12 best running events in the world

Our pick of the 12 best, most interesting and top reviewed races in the world. These are the kudos magnets, the bucket list items and the epic experiences. Our list includes all distances from 5ks to 7.46 mile routes, marathons and ultramarathons. 

1. Bay to Breakers

Where? San Francisco, California USA

Run it for: the party, the atmosphere, the costumes.

Known in California as more of a costume party parade than a timed race, Bay to Breakers is an absolute staple in the US running calendar. An event like no other, it was the world’s largest footrace with over 110,000 participants, some registered, some just along for the ride. Now, this title has been taken by City2Surf in Australia (see below). Runners start at the Embarcadero by the bay and go west across the city to the Pacific Ocean. The distance is a cool 7.46 miles in total. The whole city turns out for this race, so expect house parties and bands along the route. Bring a costume, get your friends together and enjoy the full weekend of frivolity.

2. Safaricom Marathon

Where? Lewa National Park, Kenya

Run it for: the views, the wildlife, the trip of a lifetime.

Run through the magnificent Lewa, one of Africa’s most breathtaking wildlife conservancies. The race is organised by Tusk, a charity doing amazing work in conservation and championed by the Duke of Cambridge. The marathon and half marathon distance races are widely recognised as some of the toughest in the world, so you won’t be short on kudos from friends at home. Expect to meet likeminded people from all over the world, and experience a once in a lifetime trip.

3. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

Where? Chamonix, France

Run it for: the kudos, the pain-cave, the achievement.

No list of the best events in the world would be complete without the spectacular UTMB. Some say it’s the pinnacle of ultra running, some say it’s the toughest footrace in the world, other’s just say it’s the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. Runners take on 32,940 ft of elevation over 106 miles. It’s all completed in a single stage, with runners having to qualify in other ultramarathons around the world to be able to take part. It’s a hugely popular race, not least because the scenery in the stunning French, Swiss and Italian Alps is second to none. The UTMB is the gold standard in long-distance ultra running.

4. London Marathon

Where? London, UK

Run it for: the charities, the atmosphere, the crowd support.

The London Marathon seems to be breaking records every year for the amount of money raised for charity. Runners of all abilities fundraise for incredible causes, and the atmosphere on the day is one of unbridled joy at the incredible accomplishment. Known for its crowd support, every part of the route is lined with cheering spectators about 10 -20 people deep. Runners take in all the historic sights of London including Tower Bridge and an unforgettable finish down the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. Expect live bands, drumming troupes, dancers and more. The stops are all out at this iconic event.

5. The Dipsea Race

Where? Stinson Beach, California USA

Run it for: the scenery, the challenge, the friendly folk.

The Dipsea Race has been going for a staggering 110 years, and takes in some of the most beautiful trails on the NorCal coast line. Runners come from all over the world to race the 7.4 mile redwood hill trail. The race is steeped in history and you can count on a friendly atmosphere from start to finish. Numbers are capped at 1,500 people, so if you can get a place in this incredible event, you’re one of the lucky ones.

6. Cupid Undie Run

Where? Everywhere! But mostly Australia.

Run it for: the pants, the party, the great cause.

This 5k series is a great way to celebrate the summer in your pants. Yup, it’s a 5k in your underwear (or costume, for those feeling modest) to raise much needed funds for the Children’s Tumour Foundation. Held on the beach, on the coast or just in your local town, these events are great fun and the atmosphere is always second to none. Expect free Calvin Klein undies, some innovative costumes and a really good time.

7. New York Marathon

Where? New York, USA

Run it for: the kudos, the atmosphere, the sights.

One of the 6 World Marathon Majors, New York is not to be missed. If you can get a place in the lottery, this is one the most iconic marathons in the world. Run through the 5 boroughs taking in all the sights: Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Pulaski Bridge, Central Park and many more. Expect live bands along the route and incredible organisation by New York Road Runners. Previous runners include P. Diddy, Alicia Keys, Pamela Anderson, Katie Holmes, Ryan Reynolds and Victoria’s Secret Angel Karlie Kloss.

8. Two Oceans Marathon

Where? Cape Town, South Africa

Run it for: the scenery, the camaraderie, the photo finish.

Africa’s biggest running event with 15,000 people annually, this race is a great excuse for a holiday and a serious achievement. There’s an ultramarathon distance at 34.7 miles and a hugely popular half marathon distance too. Runners make their way along the stunning Cape Peninsular, taking in the sea views and breathtaking coast line. Spectators line the finish at the University of Cape Town, and there’s always time for a brai and a beer after the race.

9. Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu

Where? Machu Picchu, Peru

Run it for: the history, the bragging rights, the elevation.

2020 will be the last year this iconic marathon occurs on the inca trail to Machu Picchu. It’s a huge challenge: runners can expect 10,400 ft of elevation over 26.2 miles. The total elevation gain and loss is like running up and down the Empire State Building 10 times, at an altitude of 13,800 ft. It’s safe to say, you need to be seriously into your climbs to get this done. But luckily, walkers are also encouraged. There’s also an 18 mile route, for those not feeling up to the full marathon. The trip is fully supported with aid stations and crews, and is certainly a once in a lifetime run. The scenery and the history are second to none, prepare to meet likeminded people from all over the world, and have an unforgettable trip.

10. City2Surf Sydney

Photo by Salty Dingo 2018

Where? Sydney, Australia

Run it for: costumes, good vibes, the beach finish.

City2Surf is an absolute must in the world running calendar. First of all, it’s the largest foot race at the moment in the world with over 80,000 participants. Run from the Central Business District on to Bondi Beach on a 8.7 mile route. The emphasis is on fun; expect costumes, a great vibe and live bands along the route. People can walk or run the distance, and at the end a finish line party on Bondi Beach awaits. This is an absolute bucket list event and the whole city shows up to support.

11. Marathon du Médoc

Where? Pauillac, France

Run it for: the wine, of course.

The marathon route winds it’s way through 59 vineyards in the beautiful and hallowed villages of the Médoc region of France. Here you’ll find the Rothschild vineyards, the Pichon Lonqueville and Beychevelle and many more. Come prepared and be sure to have breakfast, unlike any other marathon in the world you’ll be asked at the aid stations if you prefer red or white. The bespoke medal is in fact a cup and runners can indulge in 23 glasses of wine en route and try the local delicacies of waffles and cheese. Costumes are an absolute must. Expect live music, a great atmosphere and lots of camaraderie along the route, and only a little bit of vomit. Thankfully, walking is encouraged.

12. Boston Marathon

Where? Boston, Massachusetts USA

Run it for: the prestige, the atmosphere, the kudos.

Held annually on Patriot’s Day, the Boston Marathon is the gold standard of Marathon events. Probably the most famous marathon in the world and certainly the hardest to get into. Hopeful runners need to qualify or otherwise win a place in the very over-subscribed ballot. The qualifying standards tighten every year, with Men aged 40-44 now expected to run a sub 3 hour 10 min marathon. Women of the same age need to achieve 3 hours 40 mins. This race is televised around the world, and the atmosphere on race day is electric. This is certainly a lifetime achievement running race where the bragging rights are endless.

The list of best running events in the world:

  1. Bay to Breakers
  2. Safaricom Marathon
  3. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
  4. London Marathon
  5. The Dipsea Race
  6. Cupid Undie Run
  7. New York Marathon
  8. Two Oceans Marathon
  9. Inca Trail Marathon to Machu Picchu
  10. City2Surf Sydney
  11. Marathon du Médoc
  12. Boston Marathon
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