The 10 Hardest Marathons in the World, and some of the coolest

Since visiting every country, I’ve climbed the 7 summits, and run in some of the 10 hardest marathons in the world. As well as some of the coolest, including the Medoc Marathon where you drink wine instead of water every mile (more on that later!).

Anyway, as someone who’s traipsed across deserts, jungles, and icy tundras, I’ve seen some grueling endurance events. But these marathons? Some of these are undoubtedly some of the toughest marathons in the world, and you’ll have to indulge me for a couple of others. There just so cool I can’t not add them to the list! So get training, and sign up.

eye of the sahara marathon
That’s me, broken in the Sahara

1. The Eye of the Sahara Ultramarathon, Mauritania

Come Suffer With Us

Topping our list is the Eye of the Sahara Ultramarathon, with December 2024 being the first ever edition! 3 ultra marathons in 3 days. The race starts in the depths of the desert, at the mystic Eye of the Sahara. Visible from space, and said to be home to the lost city of Atlantic! This 160km/100mile race differs from other desert marathons in that it tackles soft sand, almost exclusively.

The adventure doesn’t stop there either, as it’s also hosted in one of the least visited countries in the world, Mauritania. And if that isn’t enough? You can hitch a ride on the iron ore train to get you back to civilisation, as if 3 ultras in 3 days wasn’t punishment enough!

Why It’s the MOST EPIC, COOLEST AND Hardest Marathon in the World :

Extreme Weather: 0 chance of rain, 0 chance of clouds. Baking heat in the day, cold at night.

Remote Location: One of the least visited countries in the world, and then deep into the Sahara.

Brutal Terrain: Runners face soft sand almost exclusively


2. Marathon des Sables, Morocco

The Ultimate Desert Challenge

I took part in this one in 2019. A great experience! The Marathon des Sables, often dubbed the “toughest foot race on Earth,” spans around 250 kilometers (155 miles) over six days through the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Competitors must carry their own supplies, making this a test of both physical and mental endurance.

Finishing Marathon Des Sables
Finishing Marathon Des Sables

Why It’s Tough:

Self-Sufficiency: Carrying all your food and gear adds to the challenge.

Brutal Conditions: Extreme heat and rugged terrain test even the fittest runners.

3. Antarctic Ice Marathon, Antarctica

The Coldest Marathon on Earth

The Antarctic Marathon is another one that I managed to tick off in January 2024. The Antarctic Ice Marathon offers a stark contrast to desert races, challenging runners with freezing temperatures and icy landscapes. Covering the standard marathon distance of 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles), this race takes place near the South Pole.

It’s super pricey though, I did mine for ‘free’ as part of my 7 summits climb when I was in Antarctica to climb a mountain. The track was still up, and I had a free day so I braved the cold and ran it for free (sorry!).

marathon in antarctica
Me finishing my marathon in antarctica

Why It’s Tough

  • Sub-Zero Temperatures: Participants face temperatures as low as -20°F (-29°C).
  • The cost! Costs $25kUSD
  • Icy Terrain: Running on snow and ice requires special gear and incredible stamina.

Also the North Pole Marathon

There is another event called the North Pole Marathon, held (you guessed it) at the NORTH POLE! It’s similar to the Antarctica marathons. I ran it in 2018. Also super pricey at $25k or so. If I could only do 1 of the 2 ice marathons it’s tough. Antarctica gets you to your 7th continent, whereas the North Pole gets you to the real north pole (whereas Antarctica doesn’t get you to the South Pole, that’s a further $30k expedition!).

running the north pole marathon
Me crossing the finish line at the North Pole Marathon in 8th place

4. Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), France/Italy/Switzerland

The Pinnacle of Mountain Running

The best race in the world. The best runners in the world enter, and even qualifying is tough. AND WITH THAT, STILL 40% FAIL!

UTMB is a trail-running race that loops around Mont Blanc, covering roughly 170 kilometers (106 miles) with an elevation gain of over 10,000 meters (32,800 feet). This race tests runners with steep ascents, descents, and technical terrain.

hardest marathons in the world
UTMB – maybe THE hardest marathon in the world

Why It’s Tough:

High Altitude: Significant elevation changes and high altitudes add to the challenge.

Variable Weather: Conditions can range from hot and sunny to cold and snowy.

