Holidays & Travel

From Kazakhstan to Uganda, 5 amazing marathons to sign up for this year

These destination races will make the training worthwhile, says Sarah Marshall.

Kazakhstan’s Almaty Marathon is believed to be Central Asia’s biggest running competition
Runners taking part in the Almaty Marathon Kazakhstan’s Almaty Marathon is believed to be Central Asia’s biggest running competition (Chalabov Konstantin)

The start of the new year means a fresh exercise regime. But how many people actually stick to their intentions?

One way to keep focus is by enrolling in a 42km marathon or half-marathon. Even training for a shorter 5km will improve fitness levels.

To stay motivated, opt for a race taking place in an exotic or unusual destination where the emphasis isn’t only on crossing the finish line.

For a warm up, take a look at these mega races taking place in he UK, Europe and further afield.

1. The La Valette Marathon, Malta

On the starting line at sunrise
On the starting line at sunrise (Malta Tourism/PA) On the starting line at sunrise

When: March 24.

Temperature: 17C, sunny.

Brush up on historical knowledge while pounding ancient pavements and weaving through archaeological ruins on an island inhabited since 5900 BC. Now in its third edition, this culturally rich route starts at Bahar ic Caghaq village and hugs the Mediterranean coastline, passing through an open-air museum of medieval fortifications and iconic landmarks. Options for a half marathon and slower 21km Walkathon are also available.

Entry: €59.95/£51 for the full marathon. See La Valette Marathon.

How: A four-night B&B stay at the Mayflower Hotel in the heart of Bugibba-Qawra starts from £296pp (two sharing), including flights. Departs March 21. Visit Jet2holidays.

Essential kit: On Women’s Cloudboom Echo 3, £265.


On’s latest and fastest marathon shoe is designed to help runners smash PBs and support success at the finish line. Engineered using top athlete insight, the show is built with a full carbon Speedboard® to propel runners forwards.

2. Almaty Marathon, Kazakhstan

When: September 29.

Temperature: 24C, sunny.

marathon (Konstantin Chalabov)

Have friends reaching for their Atlases to pinpoint the route of this offbeat race through Central Asia. Claiming to be the region’s biggest running competition, the event takes place in capital Almaty and forms two laps around the city framed by snow-dusted mountains. A portion of the entry fee goes to charity and has been invested in improving sports infrastructure for disabled children in the past. Only 15,600 places are available, so sign up soon. A half marathon and 10km Nordic Walking race is also possible.

Entry: 12,500 KZT/£22 for the full marathon. See Almaty Marathon.

How: A four-night stay with flights and accommodation from September 27 – October 1 costs from £659pp. Visit Air Astana.

Essential kit: Karrimor marathon running socks, £6 (was £11.99), Sports Direct.


Good socks are key to comfortable long runs. Using DRX moisture management technology, this pair allows feet to breathe and keep cool. A reinforced footbed section also enhances performance.

3. Pursuit in Paradise, Cook Islands

Aitutaki (Alamy Stock Photo)

When: April 29-May 2.

Temperature: 28C, hot and humid – although the race starts at 5.30am to beat the heat.

Arguably, most runners are too focused on the finish line to appreciate their surroundings. But it would be a crime not to look up and admire the scenery of Aitutaki in the South Pacific. An atoll island ringed by coral enclosing a vast lagoon, the remote destination is a favourite with honeymooners and is the perfect place to rest and recuperate after a long run. A half-marathon and 10km race is also possible.

Entry: $225 NZD/£110 per person for all races. See Aitutaki Marathon.

How: An eight-night B&B trip staying at the Tamanu Beach Resort costs from £3,449, including flights. Visit Trailfinders.

Essential kit: Rab Talus Trail Shorts, £80.


Perfect for mountain, trail and road running, these stretchy, quick-drying shorts are made with a combination of speed-friendly fabrics. They have a deep, stretch waistband for maximum comfort and a secure fit, and stitch-free hems to eliminate rubbing during long runs.

4. Active Northumberland Kielder Marathon, UK

Runners (Alamy Stock Photo)

When: October 5-6.

Temperature: 11C, with a possibility of rain.

Dubbed Britain’s most beautiful marathon, this route along the Scottish Borders follows an almost entirely off-road course around northern Europe’s largest man-made lake, Kielder Water. Being hill country, there are a few inclines in store and trail running shoes might be a good option. For the seriously hardcore, there’s a Gravel Duathlon, which involves a bike ride. Kids can also compete in a Junior Race.

Entry: £44 for the full marathon. See Kielder Marathon.

How: A three-night stay at the four-bed Risingham House, West Woodburn, costs from £998 from October 4-7. Visit Crabtree & Crabtree.

Essential kit:Arc’teryx Essent Warm Legging, £120.


Suited to long, chilly runs, these thermal leggings will keep you cosy. Nylon and elastane interlock with a brushed backer to create a warm, breathable material with excellent stretch. A wicking finish speeds moisture transfer.

5. Rwenzori Marathon, Uganda

Rwenzori Mountains

When: August 24.

Temperature: 22C, warm and humid with a possibility of rain.

Named the “Mountains of the Moon” by ancient astronomer and geographer Ptolemy, the Rwenzori range features the third highest peak in Africa yet receives only a thousand or so visitors per year – a tiny percentage of the number visiting Kilimanjaro. Launched by company Equator Hikes to raise exposure of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and support local communities, the race – which can also be done as a half marathon and 5km fun run – passes through the foothills, but still expect an elevation gain of 800 metres at a maximum altitude of 1,295 metres above sea level on the longer stint. After the race (and recovery), head to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track gorillas.

Entry: $60USD/£47 for the full marathon. See Rwenzori Marathon.

How: A six-night Rwenzori marathon, game and gorilla safari costs from £2,195 per person (two sharing), including transfers, guide and gorilla permits. International flights from £566. Visit Great Lakes Safaris.

Essential kit:On Women’s Active Jacket, £120.


Perfect for the changing weather you’ll experience while training for a marathon, this fully windproof and water-resistant jacket folds away easily into its own front pocket.

Expert tip

Brian Maiorano, coach liaison at CORE, shares his hot weather marathon training advice.

“It’s important to incorporate heat training regularly into your training when preparing for a hot weather marathon. This conditions your body to generate high performance at elevated environmental temperatures.

CORE sensor

The main benefit of heat training is increased blood plasma. This increases sweat rate and lowers the threshold for the onset of sweating. This makes it easier for the body to cool itself. Adding a non-invasive wearable device like the CORE sensor, £232, to your training routine allows you to monitor your body’s core temperature accurately while training, and understand how it correlates with performance metrics so you can learn and adapt. It will also help you become heat aware and avoid dangerous overheating.”