They say only about 1 percent of the world’s population will run a marathon. That may be true, but once you see the crowds at the starting village of a marathon, you might find yourself thinking, Just how big is that 1 percent?
It’s no surprise that organized races and the popularity of running have increased since the pandemic. According to the World Athletics Organization, four in ten people consider themselves to be runners. And one trend to come out of the whirlwind interest in running is the idea of marathon travel.
It sounds somewhat oxymoronic: running a marathon while on vacation. However, many destination races give runners a reason to travel and bring loved ones in tow.
There are essentially two categories of races: the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and everything else. The Abbotts are exactly what their name assumes—major international events that attract elite runners and amateurs alike. Many runners seek to run all six of them to earn the highly coveted Six Star Medal and a permanent place in the Abbott Hall of Fame. For the average runner, race day offers unparalleled cheering crowds, support, and up to 50,000 fellow participants.
Better yet, the six races are in awesome locations that know how to pull off festive, successful big sporting events, giving runners and spectators all the more reason to sign up for the experience, whether you’re running, cheering someone on, or just going for the fun energy. The Tokyo, Boston, and London marathons take place in the spring, and those in Berlin, Chicago, and New York City occur in the fall. Each is known for something unique, like Boston’s fast racers and New York’s electric crowd. Abbott will be adding a seventh race in 2025, either in Sydney, Cape Town, South Africa, or Chengdu, China. The decision will be announced in 2024.
Some hotels have stepped up to help runners and spectators feel at home. Guests at participating Westin Hotels, a brand that has a relatively new partnership with Abbott, are treated to a gear-lending program that offers top-of-the-line Hyperice massage guns, compression sleeves, and vibrating rolling balls, perfect for breaking up the plantar fascia after a long day of travel. Guests can also take advantage of equipment from Bala and borrow ankle weights or stretching equipment.
During marathon weekends, guests and visitors are encouraged to visit the Westin Marathon Zone, which is equipped with a poster-making station, snacks, full-leg compression sleeves, and plenty of positive energy. It’s also a resource for runners to meet one another and coordinate their trip safely to early-morning start corrals.
While the six majors take much of the spotlight when it comes to destination marathons, they aren’t the only races worth traveling for. I’ve also got my eye on marathons in Honolulu, California’s Napa Valley, Australia’s Gold Coast (where I studied abroad), and Ireland’s Dingle County.
Runners looking for a challenge (because sometimes 26.2 miles isn’t enough) should consider Switzerland’s Jungfrau Marathon, with almost 6,400 feet in elevation gain; California’s Big Sur Marathon (often noted as one of the nation’s most scenic and challenging races); South Africa’s Big Five Marathon, where you may see some native animals as you run the hills; or China’s Great Wall Marathon, which takes place on the Unesco World Heritage site.
Looking for pure fun? Disney World, in Florida, is home to several races and hosts running festivals in which participants can complete a 5K, 10K, half, and full marathon in a week. Or travel to France for the Marathon du Medoc, which has 23 wine-tasting stops and oyster and fine-meat stands. Plus, racers dress up in costume.
Jamie Aranoff is a digital editor for Ski magazine and an avid skier and runner. She ran in the 2022 New York City and 2023 Chicago Marathons, both for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Her goal is to complete all six (or soon to be seven) world major marathons.