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If you're looking for an epic challenge, the Mount Kilimanjaro marathon delivers! © foxycoxy/Pixabay
If you're looking for an epic challenge, the Mount Kilimanjaro marathon delivers! © foxycoxy/Pixabay

The 16 Most Epic Races in the World

Picture of Taylor Geiger
Freelance Travel Writer
Updated: 7 December 2017

If you’re looking for races that go beyond the ordinary 5k or half marathon course, we’ve got you covered. These extraordinary, adventurous, and memorable running events will challenge you to draw deep within yourself and emerge a champion with killer Insta pics to prove it!

The Great Wall Marathon

Regarded by many to be one of the most challenging marathons, the Great Wall Marathon involves literally running on the old stones of this incredible Chinese monument or near it through rural villages. There are a lot of steps and elevation changes, but the fact that this race sells out at 2,500 bibs annually is proof that this race belongs on any serious destination runner’s bucket list. Another great part about this race is that is has excellent logistical and medical support along the course.

The Australian Outback Marathon

The most scenic and unique marathon in Australia takes place away from the major cities on dirt roads through the gorgeous Australian Outback. If you aren’t up for a marathon on off-road trails, sign up for the half-marathon, the 11k, or the 6k distances. Most of the course is held on bush tracks and soft-sand trails. Expect your shoes to turn a light shade of red by the end of the race from running on Australia’s famous “red dirt.”

4Deserts 250k Sahara Race

The organizers at 4Deserts plan the four most grueling running races through deserts all over the world. The Sahara Race is 155.3 miles (250 kilometers) and takes seven days to complete. Runners make their way through the shifting sands in Namibia with a full medical support team, water, and a tent to sleep in at night. Although elite runners are always present in the event roster, novices willing to put in the hours of training to succeed are also encouraged to apply for the epic races in the 4Deserts series.

Trailfest Grand Circle

A challenging three days of running awaits runners at Trailfest. Runners enjoy the natural landscapes of Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon during three different trail races. Runners receive a time for each of the three races, as well as a cumulative time at the end. The Bryce Canyon Run covers 13 miles (20 km) and the Zion trail is 12 miles (19 km). On the third day, you’ll run through world famous Grand Canyon National Park for 19 miles (30.5 km). Trailfest is an amazing way to experience the stunning beauty of the Four Corners region in the U.S.

The Empire State Building Run-Up

Think you can run 86 flights (or 1,576 stairs) in 10 minutes? Then sign up for the Empire State Building Run-Up, one of the most challenging tower races in the world. Tower running is a professional sport, and the very best in the world travel to New York every year to compete in this ultimate endurance test.

The Running of the Bulls

Pamplona, Spain is home to the internationally televised spectacle of the Running of the Bulls every year in July. Furious bulls chase after runners for 2,706 feet (825 meters) from the corral to the bull ring. Participating in the Running of the Bulls is not without risk, as runners are injured every year. A good level of physical fitness and ability to sprint quickly for four to five minutes, as well as a good set of nerves, is essential for success.

The Color Run Manila – Black Light Edition

The capital of the Philippines has gotten into hosting color runs with gusto; now they are hosting black light editions with glow-in-the-dark paint that take place after sunset. Sign up to run 3k, 5k, or 10k and then enjoy partying and dancing to music played by a DJ in the after-race party.

Dallas Vert Mile

The Reunion Tower in Dallas, Texas is host to another great stair running race. The Reunion Tower has 50 stories comprising 807 steps and is 560 feet (171 meters) tall. If you really want to push yourself (or you’re just a bit crazy), you can sign up to do the quarter mile, which is three trips up the tower. The half mile is six trips up to the top and the full Vertical Mile challenge is 12 trips within two and a half hours. That’s a total of 600 stories of stairs!

Run the Walls in Dubrovnik

Only 100 runners per year can take to Dubrovnik’s walls for a tricky 2.5 kilometer race involving running upstairs and downstairs on the slippery ancient stones. The 6,365 foot (1,940 meter) stretch of walls was built around the city as a fortification system in the Middle Ages. Game of Thrones fans will especially love this race, as the Walls of Dubrovnik are infamous for the fictional city of King’s Landing in this popular TV series.

Thailand’s Ultra Trail Panoramic

Fly into Chiang Mai and head up into the mountains for the Ultra Trail Panoramic. The altitude changes constantly, but the breathtaking views make it worth the effort. Elevation on the course ranges from 1,640 to 5,741 feet (500 to 1,750 meters). There is a cut-off time of 48 hours for the 100 mile race, so advanced training on steep inclines will be necessary for your success on this challenging course!

Inca Trail Marathon

The race organizers call this run “A Marathon in Distance, but an Ultra in Effort!” Simply hiking the Inca Trail is a huge feat of endurance, but running for 26.2 miles (42 km) with a finish at Machu Pichu is certainly a rewarding accomplishment! The race organizers offer complete packages to help runners with altitude acclimation, camping equipment, local transport, and more.

Kilimanjaro Marathon

If you are into high altitude running, why not also add the Kilimanjaro Marathon to your bucket list? You will summit Mount Kilimanjaro in one day, racing to “Africa’s Rooftop.” We can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment you will have after completing this challenging race! Not to mention, the amazing experience of running in Tanzania and squeezing in some time for a safari before or after your run.

Tahoe 200 Endurance Run

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and during this challenging endurance race, runners navigate a 200 mile (321.8 km) loop around the lake within the 100 hour time limit. The route is well supported with 14 aid stations and hot food and sleeping quarters at five locations. If you enjoy spending time in nature, this race is for you!

Two Oceans Marathon

The Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa, is largely regarded to be one of the most beautiful race courses in existence. Held annually during Easter weekend, the race includes an ultra marathon of 34.7 miles (56 kilometers), a full marathon, a half marathon, a trail run, and various fun runs to get the whole family involved. You’ll run along a street called Paradise Road during this race, and you won’t soon forget the incredible views.

Istanbul Marathon

The Istanbul Marathon is epic because it is the only marathon in the world to take place on two continents! You’ll cover both Asia and Europe during this race. Most of the race course is directly near the Bosphorus Strait, and really shows off the historical highlights of Istanbul, such as the thirteenth century Galata Tower and the Byzantine Saint Sofia Basilica.

Carlsbad 5,000

The Carlsbad 5,000 is known as the world’s fasted 5k and the “Party By the Sea.” Now in its 33rd year, the event takes place in March in sunny Carlsbad, California. You can also make the event a 20k by signing up to run with all four age groups! Everyone gets a beer at the finish line and can enjoy the post-race festival and concert.