15 Legendary Races Around the World + Iconic Course Segments

Running a marathon or half marathon is a grueling test of endurance. Between shin splints, blisters, cramps, chafing, and dehydration, it’s easy to wonder why you would put your body through so much to finish a race.

Then, suddenly, you get to a part of the race that reminds you exactly why you signed up in the first place. For a moment, you remember why you run. 

In this article, we’ll share 15 race segments that are known for leaving runners in awe and why these parts are so remarkable.

The Iconic Course Segments:

  • Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon
  • Brandenburg Gate to the Finish Line at the Berlin Marathon
  • The Ambassador Bridge at the Detroit Marathon
  • The Marathon Tomb at the Athens Marathon
  • The Tyne Bridge at the Great North Run
  • The Blue Mile of the Marine Corps Marathon
  • The Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Marathon
  • Cutty Sark and the Tower Bridge during the London Marathon
  • The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the New York City Marathon
  • The Angel Mile at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon
  • Hurricane Point to the Bixby Bridge at the Big Sur International Marathon
  • The Summit of Pikes Peak at the Pikes Peak Marathon
  • The Folsom Field Finish Line During the BOLDERBoulder 10K
  • The Bosphorus Bridge at the Istanbul Marathon 
  • Pacaya Volcano at the Guatemala Impact Marathon

Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon

There are few marathons that are more iconic than the Boston Marathon. But which segment of this race takes the cake for the most iconic part? 

While the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel gets an honorable mention for its high-energy crowd, Heartbreak Hill is the most iconic part of the Boston Marathon.

Peaking just after mile 20, Heartbreak Hill is a make-it-or-break-it point for runners. As one of the most notorious marathon climbs, anyone who’s trained for Boston has likely prepared with this part in mind. Finally reaching the top on race day has been described as a feeling of pure joy and strength.

Additionally, many spectators wait at the top of this hill to cheer their loved ones on through this crucial part, which makes this strenuous climb even more rewarding. 

Related: The 15 Best Marathons to Qualify for Boston

Brandenburg Gate to the Finish Line at the Berlin Marathon

Historically serving as a memorial of division, the Brandenburg Gate was previously off-limits to both East and West Germans. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, this gate became an impactful symbol of unity for Germany.

Today, the Brandenburg Gate also signifies that the end is near during the World Abbott Marathon Major Berlin Marathon. Given its powerful history, running through this gate is a bittersweet, emotional experience. 

Unbeknown to many first-time runners of this race, the Brandenburg Gate is not the finish line. There are about 400 more meters left in the race. While pushing through those final steps is a real challenge, this additional stretch makes reaching the finish line even more euphoric.

The Ambassador Bridge at the Detroit Marathon 

Photo by Armin on Unsplash

There aren’t many races in the world that let you run in two countries, so the Detroit Marathon is already special in its own right. But which part of this race is the best? Over and over again, runners have shared how special running across the Ambassador Bridge is. 

Usually closed off to pedestrian access, Detroit Marathon participants get a unique chance to enjoy the bridge and take in scenic views of both Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Canada. Crossing the bridge while the rising sun softens the October chill makes this part of the race unlike any other.

The Marathon Tomb at the Athens Marathon

Known as the birthplace of the marathon, this course was originally created when a herald ran from the Greek city of Marathon to Athens to announce the Athenian army’s victory at the Battle of Marathon. 

Today, this has become one of the most well-known races around the world, and there are a couple of parts that are especially iconic. 

One stand-out moment from the Athens Marathon is when runners circle the Marathon Tomb, the burial mound that houses fallen soldiers from the Battle of Marathon. While running this segment and honoring the soldiers, locals hand out olive branches, a Greek symbol of peace and victory. 

Another powerful moment during the Athens Marathon is finishing the race in the home of the first modern Olympics games, the Panathenaic Stadium. Both of these iconic parts make this marathon unforgettable.

The Tyne Bridge at the Great North Run

Photo by Mike Bird on Pexels

Claiming the title of the largest half marathon in the world, the Great North Run in North East England attracts an impressive crowd of runners. But what brings runners back to this race year after year?

Running across the Tyne Bridge in a pack of 52,000 racers is electrifying enough, but that’s not all. If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to see the Red Arrows (the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team) zoom overhead while you cross the bridge. This performance paired with the excitement of crossing the Tyne Bridge make this the race segment that runners look forward to every year. 

The Blue Mile of the Marine Corps Marathon

With the support of the United States Marine Corps, this annual race takes runners on a tour of some of the nation’s most esteemed landmarks throughout Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. While these sights are definitely noteworthy, the most iconic segment of this race is the Blue Mile. 

Starting at mile 12, the Blue Mile is dedicated to fallen soldiers who lost their lives during active duty service. Racers honor these brave heroes while running between placards with the names and faces of fallen soldiers. Additionally, volunteers support runners and wave flags from the sidelines. Runners have described these 1,064 steps as emotional and impactful

The Golden Gate Bridge During the San Francisco Marathon 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

With six race distances to choose from, the San Francisco Marathon is beloved by all levels of runners. However, only runners who sign up for the full marathon or the first half marathon course get the special opportunity to cross the Golden Gate Bridge twice.

