Napa Valley Marathon in Calistoga, Calif.
Race day: March 4, 2012
With a smaller field than most—organizers accept only 2,300 racers annually—the Napa Valley Marathon allows runners some elbowroom. The route runs along the Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley, and winds south from Calistoga down to Napa. The scenery? It’s simply stunning, with views of the valley, fruit trees and dormant vineyards flanked with gold-colored mustard flowers. Except for the last stretch into Napa, this is a rural race—just you, the road and wine country.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Calistoga Ranch features a Four-Star spa with bath therapies using water from local hot springs.
Paris Marathon in Paris, France
Race day: April 15, 2012
Some say there’s no better way to see the City of Light than by entering the Paris Marathon—much of the course runs beside the banks of the Seine and past some of the city’s greatest sites (the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Place de la Bastille). Between 35,000 and 40,000 racers start on the Champs-Élysées and run a winding loop through the city finishing near the Arc de Triomphe. Proving this marathon is quintessentially French, organizers hand out red wine and cheese to runners at the Eiffel Tower, about three-quarters of the way through the race.
Check in here: The grand Four Seasons Hotel, George V, Paris is just steps from the Champs-Élysées and features guest rooms with classic Parisian flair and bright Louis XVI décor.
Race day: April 16, 2012
As the oldest and most prestigious race in the United States, running in the Boston Marathon is a lifelong goal even for veteran runners. Racers must qualify with a time (based on age and gender) from another marathon run in the past year and a half in order to participate. The Patriot’s Day event starts outside of the city in rural Hopkinton and winds through several New England towns until it ends on Boylston Street in the center of the Boston. Be sure to prep adequately for the infamous Heartbreak Hill between miles 20 and 21.
Check in here: The Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Boston is just steps away from the finish line, so you can quickly retreat to the luxury hotel to recuperate.
Virgin London Marathon in London, England
Race day: April 22, 2012
The race route passes the most iconic landmarks of England—Big Ben, the Tower of London, the London Eye—and runs along the Thames River and across the Tower Bridge at mile 12 (a highpoint—literally—for racers). Around 30,000 people run in the London Marathon each year, making it one of the largest in the world. Competitors start at Greenwich Park and zigzag through the city until they cross the finish line at Buckingham Palace. Celebrate in British fashion by popping into a nearby pub for a pint.
Check in here: London’s ultimate classic hotel, The Savoy, has been reborn after a months-long renovation. Check in here for easy access to the race and a post-run celebratory drink at the beloved American Bar.
Big Sur International Marathon in Big Sur, Calif.
Race day: April 29, 2012
California’s most beautiful drive is the route for this foot race. You’ll hug the coast on Highway One from Big Sur all the way down to Carmel. The hills and the headwinds are difficult, but the gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean serve as inspiration to keep going. The point-to-point course tends to sell out year after year, so if you’re looking to conquer the hilly terrain, book early.
Check in here: Four-Star Post Ranch Inn is located just off Highway One and each of the 40 rooms features either a majestic mountain or ocean view, just like the race route.
Race day: May 6, 2012
Vancouver debuts a new course this year—it’s now a point-to-point race that will take more advantage of the scenic city sites including its unique neighborhoods, world-class parks and its expansive seawall. The trek, limited to 5,000 participants, begins in Queen Elizabeth Park and goes through seven neighborhoods, passing the beaches at Spanish Banks and entering Stanley Park before finishing in Vancouver’s downtown.
Check in here: Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver has a primo location near Stanley Park and the Granville Street entertainment district, but we like the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel’s luxe amenities (such as in-room espresso makers so you can get up and go).
Mont St.-Michel Bay Marathon in Mont St.-Michel, France
Race day: May 13, 2012
During France’s only point-to-point marathon, you can see the finish line for the entire 26.2 miles of the race. Snug against the Normandy coastline, the course runs from Cancale in Brittany to the towering fortified island village of Normandy’s Mont St.-Michel. The relatively flat terrain makes it easy to concentrate on the views of the vast Bay of Mont St. Michel and the imposing view of the island municipality, a former monastery and hulking edifice on the shoreline.
Check in here: The enchanting Relais & Châteaux hostelry Les Maisons de Bricourt sits near the start of the race in Cancale and captures the joie de vivre of the region with its easy, breezy seaside locale.
The Great Wall Marathon in Tianjin, China
Race day: May 19, 2012
If visiting the Great Wall of China is on your bucket list and you’re a glutton for punishment, then this marathon may be for you. Runners should expect the race to take about 50 percent longer to complete than an average marathon due to extreme ascents and descents (there is an 8-hour time limit to complete the trek). The route starts near the village of Huangyaguan, a couple hours northeast of Beijing, and heads straight to the Wall. While going up and down the steps of the centuries-old structure, you can expect stunning 360-degree views of China’s countryside. The course then heads through scenic villages and rice fields before looping back to the Wall again for the final portion of the race.
Check in here: Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Raffles Beijing Hotel is located just steps from Beijing’s other must-see sites, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
The Big Five Marathon in Limpopo Province, South Africa
Race day: June 23, 2011
This race is like a marathon and a safari in one. It’s also one of the toughest, as the entire course ambles through the hills and valleys of Entabeni Game Reserve in the Waterberg district of South Africa. The reserve is a privately owned wonderland of wildlife and varied landscape. You’ll be rewarded with up-close views of antelope, giraffes and zebras—one leg of the race even takes runners through lion territory.
Check in here: Camp Jabulani in the nearby Kapama Game Reserve is a Relais & Châteaux property that offers safaris (in which you ride on an elephant’s back) and six luxury suites with private plunge pools and outdoor, glass-enclosed showers.
Athens Classic Marathon in Athens, Greece
Race day: November 11, 2012
Run the race where it all started: The trek begins on an ancient battlefield in the town of Marathon. This course is challenging, as it begins near the Aegean Sea and climbs up towards Athens, about 360 feet above sea level. But we think running a legendary route that’s more than 2,500 years old makes up for any uphill discomfort, especially when you reach the finish line at Panathinaiko Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.
Check in here: Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens stays true to the spirit of Greece with classic Greek décor (grand columns, intricate moldings) and views of the city’s historical landmarks.