Racing around the world: Exotic marathons for runners with wanderlust

Not many people can say they’ve been to all seven continents.

Far fewer can say they’ve run marathons in all of them.

Wendy Balthazor belongs to that elite club. It’s a membership that bestows bragging rights Balthazor couldn’t have imagined in 2011, as she milled about the start corrals of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, waiting to embark on her first 26.2 mile run.

“I never wanted to do any marathons,” said Balthazor, 41, a grants and contracts specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “My best friend convinced me to run Chicago.”

Crossing that finish line made Balthazor a convert. The following year, she persuaded her friend to go to Australia to run a marathon that coincided with a solar eclipse.

“When we were down there, we got to talking to all of these international people who’d run all these great marathons all over the world,” Balthazor recalled. “I figured, ‘If I’m going to run one on this continent, why don’t I do one on every continent?’”

She began building her vacations around 26.2-mile races.

“That way I get to do two of my favorite things,” Balthazor said. “I get to travel, and I get to run, and I get to do them together.”

The opportunities to do just that have never been better. While the number of finishers in U.S. road races has trended downward slightly over the past three years, the number of organized races continues to climb. In 2016, there were 30,400 events across the country, an increase of 100 compared with the previous year, according to the most recent U.S. Road Race Trends report by Running USA. The same group’s 2016 National Runner Survey found that 26 percent of those polled were willing to travel outside of North America for a running event.

Long-distance runners with wanderlust pretty much sums up the client base for companies like Marathon Tours & Travel, whose more exotic offerings include runs on…

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