world's most difficult marathon great wall marathon

The World’s Most Difficult Marathons

We can agree that all marathons are difficult. They are grueling, demanding, and, well… long. Noted. However, there are some marathons that win the top spots for being the most challenging. Extreme temperatures, high elevations, and rough terrain are just a few obstacles that can add torment to your 26.2 miles. Take a lap through these races and see which one you would like to conquer, or perhaps, run away from!

Inca Peninsula Marathon

On Erik’s Adventures’ Inca Peninsula Marathon website, they tout this race as “A Marathon in Distance but an Ultra in Effort.” Many would agree that the Inca Peninsula Marathon is the most difficult marathon in the world. Mostly paved in 500-year-old Inca stone, the trail is 4-6 feet wide and is treacherous. Beginning in Calientes at an elevation of 8,650 feet, you will run beside some steep drop-offs and encounter numerous stairs. The race has runners transitioning over two high passes of 13,000 feet and 13,800 feet. In the end, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the lost city of Machu Picchu. This marathon is limited to a small number of runners and the cost for the Inca Trail Marathon: Adventure Running Tour is $2985. The package dates for this year are July 2, 2021-July 11, 2021.

Pikes Peak Marathon

Want to challenge yourself but stay stateside? Then Pike’s Peak Marathon is the race for you. This mountain trail begins in Manitou Springs, Colorado, marathoners will run along the Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak and back down. Expect a 7,800-foot vertical climb and rugged terrain. Though the trail is often winding and uneven, thankfully, there are no exposed ledges. Runners need to be prepared for the lack of oxygen that comes with Pikes Peak’s altitude. At 14,115 ft. above sea level, having less oxygen is certainly a factor. The marathon started in 1956 and was the first marathon to allow women competitors. Winning times are generally just under 4 hours, compared with 2 hours in a road marathon. The next Pikes Peak Marathon will be held on August 22, 2021.

Antarctic Ice Marathon

Everyone is aware that Antarctica is known for its unforgiving cold temperatures. These temperatures, with an average wind chill of -20C, are a large part of why the Antarctic Ice Marathon lands a top spot in the world’s most difficult marathons. Throw in snow and ice for feet to grapple with and an altitude of 2296 ft. and it’s a run like no other! Being the world’s southernmost marathon, it adds its own challenge of simply getting there. One must fly by private jet from Punta Arenas, Chile to the location of the marathon in Union Glacier, Antarctica. The cost for competitors is a cool $17,900 and begins on December 14, 2021.

Great Wall Marathon

This marathon qualifies as a twofer on the bucket list: runners can check off seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World while completing a marathon like no other! The Great Wall Marathon consists of 5,164 historic stone steps. Competitors can expect warm to hot temperatures and steep inclines and descents. The race begins and ends in Yin and Yang Square at the Fortress of the Huangyaguan section of the Great Wall of China in the Tianjin Province. The race usually takes place in May, but like many other marathons, it has been postponed because of Covid-19. This year, competitors can pay $1,460 for a 6-day trip package that is scheduled for September 22-27.

Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon

Runners interested in tackling the world’s highest marathon can register for the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon. This marathon reaches a height of 17,598 feet and takes 11 days to trek to, so you must be willing to camp. Described as a “once in a lifetime experience,” the Everest Marathon will challenge competitors with thin air, rough terrain, and temperature changes at different elevations. There are several packages to choose from with prices starting at $995. The marathon begins at Everest Base Camp and ends at Namche Bazar. Sign up now to participate at the end of May!

Up your bragging rights and trail cred by completing one of these marathon beasts. It’s a small, but badass club to join!