Difficulty Level: 4/10
Participating in one of the world’s six major marathons is every recreational runner’s dream, and Chicago’s flat course run through the downtown area provides ample scope to improve your personal record. If you have trained well, thousands of revellers will root for you on an October Sunday. Amongst them, the most raucous and fun-loving are Mexicans and Colombians. Supporters turn up with whistles and trumpets, flash funny and motivating posters, and offer candies, sports drinks and even beer cans. Along the route, which starts and ends at Grant Park and covers 29 neighbourhoods, you’ll cross many landmarks including Chinatown, which teems with dragon dances during the marathon. Do look out for the Chicago Theatre too. Built in French baroque style, this 97-year-old icon stands out. Grab your medal and a free craft beer at the finish line. Up for grabs here are also chocolates, doughnuts and protein shakes.
Beyond the Finish Line: Enjoy live music, beer and food at Grant Park at the after-race party. Once it ends, hop over to the neighbouring Millennium Park. It is home to British artist Anish Kapoor’s famous installation, “Cloud Gate”, in whose elliptical steel plates shimmers Chicago’s skyline. A few metres away from it stands the “Crown Fountain.” Another fascinating installation, it comprises a shallow pool flanked by two glass block towers on which are projected faces of Chicago’s citizens. Their water-spewing mouths are an ode to the use of gargoyles in fountains. Head back to Chinatown for dim sums and Szechuan noodles. Don’t leave the Windy City without trying the deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s, and do take a walk down the Navy Pier along Lake Michigan.
(www.chicagomarathon.com; next race 7 Oct, 2018; categories: marathon; registration fee $220/Rs14,200 for foreigners.)
Difficulty Level: 6/10
Running in the tropical, humid climes of Southeast Asia is nobody’s idea of a good time. But when party paradise Bangkok asks you to dress up and step out at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, who can refuse? Ditch those glitzy nightclubs, because the Bangkok Marathon brings the party to the streets in November. It starts and finishes at the Grand Palace, the royal family’s residence that also houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, among other attractions. Expect inebriated folks stumbling out of bars and mixing with supporters. To beat the heat, aid stations here are stocked with water, sports drinks and juicy watermelons.
Beyond the Finish Line: Raid the Platinum Fashion Mall or the Chatuchak Weekend Market (in picture): empty trolley bags are highly recommended. Sukhumvit is your best bet for bar-hopping. Do try the amazing gin at the Iron Balls gin brewery here. A good way to end the day is to opt for, well, a Thai massage. Your legs will need some TLC after all the sprinting.
(www.bkkmarathon.com/home-EN.php; next race 18 Nov, 2018; categories: marathon, half-marathon, and 10.55-km mini-marathon; registration fee marathon $65/Rs 4,200 (early bird), half-marathon $50/Rs 3,200 (early bird), mini-marathon $30/Rs1,950.)
Difficulty Level: 4/10
Mark September in red, maybe white or how about rosé? That’s when the wine region of Medoc holds its annual marathon. You don’t have to be a seasoned runner or a wine connoisseur to enjoy this run, which winds through rolling vineyards, and the picturesque French chateaus and villages in and around Bordeaux. That’s not all. Local winemakers bring out their best wines for runners to taste along the route. Some of them are so rare that they never make it to the stores. Farm-fresh cheeses and delicious cold cuts are on offer too. The route map clearly marks, with an emoji of a wine glass no less, all the tasting booths. You don’t have to fret about improving your timing, instead, savour your wine and stay sober enough to cross the finish line within seven hours to bag your medal. The race is limited to 8,500 runners, and record seekers, say organisers, are not invited.
Beyond the Finish Line: Sign up for some wine tasting tours—organisers recommend the ones in Château Cordeillan-Bages. Follow it up with a meal at either Café Lavinal in Medoc for bistro fare or try traditional French cuisine at La Boule D’or.
