On his journey through Greece from Marathon to Athens, the infamous Greek messenger (whose story later inspired the modern marathon) had no time for the scenic route; he had to run 25 miles to deliver news of a battle victory in 490 B.C. Lucky for him, the finish line was home to the glistening Acropolis and its grand temples, for which today’s travelers trek even greater lengths via planes, trains and automobiles to see.
Modern marathon runners can follow in his footsteps, opting to see the world in slightly longer 26.2-mile jaunts that are worthy of a bucket-list. Travel far enough, and you’ll find marathon routes lined with UNESCO World Heritage Sites atop unusual landscapes that look nothing like your high-school track. Tread steadily along sacred temples in Kyoto, warily alongside elephant herds in Kenya, and complete your next marathon like the Greek messenger himself: epically.
Keith Flanagan is a writer, eater and consummate traveler who loves the journey home to Brooklyn, NY, as much as the open road.
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Petra Desert Marathon–Petra, Jordan:
Perhaps one of the ultimate bucket-list destinations, the far-flung Petra Desert is shrouded in mystery; the prehistoric Jordanian city of Petra is still vastly underground. Above the surface, however, fearless runners partaking in the Petra Desert Marathon, led by Albatros Adventure, will start their route in the Street of Facades, where monasteries, tombs and caves carved in the area's iconic pink, white and red sandstone line the beginning stretch. Marathoners push beyond the Lost City through the dry heat, along the desert and even mountain ridges where, on especially clear mornings, Israel can be spotted in the distance.
Photo courtesy of Albatros Adventure
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Australian Outback Marathon–Northern Territory, Australia:
No greener pastures await at the end of the Australian Outback Marathon. Runners pound away along Australia's red dirt roads in its famous Northern Territory, traveling through some of the country's most traveled-for landscapes. The views from the route are metamorphic: Uluru, a singular gargantuan rock formation, punctuates the landscape and never goes out of sight, while Kata Tjuta, a group of domed rocks of equal splendor, huddles on the horizon.
Photo courtesy of Australian Outback Marathon
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The Macau International Marathon–Macau, China:
Sure, Macau is better known for its sky-scraping casinos than its history. But for the first time, this year the city's annual
Macau International Marathon cuts through the peninsula's cultural roots, passing Macau's World Heritage Sites. Runners make their way through The Historic Centre of Macao, where they stride alongside the city's brightest landmarks like A-Ma Temple (which pre-dates the city itself as one of Macau's oldest Taoist temples) and a handful of cobbled Portuguese piazzas complete with sprawling motifs. Finally, runners cross the Sai Van Bridge, which clocks in at over a mile in length and overlooks the grand contemporary structures for which Macau is most known, providing a final look at the city just before the finish line.
Photo courtesy of Macao Sports Development Board
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The Kyoto Marathon–Kyoto, Japan:
While Kyoto clings to traditions and overall tranquility, it also hosts an annual frenzy of marathoners.
The Kyoto Marathon courses through the ancient city, home to thousands of religious structures, looping in seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shrines and temples—including Daikaku-ji Temple, Matsunoo-taisha Shrine and Wara-tenjin Shrine—populate the route before the finish at the giant torii gates of Heian-jingu Shrine. Contemporary landmarks line the trail, too, like the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, making the route a crash course for travelers hoping to cross the city's most popular sites off their bucket-list.
Photo courtesy of The Kyoto Marathon
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Lewa Safaricom Marathon–Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya:
Picture this: a buffalo stands before the finish line, and you must wait to cross it until the animal is ushered away by a helicopter. This is the thrill of Kenya's
Lewa Safaricom Marathon. Held annually within the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, solitude is remiss amongst the area's 61,000 protected acres, home to over 100 rhino, herds of zebras, giraffes and more. Runners stampede atop the savannah plains with views of Mount Ololokwe, which juts from the plain like a lone molar, all in the name of wildlife conservation, where proceeds from this race are purposed.
Photo courtesy of Bush and Beyond