From Kigali to Kilimanjaro: the world’s most intrepid running races

18/02/2020 14:13

Written by Bradt Travel Guides

Ever fancied combining a safari with a 10k? How about completing a marathon that weaves its way up Africa's highest mountain?

From the hills of Rwanda to the remote islands of the North Atlantic, we've chosen our favourite (and most challenging) races from around the world. How many have you entered?

Great Ethiopian Run

Ethiopia’s pre-eminence when it comes to long-distance running has often been attributed to the high altitudes at which its athletes train, while others reckon it might be something to do with genetics, diet or body shape. Whatever the reason, running is a popular activity in the highlands, especially around Addis Ababa and the neighbouring Entoto Hills, where altitudes ranging from 2,350m to almost 3,000m are likely to leave even the fittest of European newbies gasping for breath.

Entoto Hills Ethiopia by Philip Kromer, Flickr© Phillip Kromer, Flickr

High altitudes and daunting slopes aside, those planning a few casual jogs in Ethiopia will find it has a wonderful climate for running, particularly the slightly lower Rift Valley. If you are serious about testing yourself at altitude, the Great Ethiopian Run is a 10km event held in Addis Ababa every November. It's Africa’s busiest road race, attracting more than 40,000participants.

Somaliland Marathon

The Somaliland Marathon aims to promote sport in Somaliland by "encouraging more Somalis to participate in sport, as well as showcasing this wonderful and hospitable country to visiting foreign athletes". The inaugural Somaliland Marathon was held in Hargeisa in February 2018 and comprised a full 42.2km marathon as well as a 10km race. It attracted 200 runners from 12 countries, including 23 international runners, and has since become an annual event.

Somaliland Marathon by ©©

Participants have the opportunity to support the work of the Darlington Foundation, a British-based charity which promotes and supports the education of students in Somaliland. Its aim is to encourage each entrant to raise US$1500, which is enough to put one student through full-time university education for a period of four years. If a runner raises this amount, the entrance fee of US$200 per international participant will be waived. 

Beirut Marathon

Since its inaugural run in 2003 which attracted 6,000 runners from 49 countries, this annual event, usually held in November, has grown year on year, with more than 37,000 runners from 94 countries taking part in 2014.

Beirut, Lebanon © Henryk Sadura, Shutterstock© Henryk Sadura, Shutterstock

As well as the full marathon (42.195km) for over 17s only, there is a 10km run for those with disabilities, a 5km youth run for those aged 7–17 years, and a 1km fun run for all age groups and families. Wheelchair users can also participate in the 10km race and full marathon.

Tórshavn Marathon

Tórshavn Faroe Islands by Shutterstock/Axel Lauer© Axel Lauer, Shutterstock

This marathon in the Faroese capital has one of the most beautiful courses in the world. It takes place in June, and includes a half marathon, a 5.5km Health run and a 2.2km Health run.

Kilimanjaro Marathon

Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania by Yosemite Wikimedia Commons© Yosemite, Wikimedia Commons

East Africa’s most scenic marathon takes place on the lower slopes of the continent’s highest mountain in Tanzania. If that sounds too daunting, try the half-marathon or 5km fun run. 

Kariba Half Marathon

Lake Kariba Zimbabwe by alfred, Shutterstock© alfred, Shutterstock

This half marathon was established in 2006 and is now the toughest in Zimbabwe at 21km, but there’s also a 10km fun run. Beautiful lakeside scenery with the distinct possibility of meeting elephants and zebra, etc along the way. 

Kigali International Peace Marathon

Kigali Rwanda by Black Sheep Media, Shutterstock© Black Sheep Media, Shutterstock

Every May since 2005, thousands of runners from around Rwanda and the world descend on the capital for the Kigali International Peace Marathon. Anybody is welcome to participate, but if you’re not feeling quite up to tackling 42km of Kigali’s unrelenting hills, there’s a 5km fun run, and plenty of fun to be had as a spectator too!

Mulanje Porters’ Race

If you’re in Malawi around mid-July, ask about the Mulanje Porters’ Race – now an international event – organised by the MCM. The Mulanje porters and other entrants race up and down 25km of steep mountain in one of Africa’s maddest and most daunting fitness challenges, taking in the heights of the Skyline Path to Chambe.

Mount Mulanje Malawi by Dana Allen, Central African Wilderness Safaris© Dana Allen, Central African Wilderness Safaris

You’re unlikely to win, but the prizes have included a bicycle, a plane ride and a night of luxury in a posh hotel. The event is open to men and women, and further details can be obtained through InfoMulanje or the MCM or MMCT.

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