Running on Fantasy: 8 Scenic Organized Races Across North America
Running can be good for your health, but it’s so much better when you have great surroundings to distract you from all the exercise you’re getting. Luckily, there are countless organized runs across North America to train for, and some of them are a treat for the senses.
Chances are, there’s a scenic organized run in your state or province, and if there’s not, it’s a great opportunity to turn the competitive run into a little vacation. Here are eight of these organized runs in the most aesthetically pleasing areas across the U.S. and Canada…
1. Alabama’s Rocket City Marathon
This particular run is nearing it 40th anniversary, but there’s more to this route than longevity. The marathon-length course (26 miles or 42 kilometers). It is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, but keeping with the theme of this article, it’s also one of the scenic in America’s south.
Greatist.com calls the Rocket City Marathon “the grande dame of southern marathons,” which passes through historic downtown Huntsville, Huntsville Botanical Gardens, and even past the Space and Rocket Center, which should serve as inspiration to propel you to the finish line.
2. Alaska’s Midnight Marathon and Half Marathon
Greatist.com also speaks highly of the Midnight Marathon and half-marathon/relay course, and for good reason. With all the natural beauty and extended daylight up there in the summer months, it’s a perfect setting to push your legs to the limit.
This is another American running tradition, with more than 40 years as an organized race that’s also a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. You won’t be running along the side of drab roadways; Greatist notes the route “literally takes runners off the beaten path” to enjoy beautiful forests and coastal trails. The race is also known for encouraging its participants to wear colorful and unique costumes that add to the visual experience.
3. Napa Valley Marathon
Active.com says you’ll enjoy “miles of pristine rolling countryside” past mustard fields and vineyards when you join this Napa Valley race. It’s no secret that Napa Valley is one of the premiere wine regions in the world.
There are various race lengths you can choose from including the 5K (kilometer), but you’ll likely want to do the full course to take in the most scenery. Only about 1-mile of the full course is in town, so you’ll be immersed in rural bliss for most of the run.
4. Hamilton’s Around the Bay Race
Hamilton, Ontario is traditionally known as a steel town, but it’s also a hidden gem when it comes to scenic views. The Around the Bay Race is 30-kilometers, so not quite a marathon, but packs a lot of natural beauty along the route.
This race is also the oldest organized run in North America, even older than the Boston Marathon. In fact, it was first run in 1894, according to the race site. You can expect to have great views of the Hamilton Harbor (adjacent Lake Ontario), while traveling over rolling hills, a lift bridge, and along a beach strip.
5. Colorado’s Golden Leaf Half Marathon
Officially known as the Salomon Golden Leaf Half Marathon, this race was apparently chosen as one of the 14 most scenic race routes by Trail Runner magazine. The race takes place at the beginning of Autumn, so runners will be treated to… well, golden leaves.
The route has runners heading along trails, mountain passes and meadows at high elevations (up to 9,600-feet) with many challenging changes in elevation along the way. The race ends up in Aspen’s scenic Koch Park, which is a sight to behold on its own.
6. Alberta’s Canadian Death Race
Sort of a discouraging name if you’re not a seasoned runner, but this race “has captured the imagination of runners from around the globe,” according to Canadian Running magazine. The race (officially billed as The North Face Canadian Death Race) starts at an elevation of about 4,200-feet, which adds to the challenge but also to the photo ops.
This is no ordinary route: the full length is an ultra 125-kilometers (77-miles or so) and it changes dramatically in elevation throughout the trek. Don’t be too afraid of joining this one; apparently no one has actually died, despite the name. But there have been several minor injuries along the way, which is typical for a long race.
7. Boston Marathon
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Boston Marathon, the oldest of its kind in the U.S. with plenty of scenery to boot. The route starts in a beautiful rural setting and makes its way through several historic New England towns that might tempt you to slow down and admire them.
It’s an uphill battle, the marathon boasts the challenging Heartbreak Hill near the back end of the route, making it important to leave some gas in the tank. However, it’s downhill from there into the heart of Boston. You’ll have to qualify for this race through another eligible marathon to take part in this prestigious event.
8. Honolulu Marathon
Hawaii’s capital is beautiful enough to make you run towards it (although you’ll need a boat at some point), but once you get there you can run in this world-renowned marathon. It takes place in December, which is fine, because it’s amazing all the time in Hawaii.
Active.com paints a beautiful picture of this route: “Think fireworks over a pre-dawn sky, torch-lit roadways, Japanese banners, costumes and drums.” It also mentions a challenging uphill climb that offers spectacular views–both of which will take your breath away. If you’re not a runner, this may be a good reason to become one.
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