8 of the best UK marathons
© Michael Betts
As picked by someone who has run over 1,000...
Record-breaking runner, performance coach and self-styled Marathon Man Rory Coleman has run over 1,000 marathons. He has also finished almost 250 ultramarathons, including the Marathons des Sables, which he has completed 15 times. Here, he shares his favourite domestic marathons.
1. Virgin Money London Marathon, London
It just has to be on the list, doesn’t it? It’s a benchmark marathon, and the one I get asked if I’ve done more than any other. I remember setting a treadmill world record and someone immediately coming up and saying, “Yes, but have you run the London Marathon?” It’s a race with genuine wow factor, the brand leader, and one everyone should have on their running CV. Many marathons are loops but there’s something about going from A to B, feeling that you’ve actually got somewhere, that I love, and the iconic sights come thick and fast. Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace. This isn’t tourism, it’s “run-ism”. And, of course, every time you run it, you do so with the world’s best marathon runners. I ran in the same race as Paula Radcliffe in 2003 when she set her world record. That’s pretty cool.
When: April 28, 2019
Take part: The public ballot entry system for the 2019 VMLM has now closed, however there are still charity places available. Find out more here
2. Shakespeare Marathon, Stratford-upon-Avon
This is what I consider my home course as it runs through the village where I grew up. The house I used to live in was on mile four and I remember watching with a fag and a pint and laughing at all the runners. Then, when I turned my life around and got into running, Stratford was where I did my first half-marathon. I’ve done the Shakespeare 14 times. I see people out on the course who I’ve known my entire life. It’s a two-lap course and the event is organised by the local rotary club with military precision, and I mean military. Stratford, of course, is beautiful, so it’s a great one for making a weekend of.
When: April 28, 2019
3. Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon, Northern Ireland
This was a real surprise when I first found it. Everyone goes on about the Dublin Marathon but I think this is nicer, and has a better atmosphere; Belfast is a really beautiful city and the people are so friendly. You run down the Shankill Road and all these places that were once notorious, and a few years back you’d never dream of running through. Nowadays, of course, Belfast is buoyant, with loads of young tech industries and start-ups. The race itself is on the first bank holiday weekend in May and it’s a quick course. When I last did it, there were a number of relay teams, which meant a fresh set of runners every five miles to pace you along.
When: May 5, 2019
4. Beachy Head Marathon, East Sussex
This is the best in the UK, in my view. I must have run it 10 or 11 times. It’s off-road and fun from the off: it starts with a near-vertical climb out of Eastbourne, which is super tough, and the course is generally very muddy. You get to run through some quaint little villages and the last six miles are along the beautiful Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, past the decommissioned lighthouse at Birling Gap. There’s a three-mile climb to the last checkpoint and then it’s down that hill you tackled at the start. It’s rare for anyone to get round in under three hours; I’ve thrashed myself round and only managed 4hrs 25mins. It’s really all about just getting round, and there’s a certain camaraderie among those who have done so.
When: October 26, 2019
Take part: Earlybird entries are now open. Enter here
5. White Peak Marathon, Derbyshire
Part of this race follows the Tissington Trail, in the Peak District National Park, which runs between Buxton and Ashbourne. You get on a bus and you’re driven out to the trail and the first 13 miles are uphill. Then it’s pretty flat as you get towards Cromford. I’d say around 23 miles are uphill in total, and then all the descent comes in this insane three-mile stretch. I’ve actually run 3hrs 41mins here, which I’m really proud of. It’s super friendly, the scenery is immense (this is the Peak District after all) and there’s a pleasing under-the-counter feel to the race – not that many people know about it.
When: May 18, 2019
6. Snowdonia Marathon, North Wales
The first four miles of this beauty are uphill, and the idea is always to try to get to the top without walking – purely for pride. After that, it’s a total roller coaster as you go round the four corners of Mount Snowdon: down to mile eight, up to 13. You’ll encounter something called the Welsh Wall, which is a one-in-three road that seems to go straight up, and of course there’s a vertical drop down, too. The course record is 2hrs 28mins and how they did that I’ll never know. It’s an iconic one to do and one that runners are really proud of. Everyone should have it in their portfolio.
When: October 26, 2019
Take part: Entries for 2019 are now full. However, keep an eye on the website for info on the 2020 event
7. Belvoir Challenge, Leicestershire
This race, in the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced “beaver”) on the Lincolnshire-Leicestershire border, started out very low key in 1990. It’s to raise funds for the primary school in Harby, the Leicestershire village where it starts. It’s now a lot bigger. It takes place in March, which means the off-road course is always rather muddy, and takes in parts of the disused Grantham canal and some really tough climbs. It’s incredibly well organised and one of those races where you can’t help but finish with a smile on your face. You feel like you’ve got really good value for money. I love being out in nature and the scenery on this one is something else, in parts almost like running through a Constable painting.
When: March 2, 2019
Take part: Registration is now closed for the 2019 Belvoir Challenge. However, keep an eye on the website for info on the 2020 event
8. Druid Challenge, Buckinghamshire/Wiltshire
OK, so this one is an 84-mile ultra, with participants running three successive marathons in three days. But I’m including it anyway. It’s set out mainly for those training for the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara, who want some multi-day race experience. The route takes in the oldest roadway in the UK, the Ridgeway, and takes you from Buckinghamshire to Wiltshire with overnights in Watlington and Didcot. I don’t know why, but on day two it always rains. Always. Day one you run a normal marathon; day two you really feel the pain; and day three you wish you hadn’t run so fast on day one. It’s organised by runners, for runners, and I’ve done it nine times. The field is around 150 and there’s great banter, with everyone sleeping on a school floor for two nights.
When: November 8-10, 2019