Toughest Marathons in the World

Completing the 26.2 miles of the marathon is seen as one of the biggest challenges for any athlete and here is our rundown of the toughest routes on the planet

Completing the 26.2 miles of a marathon takes weeks of dedication, weekends lost to long slow runs and dietary sacrifices, but it is all worth it when that medal is finally hung around your neck.

However, for some long-distance runners, the regular challenge is not enough, so here are five of the world’s toughest marathons, all of which you can sign up for.

The Inca Trail Marathon

Thousands of people head to Peru every year to take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but you can get the whole experience by running a marathon.

The race takes place in June and follows the cobbled trail, which at times is just four feet wide, so there is not much scope for overtaking.

It is the ultimate undulating course, with Dead Women’s Pass having to be scaled at 13,800 feet, while there are also some frighteningly steep descents.

The cut-off time is 13 and a quarter hours if you want to do it in one day and the course record is just over six and a half.

Kilimanjaro Marathon

This is the highest marathon in the world, with altitude peaking at 19,341 feet, so acclimatising for a few days is highly recommended before embarking on such a momentous trip.

There is no cut-off time, but extra clothes will be required as the temperatures can plummet as you hit the heights.

Most take between 15 and 20 hours to complete the race, so it is not a course to shoot for a personal best, but the record is 10 minutes shy of nine hours. 

Antarctic Ice Marathon

Brrrr! No prizes for guessing why the Antarctic Ice Marathon is on the list.

At least the snow is groomed so that it is similar to running on sand and a course record of 3:34.12 was set by William Hafferty in 2019.

The race does not scale the heights but temperatures can easily plumb depths of -25C. And then there are winds that can top 180 miles per hour.

Usually, about 50 hardy souls take part in what has to be the experience of a lifetime.

Pikes Peak Marathon

August is the month of the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado, which reaches a top elevation of 14,115 feet.

The first half is all uphill and can take runners longer to complete than they would do a regular marathon on the flat, but you just can’t rock up as you have to take part in a qualifying run to prove your fitness.

The course record is a phenomenal 3.16:39, which is remarkable considering the track is narrow and winding and basically dirt.

It has been going since 1956 and has the distinction of being the first marathon to allow female competitors.

Great Wall Marathon

The Great Wall winds for 4,500 miles, but even a 26.2-mile section represents a considerable test.

There are 5,164 steps that are between two and 11 inches high for a start and temperatures can reach 30C on race day.

Even though there are no roads to reopen, there is still an eight-hour cut-off and, while the course record is just over three and a half hours, most competitors still finish in between five and seven.

A vastly experienced journalist, Ian has worked the beat on a number of local newspapers and covers a number of different sports for the Racing Post
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