28 Aug

Races To Do Before You Die

Finishing scene at Athens marathon

Sharing and comparing your race CV is one of the common conversations I fall into with fellow runners. It seems to me that most people who run regularly have their own little checklist of races they would like to do before they die. I am no different.

Both the London and New York Marathons were on my checklist when I first started running. Both have long been ticked off. Now, I find myself attracted to the hidden gems on the calendar; some through word of mouth, some I have simply stumbled across. Here's five of them:

ATHENS MARATHON
I had a race place in the 2010 Athens Marathon. It was a massive anniversary not just for the race itself but for the whole discipline of marathon running itself.

That year marked the 2500th anniversary of the legend of Greek messenger Pheidippides' running from the battlefields of Marathon to Athens to announce victory over the Persian Army before keeling over dead.

Admittedly I wasn't quite as brave as the mythical figure and an injury to my Achilles caused me to drop down to the 5k distance rather than attempt the full 42k. But it gave me the opportunity to spectate in the majestic marble Anathenaic Stadium, site of the first modern Olympics and soak up the event.

What a setting for the finish and what a race it is. One Brit who completed the race said to me: "This is the race. All the rest are the marathon distance, but this is the only true race." His valid point has stuck with me since.

WEST HIGHLAND WAY RACE
An incredible off-road epic which covers Scotland's best loved trail. The race covers a 95 mile undulating stretch which winds along the west coast from just outside Glasgow to the shadow of Ben Nevis in Fort William. I had the fortune of being a member of a runner's support team in 2005 and the scenery and spirit of the race really struck a chord with me.

O TILL O
This is a unique race in Sweden which I covered as a reporter in 2010. It takes place in the archipelago of islands just off Stockholm. Entrants race in pairs from one island in the north across a total of 19 islands to the finish line in the south. They run over islands and swim between islands, covering a total distance of 75k in a single day. The race began over a bet in a bar. The landscape is spectacular and so too is the challenge.

AXE TO EXE
A club-led 20 miler following the stunning coastline in east Devon. It's rugged and beautiful and this is just the type of point-to-point event that really appeals. I stumbled across it when in the in the picturesque village of Beer, having - most appropriately - a beer. Hardy runners who streamed past made me a feel a smidge ashamed that day. I've always wanted to go back, run the race and fully deserve my post-race fill.

BEN NEVIS RACE
A race up and down Britain's highest peak. What could be more beautifully simple as that? Nothing. That's why the race is always massively over-subscribed every year. One year though, one year.

Is there an event that is a must-do for you? Let us know what's on your checklist.