Top 10 Dream Running Races

Contributed by Michele Gonzalez,  wife, mother, ultrarunner, and FitFluential Ambassador. A former Captain in the US Army, she is now a stay at home mom who is currently training for a sub 3:10 marathon and her first Ironman (NYC – Aug 2012). Her blog, NYCrunningmama, focuses on her training and races, as well as pregnancy and motherhood. To learn more about Michele, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. 
Do you Dream of running a certain race?  
Maybe it’s one of the marathon majors – NYC, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, or London. Maybe it’s a race that is touted to be a “beautiful” course – Big Sur, Honolulu.  Maybe it’s in a part of the world that you hope to travel to one day – Paris, S. Africa, Athens.
So here’s the question – if money, ability, time, and travel were NOT an issue, what race would you want to run?
My husband and I have a (very) long list of races we want to do. This list is a LIFETIME list – we have NO intention of doing most of these races in the near-term.  We would love to – but we can’t afford to travel to some of the destination races at the moment (we are about to purchase our first home!), nor we do have the time to adequately train for some of the more physically demanding races.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be on the lookout to add new races to my list (the actual list is about 25 races long).
Below are my *current* top ten races (in no particular order):
1. Two Oceans Marathon (Cape Town, South Africa) Self-proclaimed as “the world’s most beautiful marathon”, the race is run against a backdrop of spectacular scenery through the Cape Peninsula in early April each year.  The course takes you along the Indian Ocean first and then on to the Atlantic Ocean (hence the name – Two Oceans).

2. Midnight Sun Marathon (Baffin Island, Arctic Bay, Canada)  Held each year at the beginning of July, this marathon is the most northern race in the world (480 miles north of the Arctic Circle). Despite being so far north, you won’t see much snow while you are there (it’s actually too cold and too far north to have any significant evaporation).  With temperatures hovering around freezing, barren rocks and hills along the course and potential sightings of polar bears, this race is not for the faint of heart.  But the 24 hours a day sun (the sun does a full loop in the sky), delicious food that you will be given as part of the travel package, and empty roads you will be running on (approx 150 runners participate each year) make up for the lesser endearing qualities!

3. Badwater Ultra Marathon - (Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, CA)  Recognized globally as the “world’s toughest foot race”, the race covers 135 miles with temperatures up to 130 degrees in the middle of the summer (July). This is one of the races that has (understandably) demanding requirements (for example – you have to complete at least THREE running races of 100 miles in length to even be in contention for acceptance).

4. Athens Marathon: (Marathon to Athens, Greece) Recognized as the original marathon course, this race is held every year in November.  According to legend, it covers the same ground that the Athenian messenger Phiedippides ran when he brought news of victory from the battlefield of Marathon 2,500 years ago. The finish line is in Athens’ magnificent Olympic Stadium, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games. 
5. Big Sur International Marathon  (Big Sur, California) Held each year at the end of April, Big Sur is named one of the top 3 marathons in the US as well as the top destination marathon by Runner’s World. Big Sur is the largest rural marathon in the world, winding through redwoods, paralleling ranches, and offering stunning views of the Pacific Ocean (description from Big Sur’s Website). Not only have I heard nothing but amazing things of this race but I would like to do at least one marathon the west coast (all the marathons I have done have been on the east coast!)
6. Ironman Kona: (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii) To participate in the World Ironman Championship (held annually in October), you can gain entry one of three ways: by earning a qualifying slot at one of the qualifying events held worldwide, by being selected in the Ironman Lottery Program or by winning a slot through the eBay Auction.  The 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run is considered by many to be the toughest course in the world - the Hawaii water is warm enough that helpfully buoyant wetsuits are not allowed, strong winds on the bike; and high temperatures during the run. Just participating in this race would be a huge honor: less than 1,900 started the 2011 race – and you get the opportunity to compete with the world’s best triathletes.

7. Western States (WS) 100: (Squaw Valley, CA to Auburn, CA)  One of the oldest trail events in the world, the WS 100 has a tough lottery system (only 10% get in through the lottery); similar to Badwater, you have to run a qualifying race to even be eligible for the lottery.  The course has over 18,000 feet of elevation gainand almost 23,000 of elevation loss.  To put this into perspective for you, the Boston Marathon and NYC Marathon have 544 and 885 feet of elevation gain and 922 and 844 of elevation loss, respectively. Side note – I have yet to see Unbreakable: The Western States 100 - have you seen it??
8. Great Wall Marathon: (Tianjin Province, China)  A tough and demanding course (held in mid-May) that takes runners up to, across, and down the Great Wall of China (almost 5,200 steps) over the first 11 miles.  Runners then begin the journey through the rice fields and villages to the finish line. The first part of the race is so difficult that the 2011 male and female winners completed the race in 3:18 and 4:11, respectively.
9. Big Five Marathon:  (South Africa) Held in the middle of June, this trail race is amidst the wildlife of the African savannah.  The course literally takes you through the habitats of the Big Five Game (hence where the marathon gets its name): the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.  No fences, no rivers – NOTHING separating the runners and the wildlife.  It’s also considered to be a very tough course (there are some major climbs and descents) – read one runner’s race report here. (Note: there are helicopters and armed rangers on guard throughout the route for safety.)

10. Great Ocean Road Marathon (Victoria, Australia) The point-to-point course takes place on the Great Ocean Road from the town of Lorne to Apollo Bay – one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.  Although the race, held in mid-May, is actually 45k (just under 28 miles, runners receive two official times (both the marathon and the 45k). The isolated, winding course is about 3 hours south of Melbourne and has tough, undulating hills and a slight headwind coming in from the southern ocean.  My husband and I definitely want to take a trip to Australia/NZ – we have close friends who recently moved to Australia and would love to combine sightseeing, visiting friends, and running a marathon!

Other notables:
Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Marathon
Berlin Marathon
London Marathon
Chicago Marathon (I want to complete the Marathon Majors)
Hood-to-Coast Relay
Do you have a list of dream races?  Share!! What are a few of them??
Be sure to mark your calendar for the next #fitblog session on Tuesday, Jan 31st at 9pm EST.  I will be hosting and we will be talking about…guess what??  DREAM RACES!!
A few good reads on the best/beautiful marathons in the world:
Top 10 Marathons Worth Traveling For
Marathon Guide 2012: Fast, Faster, Fastest
Amazing Running Tours
20 Races to Do Before You Die 

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