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The Malaga marathon 2023. Migue Fernández
Running through the beauty of Andalucía
Travel

Running through the beauty of Andalucía

Thousands of people combine a healthy lifestyle with a city break and sign up for a race in the sun, from a fun 5km run to an ultra trail marathon

Max Ng

Malaga

Friday, 22 December 2023, 17:57

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Running fever has been growing in recent years, with all the hype around getting in shape, especially after the Covid lockdown. Aside from its obvious attractions, Andalucía also poses as the ideal destination for those who are looking for a city break with a health kick.

Running is perhaps the perfect sport to do on holiday; it is open to everyone no matter age, ability or gender and only requires a pair of trainers and a sense of determination. And Andalucía is the place for it.

The region offers a plethora of long-distance running events organised across the region, from the urban mazes of Malaga and Seville to the heights of the Sierra Nevada mountains. So, why not combine your running hobby with a weekend getaway of sightseeing, scenery and sun?

Across the region there are several marathons, half-marathons, shorter races, or even ultramarathons taking place throughout the year, and especially in the cooler months, offering an escape from the harsh, British weather. Not only is this a chance to bask in the Andalusian winter sun, it is the perfect opportunity to visit the region off-season, away from crowds of tourists, and gain a better cultural experience.

So, here are some of the best running events on offer in Andalucía:

From top: Runners in the Ronda 101km in the famous bullring, Ultra Sierra Nevada competitors at the ski resort and a runner in the Seville marathon passes the iconic cathedral. Ñito Salas / Ramón L. Pérez / SUR
Imagen principal - From top: Runners in the Ronda 101km in the famous bullring, Ultra Sierra Nevada competitors at the ski resort and a runner in the Seville marathon passes the iconic cathedral.
Imagen secundaria 1 - From top: Runners in the Ronda 101km in the famous bullring, Ultra Sierra Nevada competitors at the ski resort and a runner in the Seville marathon passes the iconic cathedral.
Imagen secundaria 2 - From top: Runners in the Ronda 101km in the famous bullring, Ultra Sierra Nevada competitors at the ski resort and a runner in the Seville marathon passes the iconic cathedral.

Malaga marathon

Starting in the capital of the Costa del Sol, Malaga’s marathon is one of the most popular among visiting runners as well as locals; some 6,000 participants attempted the 42km circuit last year. The race takes place this year on 10 December, promising ideal running temperatures around the high teens and a low chance of rainfall. The course is flat for the most part, improving chances of achieving a personal best time. The course itself takes runners through all the sights of Malaga, the historic centre past the cathedral, up to the football stadium and down to the port and seafront promenade, providing a complete tour of the city during the run.

Malaga also hosts a separate half-marathon event in October, which follows a similar route.

Seville marathon

Also known as the Zurich marathon of Seville, this is the largest marathon event in Andalucía, featuring around 12,000 competitors. It takes place on 18 February in 2024, providing similar optimal running conditions, and it is also the flattest course in Europe, allowing runners to smash their record times. Like the Malaga marathon, the course takes the form of a tour through the key landmarks in the city, including the Plaza de España, Torre del Oro and La Giralda.

In addition to the Zurich marathon in February, Seville also puts on a half-marathon, the next one being 28 January. As in the case of Malaga, this comes just a few weeks before the main marathon in February, offering the perfect training challenge.

Sherry marathon

The third marathon in Andalucía worth highlighting takes place in Jerez de la Frontera, the birthplace of sherry (perhaps a chance for a boozy post-race celebration). This run takes place in April, providing a warmer alternative.

The Sherry marathon is also unique in that participants run through both the city and the countryside via vineyards situated on the outskirts. This offers the chance to see the area outside of a city bubble, as well as supporting some of the smaller villages and businesses.

This event also features a half marathon and a 14km race, making it accessible to all abilities and ages.

Other half-marathons

Aside from the major marathon events, Andalucía also has plenty of half marathons if the full 42km seems too harsh. These feature in almost all the major cities and tourist hot spots, offering the chance to run along the seafront and take in the cool breeze, or explore towns and country roads.

Many of the marathons and half-marathons have shorter races on the same day, be it 10km or 5km.

Fuengirola and Marbella, located just down the coast from Malaga, host half marathons, while also offering shorter races. Marbella’s is unique in that it offers a relay format; three friends can complete the 21km in three 7km stints, adding the element of teamwork into running.

Torremolinos’ half marathon is one to note as it is particularly popular among Brits, with 38 per cent of the runners coming from the UK in 2022; this makes it the perfect place to meet fellow runners from Spain and back home.

Other major provincial capitals such as Granada and Cordoba also host their own half marathons, allowing runners to explore these historic cities and their landmarks, such as the Alhambra palace.

Mountain trail runs and ultramarathons

For those who love a physical challenge, Andalucía features numerous trail runs and ultramarathons. Not only is it a chance to test physical and mental limits, visitors get the opportunity to escape the city and experience Andalucía’s stunning flora and fauna up-close. Here are some of the many events to note:

Ronda’s iconic 101km race organised by the Spanish Legion is not for the fainthearted. Taking place in May, when temperatures are on the rise, participants have 24 hours to complete 101km, be it running, cycling, or walking. This is certainly one to tick off the bucket list for running fanatics.

The race not only takes runners through the stunning town of Ronda but also visits several mountain villages, including Montejaque and Benaoján.

Another extreme race to mention is the Ultra Sierra Nevada, just shorter than the Ronda race at 97.5km. Hosted in the Sierra Nevada mountains - home to the famous ski resort - it reaches a peak altitude of 3,100m, if running 97.5km was not enough itself.

The race begins at night at the base of the Alhambra, offering a completely new dimension to running as well as the stunning night skyline of the Alhambra.

The event also has three shorter races: known as the Trail, the medium version of the race is 62km and follows a similar path to the main race. The Marathon is the next smallest at 42km, followed by the Media race which is 25km long.

Perhaps the most challenging event is the Al Andalus Ultimate trail, also in Granada province, only for the most extreme runners.

At a staggering 234km, it is completed across five days and takes place in July at the peak of summer heat, pushing athletes to the limit. Each stage ends in a rural village with the welcome of friendly locals, providing an authentic experience of local culture and hospitality.

While Andalucía offers numerous other ultramarathons and trail runs, this final one is unique. Known as la Desértica, it’s easy to guess what it involves. The race stretches some 73km through Europe’s only desert landscape, in Almeria province, and, like Ronda’s is organised by the local branch of the Spanish Legion. The event also accommodates younger runners, with a shorter race known as the Minidesértica.

There are endless opportunities to get your running shoes and take part in a fun run or a more serious race in Andalucía, whether you are an Olympic-level athlete or a first-timer. There is something for everyone. And of course, with the added benefit of going on holiday in sunny Spain.

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