If you’re having a fitness streak and also feel like seeing the world, why not do something active while you’re away? Setting yourself a challenge in an unfamiliar country can be a great way to experience a different side to a place, as well as (quite literally) rubbing shoulders with local fitness enthusiasts. And there’s far more on offer than just the famous city marathons – from the epic and far-reaching to the relaxed and family-friendly, there’s a whole world of different events to try that make the best use of the local sights. Here’s our pick of the best…
The iconic one: Empire State Building Run-Up, New York City
There’s nothing more iconic than the New York skyline and now you can run up its most famous building. The annual Empire State Building Run-Up pits runners against a whole 86 flights of stairs in a thigh-burning feat of endurance. The fastest participants complete the challenge in just 10 minutes, so if you feel like taking on a big challenge in the big apple, just sign up here.
The chilled-out one: San Clemente Ocean Festival, California
Taking place on the relaxed beaches of San Clemente, nestled mid-way between Los Angeles and San Diego, this two-day multi-sport event is a celebration of surf culture with hundreds of participants each year. There are a whole variety of swim, run, surf, and paddle events to try, but the most famous is the one-mile swim with racers battling through the waves out to sea. It’s a family-friendly event, so bring the gang to cheer you on. Register here.
The Mediterranean one: Chia Sport Week, Sardinia
Beautiful azure-coloured sea and fragrant Mediterranean scrubland surround the events of Chia Sport Week on the Italian island of Sardinia. There are a whole host of events on offer including triathlons, runs and swims but the jewel in the crown is the 126km Grandfondo cycle race, taking cyclists on a challenging course of climbs. There are also medium and short-length versions for those after something a little less punishing. Register here.
The paddle one: SUP11 City Tour, The Netherlands
See the Netherlands from a whole different perspective – but be prepared to brave the weather. This bizarre stand-up paddle board (SUP) trek takes place along 136 miles of canals through 11 cities in Northern Holland. Conditions are generally wet and windy, which is all part of the challenge and it’s a gruelling, punishing race. Not for the faint-hearted. Register here.
The swimmers’ one: The Big Swim, Sydney
If swimming’s more your thing and you want to give it a try down under then the Big Swim is for you. Part of The Pittwater Ocean Swim Series taking in a number of swims along Sydney’s beautiful Northern beaches, The Big Swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach takes swimmers on a 2.5km open water route. It’s even accompanied by a shorter Little Big Swim for less-confident open-water swimmers. Register here.
The hot one: The Namib Race, Namibia
If you’re after the challenge of a lifetime, you can’t go harder than The Namib Race. Organized by desert race experts 4Deserts, this grueling 250km ultra-race takes seven days to complete. The route takes racers along Western Africa’s skeleton coast, up epic dunes, and through the oldest desert in the world. Racers are supported by a full medical team with tents to sleep in at night. Register here
The scenic one: Two Oceans Marathon, Cape Town
Considered one of the most beautiful running courses in the world, the Two Oceans Marathon is Africa’s biggest race event. Taking place every year across the Easter weekend, the occasion is actually several events including fun runs, a marathon, a half, and full-blown 56km ultra-marathon boasting spectacular views across the Cape Peninsula. Find out more and register for your event here.
The ancient one: Inca Trail Marathon, Peru
Why not immerse yourself in some ancient history while you run? This course, setting out from the Andean city of Cusco, takes runners on a stunning high-altitude trail through Peru’s Sacred Valley. You’ll run across flagstones that the Incas walked upon, past ancient ruins and through to a spectacular finish at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Machu Picchu. Choose from 30km or 42km distances – but be warned, it’s a tough one. Register here.
The cold one: The Last Desert Race, Antarctica
Another once-in-a-lifetime challenge from the team at 4Deserts, this unique race through the largest ice desert on earth (although it holds 70% of the world’s water, Antarctica gets only 8 inches of rain per year). Running in temperatures around -20 degrees, racers will board an expedition ship before setting off through spectacular scenery on a loop around the South Shetland Islands, with abundant sightings of penguins, seals and whales. Sign up here.
The zen one: The Japanese Odyssey
If you’re a cyclist after a full-on Asian adventure, then try The Japanese Odyssey. Billed as “not a race” this 2200 km cycling event is a true test of endurance. Heading out from the Sakurajima peninsula on Japan’s South-Western tip and winding through the steep climbs of the Japanese Alps to finish at the Nihonbashi bridge in Tokyo, this race takes 10 days to complete. The organisers say “it’s about discovery, about exploration, about challenging yourself”, but they also warn you to “be prepared”. Just make sure to pack your padded shorts. Find out more here.