Since the SF Marathon is the only race that allows pedestrians onto the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, this iconic segment stands out to many participants. After a steep, slow climb up a massive hill, the bridge provides runners with a peaceful reprieve from San Francisco’s hilly landscapes

Although the bridge tends to get a little congested during this part, most runners are content with the additional time it gives them to take in the scenery and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime race experience

Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge During the London Marathon

Described as a 26.2-mile party, the London Marathon is full of excitement from start to finish. However, there are a couple of exceptional segments that runners can’t stop raving about.

The first spot is around mile 7 when runners pass Cutty Sark, one of the most impressive sailing ships in history. While seeing this ship up close is lovely, the crowds here make this segment even more iconic. Runners have shared that when they reached Cutty Sark, they were blown away by just how enormous the crowds were. 

Runners have also shared that when they turned the corner towards Tower Bridge, they were suddenly hit with a wall of noise. Paired with the bridge’s striking architecture and the panoramic views of London, it’s no wonder why runners love this segment.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the New York City Marathon

The New York City Marathon is a bucket list event for so many runners, so it seems a bit silly to wonder what makes this race special. While there are many reasons that runners travel from near and far for this race, there’s also a specific segment that makes it even more iconic.

After a howitzer cannon fires at the starting line, racers take off from Staten Island toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. With Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z songs blaring from the get-go, energy is super high as runners make their way across this bridge to Brooklyn. 

Although this segment is actually the biggest uphill climb of the race, most runners hardly notice it because of their excitement. With the New York skyline on the horizon, this iconic race segment is an unbeatable start to the NYC Marathon. 

The Angel Mile at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon

Since each mile of the Columbus Marathon is dedicated to a child patient, this entire race feels very meaningful. With that in mind, here are a couple of especially iconic parts.

At mile 8, the course passes the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and numerous patients are outside waiting to cheer runners on. Participants have shared that it’s extremely touching to see the children they’re raising money for by running this marathon. 

Mile 11 is referred to as the Angel Mile. This part of the race is dedicated to children who have been taken too soon. While this mile is extremely emotional, it’s also inspiring to see the families of these patients come together to support one another and share memories of their children. 

Hurricane Point to the Bixby Bridge at the Big Sur International Marathon

Although the Big Sur International Marathon is a Boston qualifier, some say that it’s better to savor time during this race than to try to PR. While the whole course is extremely picturesque, the most iconic part is definitely running from Hurricane Point to the Bixby Bridge. 

Making it to the highest point of this race at mile 12 is no easy feat, but the following downhill mile makes it all worth it. From Hurricane Point, runners make their way to the Bixby Bridge, one of California’s most scenic spots. 

Reaching the halfway point at the Bixby Bridge is very exciting. To make things even more epic, each year a man in a tuxedo performs on a baby grand piano here! This mid-race piano concert is a nice bonus to the most highly anticipated segment. 

The Summit of Pikes Peak at the Pikes Peak Marathon

Photo by Gabe on Pexels

Although some runners claim that the Pikes Peak Marathon is the most difficult race, there’s gotta be a reason it’s the oldest continually held marathon in the United States, right? 

The answer is quite clear. There’s simply no better feeling than reaching the summit of Pikes Peak after a brutal 14,115 feet climb. 

Once runners defeat this path’s notorious 16 golden stairs, the summit is near. At the top, runners are greeted by cheering fans and an unbeatable view. The adrenaline of conquering this iconic race segment to the summit almost makes up for the 13 pounding downhill miles that remain. 

The Folsom Field Finish Line During the BOLDERBoulder 10K

Photo: Colorado Athletics

The BOLDERBoulder 10k has been named America’s All-Time Best 10K, and its iconic finish line has definitely helped it earn that title. 

Completing the race at Folsom Field, the University of Colorado Boulder’s football stadium, is simply electrifying. Racing alongside 50,000 runners into a stadium of cheering fans is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Plus, getting to watch the elites finish here afterwards is an added bonus.

The Bosphorus Bridge at the Istanbul Marathon 

Photo by Youssef Mohamed on Unsplash

While the Istanbul Marathon starts in Asia, it doesn’t end there. After crossing the Bosphorus Bridge, runners make their way through the European side of Istanbul, which makes this the only intercontinental marathon in the world. 

That being said, starting the race just before the Bosphorus Bridge and crossing from Asia to Europe is definitely the most iconic part of this race. The excitement of running from one continent to another paired with the initial energy of starting a race makes this segment unforgettable. 

Pacaya Volcano at the Guatemala Impact Marathon

Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

Although this race is lesser-known than the others, the Guatemala Impact Marathon definitely deserves a spot on the list for two of its iconic race segments.

First, runners prance through dry lava fields to start out the race, and past runners have said this experience feels like what they imagine running on the moon would be like.

Making it to the crater’s ridge line near the summit of Pacaya Volcano is another highlight of this race. While the nearby Mackenney Crater rumbles and lava rocks tumble out, runners take in the thrills of ascending a volcano and bask in the joy of making it to the highest point of the race.

Thinking of an iconic race segment that we didn’t mention? Share your favorites in the comments below!

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