Runner, writer, cyclist, traveler, entrepreneur, mother: Gauri Jayaram dons many hats. Gauri did her first full marathon a few months back, trains with Pacemakers in Bangalore and runs all over the world. She has literally experienced the highs and lows of a cardio-life – she ran a half marathon at the lowest point on earth (The Dead Sea Ultra Race in Jordan) and then trekked to the base camp of the world’s highest mountain – the Mt. Everest. She is also a cyclist, traveler and writer. She writes about her experiences, and her travels as well. Active Holiday Company, her brainchild helps runners, cyclists and trekkers travel across the world and have brilliant cardio experiences.
Though I took up running way after I started traveling (since I was 5 days old) – it’s hard for me to decide whether I am a traveller or a runner. I think I am both and this was the premise for me to start the Active Holiday Company in 2013. Ever since I took up running, my travel plans started to revolve around races. I haven’t done those many but here’s my hand picked bucket list of races that are totally worth the last penny in your bank (and trust me some of them are going to leave you broke!)
1. ANTARCTICA MARATHON – If you want to tick off running on the 7 continents – this is the race to go for. You fly into Ushuaia in Argentina and then embark on a 10-day expedition that takes you to the last continent where you get to run the Antarctica Marathon. Add strong winds, freezing temperatures and a time limit to finish the race and your challenge is complete. Fewer than 125 runners get to the start line of this race, which has a wait list of over two years. And how light will it leave your wallet? Anything from Rs. 6, 30,000 onwards.
2. MID-NIGHT SUN MARATHON – Where in the world can you enjoy a race in the middle of the night with the sun peeping at you from the horizon? This was a race that I broke my bank for and it is to date my favourite course. Tucked away in Northern Norway, this race is held at the tiny town of Tromso that has a total population of 70,000 – that’s just twice the number of people who run the Chicago or Boston Marathon. Yet, the entire city comes out to cheer on the 2000 runners who run this course every year. With the mountains making a picture perfect backdrop, the course goes around the city’s largest lake. You would be plain silly to chase a PB on this one as the focus on this northern-most timed race should be the beautiful course (and those selfies!). The race itself is not expensive but getting to Tromso can be. This race can set you back by a bit over Rs. 1, 25,000 including travel, two nights stay etc. but if haven’t been to the land of the Sami people – it’s worth staying on to explore and listen to their Viking legends.
3. LONDON MARATHON – The city of London is iconic and this world major marathon course moves along the Thames River ensuring that runners go past every iconic landmark. But that’s not why this race is worth spending your money on. One should run this race to experience the 1 million spectator support that the runners get. You read it right – ONE million people get out along the 42.195 km stretch of street to cheer the 37,000 odd runners and the entire city comes together to support this iconic race that gives out over $1 million in prizes each year. The crowd support has made the London Marathon so iconic that the race ballot closes within hours of opening registrations. Smart planning and incredible good luck (in getting a spot in the ballot) can get you there in less than Rs.75, 000 while the guaranteed race route can cost you about Rs. 1, 35,000, including airfare, hotel stay and visas.
4. ROCK & ROLL VEGAS MARATHON – If you love your retro rock music – there’s nothing quite like this race – that’s actually as much a big rocking party as it is a competitive marathon. Many things about this race are bizarre – quite like the city that hosts it. The crazy outfits and rock and roll legends throughout the race route make our very own lungi dance looks benign, but the experience is once in a lifetime. And what’s for keeps is the finisher medal – a souvenir that will outdo all that you have ever bought from your touristy trips anywhere across the world. Cost of flights to the US varies but Rs.1, 15,000 is a decent budget including your airfare, race entry, visa and hotel stay for the race.
5. KENYAN WILDLIFE MARATHON – It’s not referred to as ‘Running in Paradise’ for no reason. Running through the forest grasslands with the Mt. Kilimanjaro as the backdrop, this race gives you the chance to literally cross paths with the wild and the wonderful. Recent years have seen more than a couple of such trail marathons come up in the African jungles but due to the remoteness of the region, most come with compulsory travel packages that are nicely loaded with the opportunity of game-viewing etc. to complete your African safari experience. The costs of these can vary but most start from Rs.1, 35,000 onwards.
6. GREAT WALL MARATHON – The number of competitors for the Wonders of the World list may keep growing as do the number of marathons that use these wonders as their backdrops. Petra, Angkor Wat – all have their own marathons now. But there is only one wonder of the world that you can actually run on and for that unique reason the Great Wall Marathon makes it to this list. Considered a challenging trail race and one with ascends and descends, this is not something you will want to chase your PB on – but definitely one you can combine a tour of China with. But a marathon only tour will set you back by approximately Rs. 75,000.
7. LADAKH MARATHON – I know I set off by calling this the six races to break your bank for but I couldn’t resist adding one for good luck – in our home country. If I had to choose the one race to my list that inspires me to travel – it would be the Ladakh Marathon. I am just partial but I simply love those prayer flags, the Buddhist monasteries and oh yes – the idea of running the Ladakh Marathon!
Travel and adventure is as personal as the reasons we runners run. Some like to be competitive, some love the experience and thus, a list like this would be as diverse as runners out there but if there’s a race on your bucket list – don’t be shy – add it to this list and share your dream marathon with the rest of the world!