August 28, 2009

Run the planet: Weird marathons

Marathoning has become such an everyman's sport that there's a marathon in nearly every nook and cranny of the planet. A whole segment of the travel industry has been built around leading tours to so-called "destination marathons," races in exotic or exciting locales. You pay a few grand to a company that secures hotel, airfare and a space in the race. After the event, you and the low-body-fat group you came with enjoy the sights.

Of course, for most (but not all) foreign marathons you don't need a tour company. Just sign up, book your own air and hotel, run your race, then recover in Rio, Vancouver, Stockholm, Bangalore or wherever it is you flew to to run 26 miles.

I would never sign up for a marathon that involved a substantial investment in tour costs and/or airfare because marathon training is a crap shoot. And if the die don't roll in your favor and you get injured before race day, well -- I wouldn't want to fly to Antarctica in a boot cast just to watch folks who dodged a bullet this time run around the icy landscape, however awe-inspiring that landscape might be.

Nope, I only sign up for marathons I can drive to. Then, if the grand croupier of running deals me some peroneal tendinitis or a stress fracture, I simply cancel my hotel reservation and leave the car in the driveway. I'm only out my race fee.

Were I 20 years younger, a finely-tuned superwoman, or just a bigger risk taker than I am, I'd check out some of the planet's far-flung marathons, including these, which sound beautiful, intriguing, weird or improbable:

1. Chott Marathon Xtreme, Tunisia -- on the Chott El Jerid Dry Salt Lake
2. Monaco Marathon -- through Monte Carlo on the French Riviera
3. Pisa Marathon & Wine -- "Run under the Tuscan sun... Drink at wine refreshments along the course and finish under the famous leaning tower!"
4. Midnight Sun Marathon, Tromso, Norway
5. Santa Claus Marathon, Rovaniemi, Finland -- "Why to run THIS marathon: You will cross the Arctic Circle by racing and get official certificate about that signed by Santa Claus."
6. Loch Ness Marathon , Scotland
7. Venice Marathon -- "Emotions On Water: Run between earth and sky"
8. Poznan Marathon -- "The Best Marathon In Poland: All finishers can win a car in the lottery draw..."
9. Nightmarathon -- in Mestre, Italy, near Venice. Starts at 8 PM. Pre-race information includes reports on temperature, humidity and phases of the Moon.
10. The Great Wall Marathon -- "Course not measured to AIMS standards." (Must be all the stairs. I've heard this called the world's toughest marathon.)
11. Egyptian Marathon -- held in February. If you survive that, come back in November and run like an Egyptian in the Pharaonic 100km
12. International Alexander the Great Marathon, Thessaloniki, Greece
13. Great Tibetan Marathon -- "Course not measurable to AIMS standards" (Too many Himalayas in the way to get an accurate reading.)
14. Tiberias Marathon, Israel -- run in the footsteps of Jesus
15. North Pole Marathon -- in this case, we can probably blame the "Course not measurable to AIMS standards" on global warming; hard to measure something that's melting
16. Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, Cape Town, South Africa
17. International "White Nights" Marathon, St. Petersburg, Russia
18. Kigali Peace Marathon, Rwanda
19. Kilimanjaro Marathon, Tanzania
20. Standard Chartered Stanley Marathon, Falkland Islands -- "Officially the World's Most Southerly AIMS-Certified Marathon: An opportunity to test yourself, to prove to others what you are made or, or simply to add 'the most southerly' to your collection of races run..."

And here's a race if you just want to tackle a half-marathon:

Pardubice Wine Half-Marathon -- "It is time to visit heart of Czech Republic, capital city of gingerbread. Each runner obtain: medal, diploma, starting number, T-shirt, bottle of wine, race newspaper, wide refreshment, nice sport experience..."