So, you’ve streaked through the streets of NYC for the New York City Marathon, crushed Heartbreak Hill in Boston, maybe you’ve even whet your appetite in Chicago, Berlin, and London. But now the classic 26.2 mile marathon is looking kind of boring to you. You want something different. Something challenging. 

Well, don’t worry. There are races out there. From a marathon that circles the soft sands of a volcanic crater to one that has you running next to African wildlife, these are the most exciting marathons happening within the next year. 

The World’s Fastest Marathon

Looking to shave a few seconds off your marathon PR? Then book your ticket to Spain. The self-proclaimed World’s Fastest Marathon starts high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, leading you through a serpentine descent. The route is almost 100% downhill, with an altitude drop of 6,358 feet, ending in the historic city of Granada. Just be aware that due to the descent, your time won’t qualify you for marathons like Boston. Plus your quads will feel like Jello the next morning. 

Date: October 8, 2022

The Polar Circle Marathon

This marathon is all about survival. The Greenland-based race takes you 26 miles through an arctic desert and over ice sheets. You may not run your fastest time, but the experience is worth it. Musk oxen and arctic fox dot the landscape as you hustle past glaciers in one of the most remote corners of the world.

Date: October 29-30, 2022

First Light Marathon

Are you an early riser? Then this is the marathon for you. The First Light Marathon takes place in Tairāwhiti Gisborne, New Zealand, known as the first city in the world to see the light each day. The marathon starts at sunrise, heralding in the new day as you traverse the city’s coastline between white sand beaches and rolling green hills. January 2023 will be the first time this race has ever been run.

Date: January 28, 2023

The Great Wall Marathon

Widely considered one of the most challenging marathons in the world, this race takes you along one of mankind’s greatest monuments, China’s Great Wall. The marathon starts from Yin and Yang Square in the old Huangyaguan fortress, leading you through a series of steep ascents and way too many stairs (5,164, to be exact). But the views are worth it as you pass through nearby villages and the lower valley.

Date: May 20, 2023

The Iceland Volcano Marathon

Yes, that is an active volcano you’ve chosen to run near—all the more reason to run fast! The Iceland Volcano Marathon takes you through the island’s North Volcanic Zone, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide. As part of the route you’ll run past geysers, hot springs, lava fields, and even around the rim of Hverfjall, a massive, black volcanic sand crater. Keep your wits about you on this route.  

Date: September 10, 2022

The Big Five Marathon

Combine your next race with an African safari. The Big Five Marathon starts at Lakeside Lodge, taking you through a South African game reserve. The name “Big Five” relates to the five major animals in the reserve: the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard. Keep your eyes open for a glimpse of these animals; there’s nothing along the 26-mile route separating you from the wildlife.

Date: June 18, 2022

The Big Sur Marathon

While this marathon may lack some of the international intrigue of the other races on this list, it’s still definitely worth strapping on the running shoes for. The Big Sur Marathon is a point-to-point course that takes you along the California coast from Big Sur to Carmel. Along the way, you’ll pass towering redwoods, crashing waves, coastal mountains, and, of course, you get to cross the iconic Bixby Bridge halfway through the race.

Date: April 24, 2022

Petra Desert Marathon

You’re going to want to pack a water bottle for this desert marathon. Starting in the ancient cave city of Petra, the route weaves through tombs, caves, and monasteries, before emerging on Jordan’s Wadi Rum Desert. After traversing the desert, the race finishes back where it started at the Petra Visitor Center. Watch out for nearby camels and make sure to take a dip in the Dead Sea when you finish. 

Date: September 3, 2022

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