Trail blazers marathons are not for the faint at heart. Not looking for the open road, or the one that is frequently traveled, those who seek out the trail races want adventure at every twist and turn. Taking a special type of endurance, strength and commitment, these marathons are all unique, challenging in their own right, and like nothing you’ve ever seen before. If you are ready to take those running shoes off road, then try your hand at one of these spectacular racing events.
Regarded in the marathon world as one of the most difficult courses around, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is a favorite and one of the most widely attended ultra marathons globally. Also one of the most grueling, the course runs an elevation of 9600 meters total from start to finish. Started in 2001, the popularity of this event draws participants from around the globe. Mostly supported by locals, the landscape and surrounding towns, are full of charm and tradition. From mountain huts to local storefronts, there is something to behold at every checkpoint along the trek.
60 or 100 miles
For those looking to put themselves in an elite class, the Barkley Marathon is an ultramarathon that is held near Warburg in Frozen Head State Park Tennessee. Runners can register for either the 60-mile run or the 100-mile distance. A race that is limited to 60 hours for completion, not everyone will make the cut off to cross over the finish line. Designed by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell, it was named after running world great Barry Barkley. Limited to only 40 runners, it is a tight-knit group. That means the competition to get in is fierce and secretive. If you can figure out the date of the next run, you have to accompany your registration along with a letter of why you should be allowed to run with a dollar and sixty cent application fee. The good news is that if you are accepted, you receive a letter of condolence. A spirited race, you have to bring your license plate to accompany you, which is only one of the things that makes it not just your standard Ultra marathon.
102km, 87km, 62km or relay
One of the most revered ultra marathon race in New Zealand, the Tarawera Ultramarathon is also considered one of the most stunning. Racers make their way through forests, waterfalls and five lakes, on their way to the finish line. Typically participating in the ultra are the most seasoned and elite athletes from around the globe. A who's who of ultra marathoning, it has the most wondrous trails that attract world-class marathon enthusiasts from around the world. A great try for someone who is a newbie, there are very generous cutoff times, and it is so much fun that most people travel from the vast reaches of the world to come for the weekend and stay for the challenge. If you are looking for something spectacular and sites to behold while pushing your body beyond its human capacity, this is the race for you.
21K, 41K & 50k
One of the most scenic ultra marathons around the world, the Tarawera Trail Marathon and 50k run starts in the Whakarewarewa Thermal Field, Te Puia Pohutu Geyser then runs along forest and ridge top trails. Following the run, you can let your aching body soak in the natural hot water pool or take a refreshing jump in the Green Lake. Going from geyser to some of the most mountainous landscape seething with green, it is one of the most beautiful courses that New Zealand has to offer. A colorful race all the way around, no one takes themselves all too serious. From Scones on the go to doughnuts at the stops along the way, this is a race created to live in the moment and challenge yourself, not kill yourself, while racing to the finish line.
21k & 5k
For those looking for a new type of running challenge, the Moab Trail Marathon offers one of the most scenic events located in the US. It isn’t just about going the distance, steep climbs, rough and slick terrain, there are beautiful sites abound. Not just for the seasoned marathoner, athletes of all levels can experience this trail run. What sets it apart from the rest is that it isn’t just about the running, it challenges athletes to climbing, endurance, and persistence. Not all about the “time”, the Moab is about doing something outside the box. Running through natural wildlife along the Klondike Bluffs Trails is an experience like no other.
The Marathon du Mont Blanc is a race run annually that covers the alpine trails of Chamonix, France. Not just a marathon event, there are shorter distances that novice and young runners can participate in. There are over three days worth of running races that begin the last Friday in June every year. Starting in 2003, it has quickly become a favorite for those on the marathon circuit and newbies alike. Being able to go from shorter to longer distances year after year, it is a beloved race not only for locals but for people worldwide. A trail race that runs both peaks and valleys, there are about 30 thousand runners that participate in the various events. Don’t be fooled that the shorter distances will provide you an easy ride, the mountainous terrain and steep climbs can challenge even the most seasoned runners and athletes. A local community sponsored run, although highly attended, it still has that “small town” feel.
Not only scenic and wondrous, the Catalina Island Marathon incorporates rich history and tradition. A true “trail” run, marathoners, are subjected to rough terrain and high peaks. Run on the Catalina Island Conservancy Lands, the trails are still a path less traveled with the awe-spiring natural landscape around every twist and turn. Not just for the running enthusiast, if you are someone who likes to climb, this is the race for you. In existence for 39 years, it has, overtime, become a stable on the trail running marathon favorites. Thousands of runners come from around the world to participate in this unbelievably fantastic island excursion. Make sure to plan ahead and register because space and accommodations are limited.
If you are looking for something elite and exclusive than the Endurancelife South Devon Marathon is for you. One of the most popular coastal runs world round, there are only 500 registrants taken, so space is highly coveted and hard to come by. A first come, first serve registration, if you want to participate, making reservations well ahead of time is definitely a good idea. Although beautiful and coastal, the course is full of rough and arduous terrain that is sure to challenge both novice and seasoned athletes alike. Those who have run before, say that the scenic path is about as good as nature can provide. With boundless coastal views and endless aesthetics, this is definitely an intimate affair that you should not miss.