5 of the best places for marathon tourism: holiday runs with benefits that go beyond fitness
- From the stunning cliffs of Halong Bay to the temples of Angkor Wat, many of the world’s famous sights and monuments can be explored while you jog
- Marathon tourism is perfect for runners looking to combine exercise and travel – and add a wow factor to your social media
It’s 5am on a bitter Sunday, and I’m standing in a caravan park somewhere on Australia’s Great Ocean Road in Victoria, trying to wiggle the feeling back into my hands. Hundreds of Lycra-clad people are performing eye-popping stretches around me.
We are here to sprint along one of the country’s most renowned tourist attractions: a rugged stretch of coastline that starts 100km (62 miles) from Melbourne and makes for a famously scenic drive. But for one weekend each May, it becomes an astonishing athletics track for ultramarathoners and fun runners alike.
In fact, a 2019 European study on what motivates successful marathon runners found that “personal goal achievement was the strongest motivation” for athletes willing to tackle the 46.19km (26.2 miles) distance. For many participants, particularly women, “self-esteem, health and finding meaning in life” were also found to be strong motivating factors.
The resulting social media recognition could also prove irresistible. Jeff Adams, president of specialist global running travel agency Marathon Tours & Travel, acknowledges that overseas races can be viewed as a status symbol: “If you’re posting a picture because you’re running a marathon in a different country, there’s a definite wow effect.”
Albrechtsen, Holm and Adams all agree that meeting like-minded runners is also a driving factor in the popularity of holiday marathons. Holm points out that being part of an international crowd of runners can have a knock-on motivational effect, with clients often making friends and arranging to sign up to further adventurous races together.
However, embarking on a destination marathon isn’t always an easy undertaking. Great Wall Marathon participants, for example, can expect to add 30 per cent to their usual time, owing to those thousands of steps, according to Albrechtsen – though the cut-off time is eight hours instead of the usual six.
Singapore-based teacher Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman has completed races in both Angkor Wat and on the Great Wall. She likes to keep active on holiday, and believes that running in new places adds an extra element to the usual tourist experience. “It holds a different kind of memory,” she says. “It’s different from just travelling to a place.”
“Prepare as if this is any other marathon,” advises Holm. “Then add some of the challenges that you can expect with this particular destination that you have chosen.” She also recommends leaving ample time before the race to acclaimise to the new environment and recover from jet lag.
Once you’ve crossed the finish line, however, it’s time to reward yourself by enjoying your holiday. “The perfect way to recover from a marathon is to be a tourist, to not focus on your training and just relax,” says Holm.
For Adams’ clients, this is where destination marathons really come into their own. “We were out rock-climbing the morning after the race,” he says of a recent trip to Patagonia in South America. “It’s fabulous to see that energy. They want to embrace everything; they want to experience it all.”
Tourist hotspots to run in 2020
1. Great Wall Marathon, China
Set in China’s Tianjin Province, the Great Wall Marathon stars the Great Wall of China, a Unesco World Heritage Site. This course features farmland, local villages, and 5,164 steps. The event offers a full marathon, half marathon, and an 8.5km fun run.
Date: May 16
2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The temple complex is a World Heritage Site and Cambodia’s headline tourist attraction, welcoming 2.2 million visitors in 2019. Tourists looking for an alternative way to visit the ancient ruins can sign up to the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, which raises funds for Cambodian charities. The 2020 edition marks the race’s 25th year.
3. Everest, Nepal
Fancy running at altitude? The Everest Marathon starts at Mount Everest Base Camp, weaving through the sherpa trails of Khumbu valley. The annual event, which commemorates the 1953 ascent of the mountain by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary, includes a 60km ultra category, as well as a marathon and a half marathon.
Date: May 29
4. Loch Ness, Scotland
The UK’s largest body of water is famous for its fabled resident, the so-called “Loch Ness Monster” – a legend that draws millions of tourists a year to the area in the hope of a sighting. The Loch Ness Marathon event offers a full marathon, a 10km distance and a 5km course.
Date: October 4
5. Great Ocean Road, Australia
The Great Ocean Road hugs the Australian coastline in the state of Victoria, passing beaches, forests, and the famous Twelve Apostles rock formation. The Great Ocean Road Running Festival offers the chance to race sections of the route, featuring panoramic views of the Southern Ocean. The event spans a range of distances, from a 60km ultra-marathon to a 1.5km kids’ gallop.
Date: May 16-17