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Top 10: Left-Field Running Events (not Big-City Marathons!)

Looking to combine travel with your favourite pastime? We asked adventure journalist and runner Ryan Scott for his favourite races over a variety of terrains, distances and experience

MÉDOC MARATHON
Bordeaux, France
Travel goals sometimes conflict. If, while in the South of France, you’re planning festive wine tasting to run a marathon among lush green vineyards, the Médoc Marathon has created the perfect solution. The route takes runners past classic châteaux of the region, where they can stop to quench their thirst with wine. (Water is an option too.) Make sure you pack a creative fancy-dress get-up to run in, and enjoy the biggest party you’ll ever have in your running shoes. Even the winners’ prizes are festive: they’re rewarded with their weight in wine.
DATE 7 September 2019
TYPE Road
DISTANCE 42,2km (marathon)
marathondumedoc.com

SIERRE-ZINAL
Zinal, Switzerland
Ever dreamt of running in a postcard, among the greenest of hills, majestic valleys, sparkling clear lakes, and trails manicured so immaculately that running along them feels like a theme-park ride? Switzerland is just the place to find all of this and more – by taking part in the August event run between Sierre in the Valais valley and Zinal, 1 100m higher up in the Swiss Alps. With the race forming part of the 2019 Golden Trail Series, the best trail runners in the world will be joining in the fun.
DATE 11 August 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCE 31km
sierre-zinal.com

ULTRA TRAIL TORRES DEL PAINE
Patagonia, Chile

Patagonia is home to some of the most unspoiled beauty on the planet. To run along the famous “W Trail” under the gaze of the three surreal Torres Del Paine towers is special. There are four distance options; all take participants through giant bonsai tree forests, and past glacial lakes and mud-sucking bogs – and if you take on the 50km or 80km event, you’ll see some of the revered glaciers that still exist in this vibrant national park so close to Antarctica.
DATE 28 September 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCE OPTIONS 14km, 35km, 50km, 80km
ultrapaine.com

LEADVILLE BOOM DAYS BURRO RACE
Colorado, USA

Racing with a partner is a different dynamic to solo running. And when that partner is a donkey (burro), it adds an extraordinary twist that makes for interesting post-race stories. Participants are connected to the donkey via a strap that can be no longer than 4,5m – and you need to keep your ass under control, making sure you stay together throughout the race. If that’s not terrifying enough, Leadville is the highest-altitude city in the USA, making breathing the low-oxygen air another challenge to add to the pile.
DATE 4 August 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCE OPTIONS 35 km (with 3 977m elevation gain), 24km
leadvilleboomdays.org/burro-race

ROCK ’N’ ROLL MERIDA
Merida, Mexico

The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series is fantastic, with dedicated local bands busting out energising tunes on many mini stages along the half-marathon route. It’s almost magical how quickly a race passes with so many lively distractions. The flat course in the Mexican leg features additional dress-up increased festivity, brought to the occasion by the Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). There’s nothing quite like a drudge of skeletons chasing you to help reach your time goals…
DATE November 2019
TYPE Road
DISTANCE 21km (half-marathon)
runrocknroll.com

LEWA MARATHON
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya

It’s not just the majesty of Mount Kenya that watches the runners take on one or two laps of the 21km course in the beauty of this protected conservancy, but the local wildlife too. There is not a race in the world with such exotic spectators, including rhino, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and, yes, large predatory cats. It’s an early start to avoid the intense heat – but there’s no escaping the challenging effects of altitude, with Lewa being 1 680m above sea level.
DATE 29 June 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCE OPTIONS 42,2km (marathon), 21,1km (half-marathon)
safaricommarathon.com

BATRUN
Cape Town, South Africa

It’s rare to find a major city as beautifully integrated into its natural geography as Cape Town is. The mountains form a bowl around it – and it’s in this twinkling conurbation that Devil’s Peak, Maclear’s Beacon and Lion’s Head lie in wait for runners to summit one by one, before returning down to the city. Most of the race takes place in darkness, so headlamps are a must; this creates a unique mystique as runners worm their way around the slopes of Table Mountain in chains of bobbing lights.
DATE 23 February 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCE 30km (2 250m elevation)
batrun.co.za

WHITE DESERT “RACE THE JET MARATHON”
Wolfs Fang Runway, Antarctica

It’s the southernmost marathon on the planet, and possibly the most exotic. Twelve participants (the maximum that fit on the jet) go under starter’s orders five minutes after landing, to complete a beautiful course of snow, ice, Emperor penguins and the freshest air. Those who finish under the five-hour cut-off fly home on the luxury jet that idles in wait on the specially built airstrip. Those who don’t are left behind – and have to wait a few hours for a Russian cargo plane to fly them home.
DATE 2-4 February 2019
TYPE Snow
DISTANCE 42,2km (marathon)
white-desert.com

WILDCOAST WILDRUN
Wild Coast, South Africa

Instructions from the race director at the start of this south-to-north, three-day running holiday are, “Keep the sea to your right … and go!” Those simple directions are all you need to know to reach the night’s accommodation in this completely unspoiled, unfenced 113km (in total) race. It’s not just the warm, wild Indian Ocean that will tantalise your senses: pristine golden beaches, grassy headlands and an abundance of nature will leave you with a sense of the true beauty of our planet.
DATE 30 August-3 September 2019
TYPE Trail
DISTANCES Day 1: 44km; Day 2: 35km; Day 3: 34km
wildrun.com

GREAT TRAIN RACE
Melbourne, Australia

The Puffing Billy is an old steam locomotive, and in this event you get to race the old boy to the finish line. The route is a mixture of tarmac road, single-track trail and jeep track through gullies and hills – for the runners, that is. The train has it a lot easier on railway tracks all the way. Cut-off times at various points mean you’ll be racing against the clock as well as the train.
DATE 5 May 2019
TYPE Trail and road
DISTANCE 13,5km
puffingbilly.com.au/events/great-train-race/

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