For more than a few runners, the marathon is their highest goal — the most challenging task they want to be able to achieve at least once in their running "career." For others, it's a type of hobby: they structure their entire year around marathon training, hoping to make it into a few races here and there. Whatever your reason for deciding to run the fabled 26.2 miles, there is a wealth of opportunity worldwide to take part in some truly incredible running experiences. Marathon organiserslong ago learned that it wasn't enough to simply stake out a course of the appropriate length and send runners off at the starting line. To keep people engaged and motivated, you need something special along the way.

Today, thousands of marathons occur all around the world every year, and many of them boast of scenic landscapes, unique events before and after the race, and a very friendly atmosphere. Are you thinking about taking a journey to participate in a marathon? Picking out a special event could be the motivation you need to stay on track through your training — or you might want to know what's out there in case you have the opportunity to travel one day in the future. For now, let's look at ten of the best marathons held the world over, from the classic and traditional to the truly ground-breaking. We'll start with one of the most celebrated courses in the world: The Big Apple.

1. The New York Marathon

Although this marathon is relatively young compared to some others on this list, having started only in 1970, the New York City marathon proves to be one of the world's most popular sporting events every year. With a course that winds through all five of the iconic boroughs of the city, with plenty of interesting sights along the way, the race annually attracts more than 50,000 runners. Nearly double that number apply for entrance every year — so if you want a spot, you'll need to get lucky with the race's lottery system. Held annually on the first Sunday of November, the weather is often crisp and ideal for long-distancerunning.

2. The Rome Marathon

Want to earn your marathoner's stripes while soaking in some of the most famous sights from classical history? Then the Rome Marathon is the race for you. The Rome Marathon's course takes it by some of the most notable remains from the Roman period, like the ancient chariot ring known as the Circus Maximus. You'll also pass unforgettable landmarks like the Trevi fountain as you course through the city in pleasant weather and with a good crowd of other runners. With its origins in 1982, the race has been run for nearly every year since, with attendance growing consistently. As a March race, this is an excellent opportunity to shake off the winter blues and kick the year off with a big race finish.

3. The London Marathon

Another one of the big major marathons, the London Marathon got its start in the 1980s and quickly rose to prominence. It's not just that its course, which closely follows the River Thames, provides pleasant and inviting views of London. Its appeal also centresaround the good March weather, andthe highly welcoming and fun atmosphere found throughout the marathon. With a wide variety of charity runners participating every year, you're bound to end up racing near someone dressed up in a fantastical costume. To help contend with the tens of thousands of racers that show up to participate every year, the race features three separate starting points, a unique feature among marathons. After a few miles, runners reconvene onto the same general course.

4. The Great Wall Marathon

Few historical structures are as imposing or as iconic as the Great Wall of China. Today, there are no more roving bands of Mongol warriors for it to protect against, and while some sections of the wall have returned to nature, others are the site of one of the toughest marathons in the world. This race, which occurs as part of a larger running event and celebration, doesn't take place solely on smooth paved roads or even off-road trails. For some sections, you'll climb some of the steps of the Great Wall itself — and those steps aren't small! It leaves even the most battle-tested marathoners out of breath, but the scenery and history make it a sought-after race.

5. The Boston Marathon

Another spring race, the Boston Marathon is considered by many to be the "gold standard" race, and for a good reason: it set the bar from the beginning. This race originally began all the way back in 1897and was held to celebrate the commencement of the modern Olympic Games. Though barely more than a dozen people ran in it that year, today more than 30,000 participants crowd the streets of Boston and its surrounding cities. While it attracts many amateurs, it does require that you qualify to enter. Standards include running a recognisedmarathon beforeapplication for entry to the Boston race. As one of the world's biggest and most well-known races, it's worth a spot on anyone's calendar.

6. The Big Sur International Marathon

For the racers who love a challenging course just as much as they love the difficulty of the distance, this race in California is the right choice. Often called one of the world's most stunning marathon courses, you'll take in salty Pacific Ocean views and wind your way through age-old redwood forests on your way to the finish line. Along the way, though, you can expect to encounter tough hill climbs and winds that seem to want to push you back to the starting station. Believe it or not, but some people choose to run the Boston Marathon, fly across the United States, and immediately run this race just two days later!

7. The Great Ocean Road Marathon

If ocean views are your thing but you don't want to tackle the course in California, head Down Under to run this race instead. The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia's most iconic tourist destinations, a long stretch of highway that passes some of the most beautiful locations in the world. The race draws a few thousand participants every year, so you'll be in good company as you tackle the undulating hills and twisting turns of the course. There is a finish line at the traditional mark — but you'll need to make it another three kilometresto reach the true finish. 

8. The Big 5 Marathon

The continent of Africa plays host to this marathon, which takes place in sunny South Africa, and is the runner's safari — a chance to get in touch with nature in a way you've probably never experienced before. It draws its name from the five big game species you're likely to see on the course, which is completely out in the open. Along the way, you could see animals ranging from elephants and lions to wildebeest and much more. It's another opportunity to race in a setting that offers once in a lifetime experiences.

9. The Patagonian International Marathon 

This new race, which takes place in Chile every September, is all about the environment. With snowy mountains in the distance and serene lakes along the race course, you can soak in the scenery while participating with hundreds of other entrants. Every individual who finishes leaves their mark on the park, too: race organisersplant a tree in your name if you cross the finish line. That, plus the raw natural beauty of the park, are what make this race so popular with runners around the world.

10. The Athens Marathon

Finally: the place where it all began. If you want the true marathon experience, why not race the course that inspires all of us? Beginning in the town of Marathon, runners follow a course that recreates the route of legend on the way to Athens. With the Mediterranean climate, positive atmosphere, and historical context, this is a race that every marathoner should consider running at least once. Come prepared, though, as it's no easy feat. Just as runners settle into their pace, the course transitions to an uphill grade and stays that way until the finish line. Whether you choose this race or one of the others on this list, remember... it's never too soon to start training.

This article has been written exclusively for Sports Fitness. Take a look at the running gear we stock including clothing and accessories for runners of every distance.