Qualification: You need to have earned ultra marathon ‘points’ to even be allowed to enter this bad boy

5. Badwater 135, USA

The Hottest Footrace on the Planet

Made famous by none other than David Goggins. The Badwater 135 ultramarathon stretches 135 miles (217 kilometers) from Death Valley to Mount Whitney in California. Known for its extreme heat, this race pushes runners to their absolute limits.

toughest marathons in the world
Goggins running one of the toughest marathons in the world

Why It’s Tough:

Scorching Heat: Temperatures can reach up to 130°F (54°C) in Death Valley.

Extreme Elevation: The course climbs from below sea level to over 8,000 feet.

6. Barkley Marathons, USA

hardest marathon in the world
Perhaps THE hardest marathon in the world

About 1000 elite people have entered in history. Less than 50 have finished.

Why It’s Tough:

Brutal Terrain: The course is unmarked and features rugged terrain, including steep climbs and dense forests.

Extreme Navigation: Runners need excellent navigation skills to complete the race.

Time Constraints: The race consists of five 20-mile loops with a 60-hour time limit, making it one of the toughest endurance events.

Approximate Cost: $1.60 (Yes, that’s correct)

The entry fee is famously low, but getting an entry is notoriously difficult. However, the actual costs can add up significantly due to the required gear, travel, and preparation.

7. Everest Marathon, Nepal

hardest marathons
hardest marathons

The Highest Marathon on Earth

The Everest Marathon starts at Everest Base Camp and descends to Namche Bazaar, covering 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles). It’s the highest marathon in the world, offering breathtaking views and a unique challenge.

Why It’s Tough:

High Altitude: Starting at over 17,000 feet (5,200 meters), runners must acclimate to the thin air.

Harsh Terrain: The rocky, uneven paths require careful navigation.

8. Great Wall Marathon, China

hardest marathon in the world
hardest marathon in the world

Conquer the Ancient Wonder

The Great Wall Marathon is a one of a kind race that takes runners along the historic Great Wall of China. Covering 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles), the marathon includes thousands of steps and steep ascents.

Why It’s Tough:

Stairs and Slopes: The course includes over 5,000 steps and steep inclines.

Varied Terrain: The mix of ancient stone steps and rugged trails adds to the challenge.

9. Marathon du Medoc, Bordeaux, France

Marathon Du Medoc
Me at the Marathon Du Medoc

The Wine Marathon.

42km, or 26.2 miles, through the vineyards of Medoc, Bordeaux. The terrain is perfect, the weather is perfect, the time of year is perfect. So why is it one of the hardest marathons in the world? Well my friends, instead of having a water break every 1km, you have a wine break, in a vineyard. 42times. Imagine running a marathon with 42 (albeit small) glasses of wine. That’s hard!

Why It’s Tough:

The booze: Endless free red and white wine

The Alcohol: Endless free red and white wine

The Wine: Did I mention the endless free red and white wine?!

10. Serengeti Marathon, Tanzania

Serengeti marathon
The finish line!
the serengeti marathon
My mum during The Serengeti Marathon with the armed guards

Admittedly not one of the hardest marathons in the world, but undoubtedly one of the coolest marathons in the world! I did this one as part of a fund-raising charity trip I organised to Tanzania in 2022. Helping my mum complete 10km of the Serengeti Marathon (she has had Parkinson’s disease for 12 years, and is now 75!). We raised $20km and it was a beautiful experience.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t one of the ‘hardest’ marathons in the world. But it’s certainly one of the coolest. You run partially in the national park, with armed guards in case the lions are on the course. Wild.

Why It’s Tough:

Risk of being eaten: It’s literally in the Serengeti National Park, wild animals are wild!

Registration and logistics: Doing anything in Sub Saharan Africa requires a large leap of faith, and an even larger dose of patience.


So there you have it team – a list of the hardest marathons in the world. Whether it’s the baking heat of the Sahara, or the absolute freezing cold of Antarctica, or even the high altitudes of Everest, these races will push you to your limits and beyond. If you’re up for the challenge, lace up your running shoes and start training.

If you want to join any, I should add that the Eye of the Sahara Ultramarathon is my brainchild! So I’ll be partial and say join that one! I can help uou with your training, and your gear, it’s held in December each year. You can see it (and my other trips that I run) here:

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