No matter the distance, signing up for a race is a big committment, and crossing the finish line is a huge accomplishment. But what makes a race a major success? You set yourself up for a challenge. You pushed yourself, both mentally and physically, and you finished! Add in the course elements and elevation—scenic and flat, gorgeous and hilly or somewhere in between—and you could also find yourself with additional bragging rights. Dominate hugely intimidating epic hills, and it’s something you’re going to want to talk about after the finish line.
While Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill is notably one of the toughest sections in any road marathon, according to Strava analytics, there are plenty of other courses that offer just as difficult inclines. People on Twitter answered a poll to share their opinion on which are hilly course worth doing—with caution—so you can brag about the epic hills later.
Big Sur Marathon, Big Sur, Calif.
It’s known for gorgeous trees, breathtaking water views, ideal running weather and, of course, hills. Up one and down another, this rolling-hill course pushes you to new heights. Your legs may feel tired, but the fact that you can conquer such steep inclines earns you the ultimate badge of honor (bonus points if you’re completing the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge!)
The Bolton 5-mile Road Race, Bolton, Conn.
The race’s slogan is “Come Run the Hill.” Many runners think the first hill is the “killer” hill in this road race, but it’s the next one, which has an 11.5 percent grade. While many races have higher grades, this hill is hard becase of its placement. It comes up aggressively at mile 4—talk about exhausted legs! Make sure to save your energy to tackle this one.
Jerusalem Marathon, Jerusalem
Cobblestone roads, historical sites and steady hills are what you’ll experience as you stride through the Jerusalem Marathon course. You may not realize or notice how big these ups are, but they are there and they will challenge you. Don’t let them scare you! The ancient architecture makes up for the steep streets—plus, running internationally is one of the best ways to see a country.
La Jolla Half Marathon, La Jolla, Calif.
This is a favorite among many runners because of the beachfront finish line following a massive plunge toward the cove. While the course offers flat roads and huge downhills for the most part, your legs and glutes will be challenged when you hit the infamous Torrey Pines hill. You may be hating that portion, but the epic weaving downhill against the Pacific miles later make up for it. Bonus: Some runners say this actually isn’t the worst part; there’s also a steady climb around mile 12.
Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, Manitou Springs, Colo.
With elevations at 14,000 feet, gaining more than 2,000 feet and trekking grades about 13 percent or more, it’s no wonder this is called America’s Ultimate Challenge. Many participants tack on 30 to 60 minutes to their average flatland race because of the monstrous hill climbing this race asks from them. And don’t let the downhills fool you—there are many mini uphill climbs during your downhill descents—working your body every step along the course. It’s one of the most physically demanding courses, but the views are unbelievable. And accomplishing these races gives you the upmost bragging rights.
Transamerica Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon San Francisco, San Francisco
It’s not a new fact—San Francisco has steep hills. In fact, many local residents have to try to find the flattest route when walking the city streets. Luckily one of the toughest hills of this race is early on in the course, but the constant rolling ups and downs will put your body to the test. While there’s no running away from hills, the fresh sea water smell and bustling spectator-lined course makes up for the high-grade roads. Plus, running on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is worth the hard test.
The Badwater 146-Miler, Badwater to Mt. Whitney
If running 146 miles wasn’t hard enough—”The last 21 miles all up hill”—the course gains and loses a total of 20,000 feet. This course definitely will challenge you both mentally and physically. At some point you have no choice but to simply embrace the tough course and power through it. For obvious reasons, this is not for the faint of heart, so there’s no harm in tackling a “normal-person” ultra before this one.