(www.marathondumedoc.com; next race 8 Sep, 2018; categories: full marathon; registration fee €87/Rs6,650.)
Difficulty Level: 2/10
While the Dutch and Germans argue about whose beer is the best, Belgian monks quietly brew some of the loveliest beers available in the world today. So if you are a beer-lover with a running problem or vice-versa, this race, covering the city’s hilly areas, Buren Stairs, and Rue des Cotillages, is for you. Costumed runners only serve as an add-on—some dress as a fruit, others turn up in cowboy, alien and superhero attires. Then there’s live music and aid stations that come stacked with 15 types of Belgian beer—from Leffe to La Chouffe. Despite this, bystanders often hand out their own pints to runners who look like they really need one to continue. In short, this is one marathon where you want to be the first of the 1,500 runners out of the starting blocks but the last one to finish.
Beyond the Finish Line: Hit a local pub or visit the many museums Liege is home to. Plan trips to the postcard-pretty Bruges or to the University City of Ghent, both a couple of hours away by train. Also, Luxembourg is only a 1.5-hour drive away. Cross over, if you like, for some more beer.
(beerlovermarathon.be; next race 20 May, 2018; categories: marathon; registration fee €75/Rs5,700 until 31 Mar.)
Difficulty Level: 5/10
Strange, fascinating and surprising, all bundled into one-—this is that kind of a race. It starts when the sun is up and when you finish, the sun is still up. A small tip: just because you are running in broad daylight don’t think it will be warm, so layer up. The route starts and finishes in the city centre slicing through snow-capped mountains and idyllic hamlets. If you are lucky, you might spot some polar bears on the fringes.
Beyond the Finish Line: Tromsø is ideal for an Arctic adventure. From the otherworldly dance of the Northern Lights to whale-spotting, there’s a lot to sample. The more adventurous can explore fjords in Kvaløya Island along the Arctic coast. There are also cycling tours and Norwegian food walks to consider. Do try some seafood and wash it down with Mack, a craft brew from one of the world’s northernmost breweries at the Rorbua Pub.
(www.msm.no/midnight-sun-marathon.242498.en.html; next race 16 June, 2018; categories: marathon, half-marathon, 10-km mini-marathon, 4.2-km-mini marathon; registration fee between NOK350/Rs2,800 and NOK850/Rs7,000.)
Difficulty Level: 6/10
You will be running this one along Rio’s coastline just as winter begins in Brazil. The race starts at Pontal beach, near the Barra Olympic Park, and finishes close to the Flamengo beach. Sing “The Girl From Ipanema” as you cross the Ipanema beach. Dream about the caipirinhas and churrascos that you can load up on later. When crossing the famed Copacabana beach area, do notice its wavy black-and-white mosaic sidewalks. Enjoy breathtaking views of Sugarloaf Mountain. Soak yourself in the early morning sun, while Christ the Redeemer, who watches over Rio, keeps an eye on you. The city that has hosted the FIFA World Cup final and the Olympics is as fit as it is fun, so don’t be surprised if shapely people in their best beachwear hand out a beer or two as you bolt past them. Expect a grand samba performance at the finish line.
Beyond the Finish Line: Get some sand in your feet at Flamengo beach. To see how locals in Rio’s underbelly live, sign up for a walk through a favela, and try street foods such as pao de queijo or cheese buns, and churrasco or grilled meat. Head to Lapa after sunset to see the Carioca Aqueduct, more famously known as Arches of Lapa, and to see how Rio parties. Sip cachaca (Brazilian sugar cane rum), fruity caipirinhas and local beers as you go bar-hopping.
(maratonadorio.com.br; next race 3 June, 2018; categories: marathon, half-marathon, 6-km family run; registration fee $91/Rs5,900 for marathons and $45/Rs2,900 for family run.)
Shrenik Avlani is a newsroom veteran on a break from full-time work since 2012. He uses his newfound freedom to travel, get fit and undertakes odd jobs, including writing, to pay his credit card bills on time.