Take Flight

Lace up your running shoes: Here are 5 not-to-miss destination races to put on your bucket list

Some people say the best way to see a new destination is to run through it. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of beautiful places to vacation that also host marathons, half marathons, 5Ks and other racing competitions. Here are five in the United States that beckon to bucket listers.


The Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon
Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai, “the Garden Island,” is home to a breathtaking array of bright-colored flowers and native Hawaiian plants, and this course shows them off. From your early-morning starting point in Poipu, runners follow the coastline with its magnificent views and tropical forests. As dawn breaks, you will approach the century-old Tunnel of Trees. Half marathoners will finish at the Kukui’ula Resort, which offers up spectacular ocean views, while those running the full marathon will make the trek to the top of Kalaheo and then gradually descend back to Poipu beach. Along the course, musical entertainment, hula dancers and Taiko drummers will urge you on.


Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon
Napa, California

Run through the rolling vineyard-planted hills, starting at Cuvaison Carneros Winery and finishing at City Hall in Sonoma Plaza. Along the way, enjoy vistas of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Preserve, San Pablo Bay and Mt. Tamalpais. You’ll also wind by wineries, ranches and farms, where you might glimpse llamas, chickens or donkeys. A Rosé 5K is held for those who don’t want to make a longer trek. Celebrate post-race with an exclusive tasting for runners at one of the area’s world-renowned wineries. Registering four months in advance should assure you a spot in this popular race.


Key West Half Marathon
Key West, Florida

If you’ve always wanted to visit the southernmost town in the United States, the Key West Half Marathon is your excuse. It takes runners on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, which offers up-close-and-personal views of the aqua blue Atlantic Ocean. In typical Key West fashion, the race ends at the popular Half Shell Raw Bar, where you can celebrate alongside some of your 4,000 fellow runners with a plate of chilled oysters. While in Key West, you can visit The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, and meet preening six- and seven-toed cats, descendants of the author’s own felines.


Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon
Lexington, Kentucky

It’s been dubbed “America’s prettiest half marathon” for a reason, taking runners through the birthplace of American Thoroughbred Racing via the Old Franklin Pike, “one of the ten best scenic drives in the United States,” according to a trails.com ranking. Less committed runners can join the 7 Milers or the Yearling (3.65 mile) race. In any event, toast your finish at the fabulous rooftop bar at Belle’s, a legendary spot in downtown Lexington.


Disney Princess Half Marathon
Orlando, Florida

Channel your inner prince or princess for the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend, which also features a 5K, a 10K and a 19.3-mile challenge. Expect to see Mickey and Minnie and a host of Disney princesses. Get in on the fun by wearing a costume of your own. The half marathon begins near the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot Center and continues into the Magic Kingdom, with Cinderella’s Castle a photographic
highlight. Surfaces are mostly flat, and photo ops
with Disney characters will be plentiful.

Picking the Right Race

There are many things besides scenery to consider when choosing a race destination. Mariah Goldstein, a fitness trainer based in Chicago, recommends asking yourself these questions.

Can you go the distance?

How much time are you able to train before the race? “It’s important to be super realistic when determining your training schedule,” says Goldstein. For half marathons, she says, you should start training at least four months in advance and be able to commit to hitting the road four to five times a week for long runs. Alternatively, sign up for a 5K or a 10K instead.

Will weather get in your way?

Will you be able to train outside up until the race date? If wintertime runs aren’t your thing, consider signing up for a summer or fall race.

And make sure you research the average temperature (and humidity) at your race destination on race day.

Are you comfortable with the course?

Research the race course terrain. Apps like Runner’s World’s Race Finder provide great information about races throughout the country. “Try to mimic the race in your own training,” Goldstein suggests. “If you’re going to be running in hilly terrain, start running the hills in your neighborhood.” If you’ll be running at a higher altitude than you’re accustomed to, Goldstein says, plan to arrive at your destination a few days in advance so your body can adjust.

© mike kemp