13 of the World’s Strangest Marathons
Want to now the which are the world’s strangest marathons? Keep reading!
Running a marathon is challenging enough without adding in thousands of steps, wild animals, and slippery ice sheets in extreme temperatures. And yet, determined runners partake each year in such unusual distance races that take endurance running to the next level.
From underwater and safari marathons, racing through the busy Las Vegas Strip, and climbing the Great Wall of China to running in the North and South Pole’s hostile environment, we bring you some of the strangest marathons on the planet.
1. Burro Days Marathon
The Burro Days Marathon in Fairplay, Colorado, is a 29-mile or 15-mile off-road race to the top of Mosquito Pass and back. What makes it strange is the fact that runners have to race alongside, or rather drag, a burro (Spanish for “donkey”).
And as if that wasn’t arduous enough, the burro has to carry a pack saddle with 33 pounds of mining gear through thorny bushes and the rocky Mosquito Pass. That’s a shout-out to the burro’s role in the old mining days during the Colorado Gold Rush.
Not being able to control the pace is what makes it fun, even though you need hours to reach the finish line.
2. Man Versus Horse Marathon
The Man Versus Horse Marathon in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, is exactly what the name suggests — men (and women) pitting against horses to try and outrun them.
Runners compete against horseback riders over a 22-mile course that stretches through vast green pastures, uneven forest paths, and ankle-deep streams.
Now, it may seem impossible for humans to outrun their four-legged opponents, but two runners have claimed victory since the marathon’s inception in 1980 – once in 2004 and another time in 2007. When the weather is too hot, you have a chance to snatch the cash prize.
3. Le Marathon du Médoc
This is the world’s longest and booziest marathon, held in France’s Médoc region. It includes running through more than 30 vineyards, including the legendary Château Lafite Rothschild, where participants have to drink wine and sample local food specialties.
There are 23 wine tastings on the route, with oysters, cheese, steak, foie gras, fruit, biscuits, waffles, ice cream, and so much more to try — and you can’t skip any of the stops.
The medical support is fantastic, so there’s one less thing to worry about! The time limit is six hours and 30 minutes, which isn’t enough for most contestants indulging in all the local delights.
Thanks to a different annual theme that requires runners to pick a creative outfit, and multiple orchestras throughout the vineyards, this event is quite like a party.
4. Safaricom Marathon
Absolutely one of greatest world’s strangest marathons is the Safaricom Marathon.
The Safaricom Marathon gives a new meaning to a wild running experience. Held annually at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, it’s a fundraising event for wildlife conservation efforts and community development projects.
What makes it strange (and potentially dangerous) is that it’s an endurance race through an open game reserve! It’s home to antelopes, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, elephants, cape buffalos, and predators like lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, and hyenas.
Potential run-ins with the African wildlife, along with the harsh climate and challenging terrain, put even the most seasoned runners to the test.
Luckily, armed Kenya Wildlife Service guards patrol the course at all times to ensure the runners’ safety, together with a spotter plane and two helicopters that warn of any potential threats nearby.
5. Loch Ness Marathon
This race offers an opportunity to run along the famous loch’s shores in Scotland, with inflatable Nessie waiting for runners at the finish line in Inverness.
There’s nothing unusual about it, but did you know that it held a long-distance underwater marathon in 2003?
Famous marathoner Lloyd Scott completed the first-ever 26.2-mile underwater challenge to raise money for charity. He wore an antique deep-sea diving suit of 120 pounds, and it took him 12 days to emerge from the murky depths of Loch Ness.
6. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
This event is exactly what you might expect from Sin City. Taking place on Las Vegas Boulevard at sunset, it includes racing through the busy streets filled with Elvis impersonators, thousands of people cheering on, and over 20 bands creating a party-like atmosphere.
There’s even a run-thru wedding chapel for couples who want to tie the knot or renew their vows during the run.
