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Marathons and ultramarathons are the ultimate tests of endurance and mental strength for runners worldwide.

These internationally renowned races offer unique challenges and breathtaking scenery.

Here is an overview of the most prestigious marathons and ultramarathons around the globe.

Most Important Running Tournaments:

  1. Boston Marathon
  2. New York City Marathon
  3. Berlin Marathon
  4. London Marathon
  5. Tokyo Marathon
  6. Chicago Marathon
  7. Comrades Marathon
  8. Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run
  9. Badwater Ultramarathon
  10. Marine Corps Marathon
  11. Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc
  12. Barkley Marathons
  13. Spartathlon
  14. Leadville Trail 100 Run
  15. Two Oceans Marathon
  16. Great Wall Marathon
  17. Big Sur International Marathon
  18. Marathon des Sables
  19. Istanbul Marathon
  20. Honolulu Marathon

#1 Boston Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Boston, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1897
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 30,000

The Boston Marathon, organized by the Boston Athletic Association, is the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors.

With its challenging course and qualification requirements, this prestigious race is both an iconic American tradition and a major global sporting event. Past winners include Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, and Uta Pippig.

#2 New York City Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: New York City, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1970
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 50,000

The New York City Marathon, known for its diverse participants and challenging course, is the largest marathon in the world.

Runners traverse all five boroughs of New York City, witnessing the city’s iconic landmarks. Organized by the New York Road Runners (NYRR), notable past winners include Grete Waitz, Tegla Loroupe, and Bill Rodgers.

#3 Berlin Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Berlin, Germany
  • πŸ“… Established: 1974
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 40,000

The Berlin Marathon, one of the six World Marathon Majors, is renowned for its flat course and favorable conditions, leading to numerous world records being broken.

The race offers runners a unique opportunity to explore the historic city. Kenya and Ethiopia have produced many of the event’s elite champions, including Eliud Kipchoge and Tirunesh Dibaba.

#4 London Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: London, United Kingdom
  • πŸ“… Established: 1981
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 40,000

The London Marathon, part of the World Marathon Majors, attracts a diverse field of elite athletes, charity runners, and recreational participants.

The race offers exceptional spectator support and takes runners past iconic landmarks, such as Tower Bridge and Buckingham Palace. Past winners include Paula Radcliffe, Haile Gebrselassie, and Abebe Bikila.

#5 Tokyo Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • πŸ“… Established: 2007
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 35,000

The Tokyo Marathon, the youngest of the World Marathon Majors, has quickly gained prestige within the international running community.

Showcasing Japan’s modern culture and traditional landscapes, participants experience a unique blend of scenery as they traverse the city. Notable champions include Yuki Kawauchi, who became a national hero after winning in 2018.

#6 Chicago Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Chicago, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1977
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯Participants: Around 45,000

The Chicago Marathon, known for its flat, fast course and vibrant atmosphere, is another World Marathon Major. Runners experience the diverse neighborhoods of Chicago, along with strong spectator support.

Past winners include Khalid Khannouchi, who set a world record in 1999, and Paula Radcliffe, who still holds the women’s course record.

#7 Comrades Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
  • πŸ“… Established: 1921
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 30,000

The Comrades Marathon, an ultramarathon, covers approximately 89 kilometers (~55 miles) between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

This historic race, initiated to remember South African soldiers who fought in World War I, is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon. South African runners, such as Bruce Fordyce and Frith van der Merwe, have dominated the race for decades.

#8 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

  • πŸ“ Location: California, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1974
  • πŸ”„Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 14,000

The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race, challenges runners with extreme terrain and elevation changes.

Traversing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the race sets a high standard for ultramarathoners. Elite runners like Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, and Jim Walmsley have contributed to its legendary status.

#9 Badwater Ultramarathon

  • πŸ“ Location: California, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1987
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 135

The Badwater Ultramarathon, dubbed “the world’s toughest foot race,” covers 135 miles through Death Valley’s extreme heat and elevation change. Participants ascend three mountain ranges and finish at Mount Whitney.

The race pushes mental and physical boundaries, with champions like Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed pushing the limits of human endurance.

#10 Marine Corps Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Washington, D.C., United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1976
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 30,000

The Marine Corps Marathon, nicknamed “The People’s Marathon,” strives to promote physical fitness and community goodwill. Runners encounter American history landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery.

With no prize money, the event emphasizes personal achievement and American patriotism, attracting diverse runners and military servicemembers.

#11 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

  • πŸ“ Location: Mont Blanc Massif, Alps
  • πŸ“… Established: 2003
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 9,000

The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), a series of trail-running races around Mont Blanc, tests athletes with high altitude and unpredictable weather.

