Running Across Europe: Five Once-In-A-Lifetime Races

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Whether you’re a traveler who loves running, or a runner who loves traveling, a destination race can serve many functions – a great way to experience a new place, a motivation for going somewhere you wouldn’t ordinarily go, or simply a way to unite your love or traveling and running.

I only took up running a year ago, and until recently I left my running shoes at home when I went on holiday. But earlier this year, on a whim, I signed me and a friend up for the St Patrick’s Day 5km in Dublin – and we had a blast! There was face paint, crowds cheering us on, and it was a great way to see the city. Plus, that Guinness and pub lunch afterwards felt truly well earned. I will definitely be popping my sports bra in my backpack next time I go away (Iceland! Woop woop!)

Here are just five once-in-a-life-time races worth flying to Europe for. Whether you fit them into existing travel plans or fly out especially for the event is up to you!

1. The Original Marathon

Sure, Europe has no shortage of appealing marathon routes: London, Paris, Berlin… but, if you’re going to run a marathon, you might as well do it properly. This race travels back to where it all began – Marathon itself. Back in 490BC, poor Pheidippides had to race the 26.2 miles from Marathon to the capital Athens to report victory over Persia; he delivered his message, but died of exhaustion immediately afterwards. 2,500 years may have passed since then, but the heat and hills remain resolutely the same, so get some proper training in first!

2. An Italian Relay

Take part in a team relay race across Italy. From the Adriatic coast to the Tyrrhenian Sea, this race passes through beautiful backstreets, rural roads and ancient olive groves in Marche, Umbria and Tuscany. Teams consist of four people, and the race lasts four days, with around 55 miles being covered daily. This is a great option for runners who like a friendly, sociable atmosphere where the emphasis is more on the taking part than the winning.

3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

If the very thought of running up and down the Swiss Alps gets your heart beating faster (in a good way) then you’re in luck: the Swiss Alpine Running Festival offers a range of races, from half-marathon to 78km ultra-marathon. The views are spectacular, taking you up majestic mountainsides and along rough paths, and the spectators cheer you on with cowbells. That said, runners who lack a head for heights may want to rethink this. There’s also a gentler Nordic walking event and a mini-race for children.

4A Bordeaux Booze Up

Like running? Like wine? Then boy, do we have the race for you. The Marathon du Médoc is a marathon race that takes its fancy dress-clad running revelers through a dozen vineyards, where runners are encouraged to stop and sample the local fine wines and cheeses. This isn’t one to run is you’re looking to beat your personal best, but you’ll probably have no problem persuading your non-running friends to come and ‘support’ you either, so it all balances out.

5. The Coolest Race on Earth

Because why just run a regular marathon or half-marathon – when you could battle your way across Greenland’s remote arctic tundra in the process? The Polar Circle Marathon crosses snow-covered roads, frozen tundra, arctic desert and the 3km-thick ice cap itself, so if it’s an otherworldly landscape of glaciers and wilderness you’re after, this certainly ticks the box. Of course, temperatures are well below freezing, but then no one said it would be easy.

Have you run any of these races, or do you have any other suggestions for once-in-a-lifetime destination races? Please share your tips and experiences below.

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About Author

Leah Eades is a compulsive traveller and freelance writer, whose adventures so far include working in an Italian nightclub, contracting a mystery illness in the Amazon, studying at a Chinese university, and cycling 700km along the Danube River. She blames cheap Ryanair flights for her addiction. Having recently graduated with an English degree, she is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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