Until recently, this was a 26.2-mile run, but Competitor Group, Inc. cut it in half due to poor feedback from previous contestants.
7. Albatross Polar Circle Marathon
This strange event near the Polar Circle in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, is far from your regular long-distance race.
It offers breathtaking polar sceneries and potential run-ins with reindeer, musk oxen, and arctic foxes. However, it requires participants to run past towering glacier tongues and across moraine landscapes through the arctic tundra.
Its main part includes a snow-covered gravel road, but a portion goes over an ice sheet. The steep route is marked to prevent potential falls, but the harsh climate can lead to frostbite.
With temperatures hovering around 5 °F and 14 °F in October, when the race takes place, and slippery ice sheets that pose the danger of falling into a crevasse, this can be quite a dangerous run.
8. Walt Disney World Marathon
Surely one of the world’s strangest marathons.
This event is a brilliant choice for all Disney enthusiasts. Taking place in Orlando, Florida, it features an entire weekend of races, including 5K, 10K, half, and full marathons. Participants can opt for a multi-race challenge to try and win all the prizes.
What makes this event weird is racing through the iconic theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort, including Hollywood Studios, the Magic Kingdom Park, the Animal Kingdom, and Epcot.
Everywhere you look, there are life-size Disney characters — throughout the entire course. While they make for a fun and exciting experience, they can be quite distracting as well especially since you can’t stop for a ride.
9. Star Wars Marathon
Participants have an opportunity to don their favorite Star Wars costume and showcase their allegiance to the light or dark side. They can join the Star Wars Rebel Challenge to run both a 10K and a half marathon while people dressed as the famous characters from the popular franchise cheer them on.
10. The Barkley Marathons
This is one of the weirdest ultra-distance trail races ever. Limited to only 40 runners, it features a 100-mile trail in Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee.
It includes a 20-mile unmarked loop without any aid stations and a portion where the vertical climb is so steep that it makes this race one of the most challenging out there.
Only 15 people have finished it since 1986, as the 60-hour time limit doesn’t seem to be enough for most runners to do all the loops.
Another strange thing about it is the application process. It’s a closely-guarded secret, so applicants must figure out when they can enter the competition and what requirements they need to meet. One of them includes writing a “Why I Should Be Allowed to Run in the Barkley” essay.
11. North Pole Marathon
This is truly one of the world’s strangest marathons.
Not for the faint of heart, this race at the top of the world isn’t run on land but, rather, on frozen water.
It’s a full-distance race with ten circular loops on Arctic ice floes, where participants need to run in below-freezing temperatures (around -22 °F) and may encounter an occasional polar bear.
The entry fee is a whopping €16,900 (over $19,300) or €15,900 (over $18,200) for paying in full upon registration. However, the hefty price tag includes return flights from Svalbard, Norway, to the North Pole camp, accommodation, helicopter flights, and many other services for an unforgettable experience.
12. Great Wall Marathon
If you’ve ever visited the Great Wall of China, you must know how its ups, downs, twists, and turns are challenging. Can you imagine how daunting this world wonder can be when trying to conquer it in a full-distance race?
This 10-hour, heart-pumping event starts and ends at Yin and Yang Square in the old Huangyanguan fortress in Tianjin. It includes 5,164 steps and various ascents and descents, some of which are so steep that they require climbing on all fours.
13. The Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon
Not to be confused with Norway’s Midnight Sun Marathon (which is just as thrilling), the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon takes place in Anchorage, Alaska.
Like its Norwegian counterpart, it starts in the evening, finishes at midnight, and offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the Midnight Sun, thanks to the summer solstice that brings an entire day of sunlight.
If you’re an avid runner who likes a challenge, running any of these strange marathons may be an ideal way to test your body and mind’s limits. Even if you don’t finish it, you’ll be glad that you tried and enriched your life with a memorable experience. Just be sure to get high-quality running shoes with proper cushioning and support to protect your feet.
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