, is worth a visit to experience its surrounding hot springs, and the Lake Biwa Canal Cruise reopened in 2018 after being closed for 67 years.

Best for Making a Difference: Uganda Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(Courtesy Uganda Marathon)

Masaka, Uganda; May 24 to 31

The Uganda Marathon happens over the course of seven days. This isn’t just a run. It’s a full-fledged social-impact project. You’ll explore rural villages, spend days volunteering for community projects, like building schools and helping local entrepreneurs draft business plans, and organize a fun run for school children and orphanages. On day six of the trip, you’ll check off those 6.2 miles (or opt for the 10K or half-marathon distances) through a scenic course in Uganda’s largest marathon. The entrace fee of $1,195 will go directly toward funding causes allocated by the local communities, like health education and support for the elderly. While you’re there, add on a visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park, to stand on the equator and spot buffalo, elephants, leopards, and lions in the park’s grasslands.

Best for History Buffs: Inca Trail Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(Ethan Welty/Cavan)

Cuzco, Peru; June 6 to 14 and August 1 to 9 

After 25 years in existence, 2020 marks the final year of the Inca Trail Marathon, a small-scale, unofficial event dubbed the world’s most difficult marathon. In one day, you’ll run the Inca Trail from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, climbing over 10,000 feet in elevation and topping out above 13,000 feet. You’ll pass through archaeological sites and follow in the footsteps of the original pilgrimage to this sacred valley. Andes Adventures offers nine-day marathon packages (from $3,400) for both the June and August dates, which includes lodging in Cuzco and elsewhere, one night of camping, and porters to haul your gear. Stay an extra day to explore Cuzco’s Baroque churches and hike to the top of the Andes’ striped Rainbow Mountain.

Best for Night Owls: Midnight Sun Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(Truls Tiller)

Tromso, Norway; June 20

Some 6,000 runners take to the polar gateway town of Tromso each June for the Midnight Sun Marathon (entrance fee from $96), which also has 10K and half-marathon options. The race starts at 8:30 P.M., but since it doesn’t get dark this close to the Arctic Circle in summer, you’ll run into the night in total sunshine, with views of the surrounding peaks and wandering reindeer. Stay outside town in a Norwegian cottage along a fjord at the Polar Cabin (from $199). Extend your stay for a few days in Oslo, a hip city with a booming craft-cocktail scene. The Amerikalinjen Hotel (from $138) opened in March in a building that once was the headquarters of the 19th-century cruise-ship line of the same name.

Best for Adventurers: Australian Outback Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(Ron Koeberer/Cavan)

Yulara, Australia; July 25

Experience the Northern Territory in a truly unique way: by running across it. This marathon also offers three shorter-distance options, all of which cross bush roads with stellar views of Uluru, the famous Aboriginal sandstone formation, and Kata Tjuta, the area’s landmark red-rock domes. The marathon’s coordinators can arrange for travel packages (from $855) that include up to five nights of lodging and guided outings, or book a trip with Marathon Tours, and it’ll do all the planning for you. Add extra days to explore the cultural highlights of Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park, and book tickets (from $43) to Field of Light Uluru, an outdoor art installation across the desert that spans a distance equal to seven football fields.

Best for Photographers: Iceland Volcano Marathon

Marathon Destinations
(Andrew Peacock/Cavan)

Myvatn, Iceland; July 25

A new marathon for 2020, the Iceland Volcano Marathon is takes place across an active volcanic area. You’ll run over the black sand of the Hverfjall crater and pass by hot springs, lava fields, and spouting geysers at the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Entry in the marathon is part of a six-day package (from $2,217), with one night in the capital city of Reykjavík and four nights in the smaller north-coast towns of Myvatn or Husavík. You can add on sights, like whale spotting, touring an ice cave, or visiting Europe’s tallest waterfall. Or stay on your own to spend a few nights camping on the shores of Lake Myvatn or recovering from the run at the upscale Hotel Laxa (from $135).

Lead Photo: Courtesy Andes Adventures