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Unique race venues in running history

Races don't have to stick to the track, trails or road

High school track teams in New York state recently made headlines after holding a track meet in a parking garage in West Nyack, a town about an hour north of New York City. A parking garage is an unorthodox location for a race, but nearby indoor tracks were unavailable and poor weather ruined any hope of an outdoor meet, so the high school coaches got creative. This isn’t the first race to be held on a unique course, and it certainly won’t be the last. There are many other interesting race venues out there, but here are a few of our favourites.

High school athletes race in the Palisades Center parking garage. Photo: Instagram/palisadescentr

Mall ultramarathon

That’s right, in the 1980s and 90s, a mall in the U.K. hosted a 24-hour ultramarathon. The Milton Keynes Centre, about an hour away from London, is 875m in length, and while running on the hard and slippery floors of a mall is far from ideal, the shopping centre’s size made it the best option for a mall ultra.

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After a few years of holding the race, the International Association of Ultrarunners awarded the Milton Keynes Centre with the first-ever 24-hour world championships. According to runyoung50.co.uk, the winners of that inaugural championship race were Don Ritchie, a Scottish athlete who ran 267K, and England’s Eleanor Adams, who posted a final distance of 237K. Unfortunately, this race no longer exists, but it would certainly be a bucket-list event for many runners if it was still run every year.

Helipad marathon

Early on in the pandemic in 2020, Aravaipa running founder Jamil Coury ran a marathon on the helipad on the roof of his office building. He mapped out a 27m loop around the helipad and ran that more than 1,500 times to hit 42.2K, completing the marathon in 5:55:19. This wasn’t a real race, but Coury made sure to record it on Strava, follow a set route and time it, so we’ll count it for this list.

Coury’s helipad marathon Strava file. Photo: Twitter/JamilCoury

Great Wall Marathon

Since 1999, runners from all over the world have travelled to China every May to race the Great Wall Marathon. This event features a marathon, a half-marathon and an 8.5K fun run, with each race taking runners onto the Great Wall of China. Many people consider this to be one of the world’s toughest marathons, as it involves a lot of climbing, including thousands of steps on the wall itself. Despite its difficulty, the Great Wall Marathon is an incredibly popular race.

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Pearson Runway Run

More than 2,000 runners take to the tarmac at Toronto’s Pearson Airport every year for the Pearson Runway Run. Running 2K and 5K races, participants can see planes landing and taking off on the surrounding runways in another unique and interesting race.

World cross 2019

At the 2019 World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, runners ran up and down the slanted, ramp-like roof of Moesgaard Museum. Yeah, it’s a real museum that athletes had to climb multiple times in the race, and the roof (which has grass on it) was extremely steep. The rest of the course was interesting, too, as athletes ran through a “cheering tent,” and hit mud and sand pits throughout the run.

The Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus.

Virtual races

Like Coury and his helipad marathon, so many people have gotten creative during the pandemic and run races in strange places. Some people ran marathons or ultras in their backyards, others ran in their apartments and one woman even ran the height of Mount Everest on the stairs in her home. It turns out that runners can turn pretty much any location into a race course if they want to badly enough.