Some of the world’s toughest marathons

Doing a marathon in itself is already tough. Firstly, you have to commit many months of training into the task. Then you must be prepared to suffer dehydration, cramps and aches during the race itself as you undertake the challenging prospect of running 42km.

For those who no longer find a standard 42km race challenging enough though, here are some of the world’s toughest marathons to whet your running appetite.

Inca Trail Marathon, Peru

The challenging Inca Trail Marathon in Peru. (Image from

The challenging Inca Trail Marathon in Peru. (Image from

This is a 500-year-old marathon race that takes you through the Andes Mountains in Peru – from the Sacred Valley town of Aguas Calientes and ending the race at the ancient lost city of Machu Picchu.

However, while the views from Machu Picchu are indeed stunning and a just reward for your efforts, you will definitely struggle throughout the entire marathon. This is because you must battle not only thousands of stone steps, but also a large variety of ecosystems throughout your 26-mile journey. These include harsh desert conditions, jungles and even mountains.

As well, the elevation gain throughout the race rises to about 10,000 to 14,000 feet above the ground. It is also a dangerous marathon to run, because of the nature of the course – so if you take a wrong step and lose your footing, it could even mean certain death.

But if you are up for the challenge and the adventure, you can read about the Inca Trail Marathon here:

North Pole Marathon, Arctic Circle

Runners tackling the challenging North Pole Marathon. (image from

Runners tackling the challenging North Pole Marathon. (image from

If you are prepared to pay more than $15,000 to run the race of your lifetime – surrounded by sub-zero temperatures and race on frozen water that may crack under your feet – then you may wish to consider this challenging marathon race.

This is definitely not a race for the faint-hearted. While the rewards may be great, you will have to battle extreme cold and sheer isolation. But if you are lucky, you might see the odd polar bear from afar. If they are too near the course though, the organizers will shoo them away. Don’t expect them to cheer you on with flags and banners though!

To find more about this challenging marathon, check out their website:

San Francisco Marathon, California

The San Francisco Marathon is challenging, but the views are lovely. (Image from

The San Francisco Marathon is challenging, but the views are lovely. (Image from

If you want a beautiful view of San Francisco City and get the chance to literally run along the famous Golden Gate Bridge, then this is a good marathon to enter.

But at the same time, it is also one of the toughest in the world, because there are plenty of steep hills that runners must tackle. These include hills at Presidio and Golden Gate Park and can come as early as the sixth mile of the race. In fact, many critics have said that this one is the toughest race in the United States of America – so it does not attract a sell-out crowd, unlike the New York or Boston marathons.

If you are up to tackling the challenge of these hills in San Francisco, you can check out the marathon here:

Big Sur International Marathon, California

Runners along the route of the Big Sur international marathon.

Runners along the route of the Big Sur international marathon. (image from

Enter this marathon race at your own peril. Yes, the scenery and views of the Pacific Coast Highway between Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the city of Monterey, in California, are spectacular. But you must prepare to get punched in the face… by the wind.

This is because part of the marathon’s route involves climbing up “Hurricane Point”, a two-mile hill, and when you are at the top, the wind is so strong there that it literally blows you over. So you must be able to battle this, in addition to your usual marathon fatigue.

But this isn’t the only hill in the race. There are also plenty of other hills throughout the 26-mile course, especially in the second half of the marathon. So if you are not up to tackling these, stay clear of this marathon race.

Find out more about this challenging marathon here:

Equinox Trail Marathon, Alaska

Runners battling against the woods at the Equinox Trail Marathon. (Image from

Runners battling against the woods at the Equinox Trail Marathon. (Image from

This is a highly challenging trail marathon in Fairbanks, Alaska, where runners must endure an exceptional hilly trail route and brave eight inches (20 cm) of snow on the ground.

Do note that the uneven hills and trails make up more than 20 out of the 26 miles of the course. So you have to do most of your training on trail rather than the usual road running, if you are taking part in this race.

Read all about the Equinox Trail Marathon here:

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  • nws says:

    Good selection of world’s toughest marathons.I just highlight a few more here:

    1) Pikes Peak Ascent marathon: ( A trail mountainous marathon race in USA Colorado,this is one challenging run that is unforgettable.

    2) Jungle marathon ( At Brazil,this run looks more like a challenge of swamp/marsh/mud experience! The video at the website will show it best.

    3) Marathon Des Sable aka Sahara Desert run: Undeniably one of the toughest footrace,the event will last for about 6 days continuously for about 156 miles (250km+).

    4) Badwater ultra marathon 135miles/216km run with a cut off timing at 60 hours ( have one Singaporean distance runner who cleared it in about 43 hours.

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