The flagship UTMB race covers approximately 106 miles and 9,600 meters of altitude gain. Elite ultrarunners like Xavier ThΓ©venard, Kilian Jornet, and Rory Bosio have conquered this race, building its worldwide prestige.

#12 Barkley Marathons

  • πŸ“ Location: Tennessee, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1986
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 40

The Barkley Marathons, an extreme ultra-disqance race, is notorious for its brutal course, navigation challenges, and unpredictable elements.

The race features 100+ miles, five loops in the Frozen Head State Park, and extremely few finishers. This cult running event draws participants worldwide, testing even the most experienced ultrarunners.

#13 Spartathlon

  • πŸ“ Location: Greece
  • πŸ“… Established: 1983
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 350

The Spartathlon, an ultra-endurance race, follows the 153-mile historical route of the ancient courier Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta.

This challenging race encompasses steep mountain climbs, rough terrains, and extreme weather. Elite ultrarunners like Yiannis Kouros and Patrycja Bereznowska have made history along this legendary path.

#14 Leadville Trail 100 Run

  • πŸ“ Location: Colorado, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1983
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 700

The Leadville Trail 100 Run, a high-altitude ultramarathon, takes runners through the Colorado Rockies, reaching an elevation of 12,600 feet.

Known as the “Race Across the Sky,” the race promotes a sense of community and personal achievement. Past winners include Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, and Tony Krupicka, who have endured extreme elevation and challenging terrain.

#15 Two Oceans Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Cape Town, South Africa
  • πŸ“… Established: 1970
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 13,000

The Two Oceans Marathon, known as “the world’s most beautiful marathon,” offers a breathtaking backdrop covering the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coastlines. The event includes a 56 km ultra marathon and a 21 km half marathon.

The race attracts both local and international athletes. South African runners like Thompson Magawana and Frith van der Merwe have excelled in this race.

#16 Great Wall Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Tianjin, China
  • πŸ“… Established: 1999
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯Participants: Around 2,500

The Great Wall Marathon takes runners through challenging terrain along one of the world’s most famous landmarks. Participants tackle steep ascents and descents, along with thousands of stairs.

Both the marathon and half marathon events test runners’ endurance and determination, making it a bucket-list experience for adventurous athletes worldwide.

#17 Big Sur International Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: California, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1986
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 4,500

The Big Sur International Marathon, renowned for its picturesque course along the California coastline, is a must-run for marathoners.

Known for its difficult terrain and stunning ocean views, it also features a unique piano performance at the halfway point. Participants come from all corners of the globe, seeking both a challenging and beautiful race experience.

#18 Marathon des Sables

  • πŸ“ Location: Sahara Desert, Morocco
  • πŸ“… Established: 1986
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯Participants: Around 1,000

The Marathon des Sables, a six-day, 251-kilometer ultra-marathon, is considered one of the toughest foot races on Earth. Contestants face scorching heat in the Sahara Desert while carrying their supplies for the multi-stage event.

This grueling race attracts adventurers worldwide, and past champions include Mohamad Ahansal and Elisabet Barnes.

#19 Istanbul Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Istanbul, Turkey
  • πŸ“… Established: 1979
  • πŸ”„Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 37,000

The Istanbul Marathon, unique in connecting two continents during the race, takes runners from Asia to Europe across the iconic Bosphorus Bridge.

Boasting a rich history and stunning views, the event offers marathon, 15 km, and fun run distances. With its international appeal, the race brings together athletes from around the world.

#20 Honolulu Marathon

  • πŸ“ Location: Hawaii, United States
  • πŸ“… Established: 1973
  • πŸ”„ Held: Annually
  • πŸ‘₯ Participants: Around 25,000

The Honolulu Marathon, known for its scenic course in paradise, has no time limit, attracting runners of all skill levels. Participants enjoy the beautiful island of Oahu and experience Hawaiian culture throughout the race.

Elite athletes from Kenya and Japan have dominated the event, with record-holders like Jimmy Muindi and Lyubov Denisova.


What is the most important marathon tournament?

The Boston Marathon is the most crucial marathon, being the world’s oldest annual marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors.

What is the oldest marathon tournament?

The Boston Marathon, established in 1897, is the world’s oldest, annual marathon tournament.

What is the hardest marathon tournament to win?

The Badwater Ultramarathon is likely the hardest to win, covering 135 miles through Death Valley’s extreme heat and elevation change.

Tanya is a running enthusiast who loves to run 5Ks and 10Ks. She self-trained and has completed marathons, competing in Illinois, Michigan, California, and Wisconsin. She advocates for staying healthy and strong in body, mind, and spirit. When she's not running or writing on her travel blog travelsandtreasures.com, you can usually find her managing IT projects at a global financial services company or discovering new places for family vacations.

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