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At 26.2 miles long, a marathon can be a demanding, albeit extremely rewarding experience.
Although it can be quite daunting entering a marathon, the journey from beginning your training to completing a marathon offers a personal satisfaction and sense of achievement that is hard to match.
Seen by many runners as the ultimate test, training for a marathon requires great commitment, but all the hours spent training will be worthwhile when you experience the thrill of crossing the finish line.
Here are five of the best and most popular marathon courses around the world, all of which are part of the World Marathon Majors series
Established in 1897, the iconic Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon to still take place around the world.
The race doesn’t actually start in the Massachusetts city itself, instead beginning in Hopkinton, a nearby town. From here, runners go along Route 135 before arriving in Boston and finishing near the John Hancock Tower in Copley Square.
Along the course, undoubtedly one of the most challenging sections is the 600-metre stretch near Boston College which has an incline of 88 feet.
If you wish to take part in the event, you must pay a $150 (about £92) entrance fee and also participate in a qualifying marathon. This needs be completed in a certain time and must be certified by USA Track and Field or an equivalent international body.
Taking place on the third Monday of April, the 2011 event had 27,000 participants. Among them was Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, who finished in 2:03:02, setting a new world record in the process.
The Chicago Marathon is also regarded as one of the best 26.2-mile races in the world and can be run to qualify for its Boston counterpart.
Held in early October, the annual race has taken place since 1977 and is well-known for its flat, fast course.
Starting in Grant Park, it heads northwards before going on a largely anti-clockwise route, passing through historic neighbourhoods like Little Italy and Old Town before ending back at the park.
Only 45,000 people are permitted to run each year, so you may want to register well in advance to ensure you have a spot. The entrance fee for international competitors is $170 and unlike Boston, it is open to first-time marathon runners.
The London Marathon is another speedy course and sees more than 36,000 people take part every April.
Beginning in Greenwich, the route has been largely unchanged since the event was first held in 1981. From the starting point, you cross the Meridian line before taking in many of London’s most famous sights, including Canary Wharf and Big Ben before passing Buckingham Palace before the finish at the Mall.
Entrance is £32 but to take part you have to be successfully drawn from the annual ballot, although it is possible to run on the behalf of the charities that are awarded a set number of entries each year.
As well as attracting elite athletes and members of the public, the event also sees celebrities take part to raise money for charity. Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai holds the record for this course at a time of 2:04:40.
The Berlin Marathon course is definitely one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world thanks to various historical sites you’ll pass during the race.
Starting and finishing next to the Brandenburg Gate, the race sees you go past some of the German capital’s most famous attractions, including the Reichstag and Berliner Dom.
Around 40,000 runners take part in the main event, held on the last Sunday of September, while the previous day sees 8,000 people complete the same course on inline skates.
The flattest World Marathon Major, the Berlin Marathon has witnessed several record-breaking runs since it first began in 1974, with Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie registering world-beating times in both 2007 and 2008.
Those choosing to go and watch the event will be in good company, as more than one million spectators line the streets of the course, with the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Torstrasse a great place to see the action.
New York Marathon
The last World Marathon of the calendar year, the New York Marathon has been held on the first Sunday of November since 1970 and sees over 45,000 people take part.
Starting in Staten Island, the marathon takes in all five of the city’s boroughs and comes to an end at Central Park.
On your way, you’ll get to pass over the Queensboro Bridge which links Queens and Manhattan, while over 100 live bands are stationed at regular intervals to help keep you motivated.
Entrance fee for the event is $281 and is open to anyone above the age of 18.
With so many fantastic marathons taking place across the globe, running in one or just watching it is a great way to see some of the world’s most iconic cities.