By Steve Nelson
February 15, 2011

There are many ways to see a country or a city. Rio has a whole host of different places to see and different ways to see them – cable cars, trails, wings, boards, kites, helicopters, planes, trains and automobiles. Perhaps one way not considered by many people though is to see Rio on foot, or at least a good deal of it anyway. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is a wonderful way to do this. You can also combine it with a first visit to the city and perhaps some time relaxing by the beach in Buzios or on Ilha Grande afterwards.

If a whole 26 miles/42km of running in the tropical heat of the world’s most exotic city doesn’t appeal to you, there is also the Half-Marathon and a 6km Family Run. They all take place on 17 July for the 2011 version. July is the middle of what passes for winter in Rio, and although it may still be anything up to 30˚C on a clear, sunny day, there is never the humidity of January or February, so even the hottest days are bearable. Temperatures on a cool, cloudy day can drop considerably, well below 20˚C especially if the weather comes from the south.

The temperatures won’t be a worry for the first few hours at least anyway, the gun fires at 7.30am. If you needed any extra reason to participate, perhaps being able to say that you heard gunfire in Rio but weren’t scared at all might swing it for you. The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is run mostly along the coast, obviously a wise choice in a city built around mountains, and as well as having no real inclines to speak of, the other important benefit is that runners receive the Atlantic breezes just about the whole 42km.

An early start gives you chance to appreciate the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean by Praia do Pontal in Recreio dos Bandeirantes, one of the final beaches of the city before the mountains take over. The race starts backwards, heading out of Rio before turning 180˚ at the pontal, the wonderful little headland that gives the beach its name. There are regular water points even at this early stage as the first 15km cover the emptiest beach in Rio, Praia da Reserva , on your right with the Lagoa de Marapendi Reserve protecting the area from any development all along your left. There may be surfers to watch, with the Tijuca Forest and Pico de Tijuca, Rio’s highest mountains, plus the Moai-like Pedra da Gvea ahead on your left the whole way.

After arriving in Barra de Tijuca high-rise buildings and condominiums appear for the next 5km until the halfway point. This is where you leave the longest beach in Rio to enter what might be welcome shade. The two tunnels between Barra and São Conrado are about the only break from the views. The Elevado do Jo motorway gives you a scenic break from any weather between the two tunnels. This would be the only time running is recommended on this road…

After arriving on São Conrado, the hang-gliders descending from Pedra Bonita might need to be avoided, before you reach the only incline of the marathon after 25km, unfortunately placed where you may begin to hit the wall. The Avenida Neimeyer hugs the coastline between Rocinha and Vidigal, two of Rio’s most famous favelas. You may find this the safest day of all on the coast road, although this is nothing to do with the favelas. Rio bus drivers tend to treat this stretch of road as a racetrack, and plenty of them have probably hit the wall along here too. After a few twists and turns, with waves crashing on the rocks below you, the whole stretch of Leblon and Ipanema Beaches appears to energise you at 30km.

You drop down to two of the most famous roads in Rio, which will be full of all kinds of Sunday beach activities and outfits to spur you on to impress the crowds, with the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue visible occasionally between buildings. Passing Arpoador at 35km you come out at the end of Copacabana Beach, another marvellous stretch of sand, curving away from you.

At the far end of Copacabana, you enter the final tunnel to arrive in the shadow of Sugar Loaf Mountain at 40km, as you curve around the little inlet of Botafogo, decorated with boats. The finishing line should be in sight as you come around the final bend and into Flamengo. Glory is yours if you’ve made it as far as the Marina da Glória!

And there you have it. A 42km tour of Rio. On foot. Such great views all along that you won’t even notice the blisters. Who needs any other mode of transport when you can enjoy it all like this?

The Rio de Janeiro Marathon is open to all-comers, feel free to contact me if you want to participate as a beginner or even to compete seriously. I will see you at the start-line and hopefully at the finishing line too.

You can visit Steve’s blog at Around Brazil: Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro
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