Top 10 Races and Trails in Iceland



Top 10 Races and Trails in Iceland

10.04.2019 | Camille Beuvard

Travel and run, is there a more invigorating way to explore and absorb a destination? The benefits of running have been well proven but running while travelling keeps you fit and helps you tackle physical activities on your trip, like hikes. Running in another country does not only make you feel more upbeat but adds a sense of discovery, with the opportunity to explore and see places from a whole new perspective.

In Iceland you can run on black sand beaches, glacial rivers, volcanic grounds, across geothermal fields or along dramatic coastlines. It surely leads to experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise and connects you to wherever you are on a different level, “viscerally” almost. Not to mention that you will be grateful for all the special memories and friendships made in the process!

Check out our selection of trails and races and get inspired to travel and run!

1. THE TOUGHEST SINGLE STAGE RACE - Mt. Esja Ultra

Mt. Esja Ultra - © Gréta S. Guð

Mt. Esja Ultra - © Gréta S. Guð

  • Next edition: June 15th, 2019
  • Where: Mt Esja just outside of Reykjavik
  • Distances: 14 km / 45 km (marathon) / 77 km
  • Mt. Esja Ultra Homepage

Located only 20 km from the Capital, Mount Esja (914 m) is part of Reykjavik landscape, and a constant source of wonder for locals, showing a new face everyday. For city dwellers looking for nature and relaxation, it is the ideal getaway outside of the city. Go there and you are pretty sure to meet local climbers and hikers, some with baby on a carrier even. But every year, in June, the bravest trail runners sign up for the Mt. Esja Ultra, one of few pure mountain races held in Iceland, often considered as the country’s most difficult race, both physically and mentally.

2. THE BRIGHTEST - Midnight Sun Run

This midnight race is held every year around Summer Solstice, to celebrate Iceland’s bright Summer nights. Runners can choose between three distances: half marathon, 10 km race and 5 km race. Iceland has this thing that you cannot be sure the Sun will be out that day, but the night will anyway be very bright, making this race a good start to the Summer and real energy boost. The finish line of the race is located near one of Reykjavik’s best geothermal outdoor pools, Laugardalslaug, meaning that after the race, all participants can relax in the hot tubs and steam baths.

3. THE GLACIER ONE - Snæfellsjökull Trail Run

Snaefellsjökull Trail Run - © Snæfellshlaupið

Snaefellsjökull Trail Run - © Snæfellshlaupið

Of Snæfellsnes Peninsula, you probably have heard of Mount Kirkjufell and Búðakirkja, but it’s also home to one of Iceland’s best trail races. This 22 km trail connects the picturesque village of Arnarstapi on the South coast to Olafsvik on the North coast. The race is run on the sides of the mystical glacier Snæfellsjökull, that dominates the landscape and keeps an eye on runners. The first 9 km are uphill, so do not spend all your energy going up in order to be focused for the downhill run. Conditions can vary from one year to the other, the upper section of the race often being covered with snow, but what does not change is the tasty fish soup at the finish line!

Our 4 day / 3 night package offers an inclusive Iceland experience with popular highlights, group dinners, as well as an entry to the unforgettable Snæfellsnes Trail Run. A truly extraordinary experience. Go to package details.

4. THE OLDEST - Thorvaldsdalur Valley Terrain Run

Thorvaldsdalur Valley Terrain Run - © northiceland.is

Thorvaldsdalur Valley Terrain Run - © northiceland.is

For those seeking the less travelled trails, Thorvaldsdalur Valley Terrain Run is for you! It is the oldest terrain run in Iceland, the first edition dating back to 1994. It has since been held annually, covering a distance of 25 km through the Thorvaldsdalur Valley just outside Akureyri. What makes Þorvaldsdalur Valley unique is the fact that it opens in both directions, to the South to Hörgárdalur Valley and to the North to Árskógsströnd. The route is unmarked so participants are welcome to follow the path they feel the most comfortable through the valley, with sheeptracks as your best choice. Runners can expect a very diverse scenery from forests, gorge, moorlands, marshes and streams!

5. THE KING - Laugavegur Ultra Marathon

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon - © laugaveghslaup.is

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon - © laugavegshlaup.is

The Laugavegur Ultra has earned a reputation as the best-known trail and ultra race in Iceland, drawing many participants from abroad every year. The trail covers a distance of 55 km and connects the nature reserves Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork, a favourite among hikers. It offers a diversity of landscapes like no other from fumaroles and hot springs, to stretches of snow, lush green volcanic cones and vast black sand plains. The trail challenges runners by the everchanging terrain (sand, gravel, snow, ice, grass, unbridged glacial rivers) and changeable conditions from one year to the other. Although the trail is held mid-July, runners sometimes encounter areas still covered in snow.

6. THE MOST SCENIC - Dettifoss Trail Run

Dettifoss Trail Run - © jokulsarhlaup.is

Dettifoss Trail Run - © jokulsarhlaup.is

Off North East Iceland we go! Dettifoss Trail Run is often described as the most beautiful and scenic trail race in Iceland. The picture speaks for itself, doesn’t it? The race takes you along the magnificent Jökulsá (glacial river) Canyon and ends in Ásbyrgi Canyon, you know, the one that was formed by Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir? Runners can choose from three distances: 32.7 km, 21.2 km and 13 km, which all end in Ásbyrgi canyon. The main challenge of the longest race is the terrain variations (sand, rock, rough gravel, soil, spring rivers… and even sheep paths 😊) but anything is possible with a good preparation.

7. THE BIGGEST IN SIZE - Reykjavik Marathon

Reykjavik Marathon - © Reykjavíkurmaraþon

Reykjavik Marathon - © Reykjavíkurmaraþon

  • Next edition: August 24th, 2019
  • Where: Reykjavik
  • Distances: 3 km / 10 km / 21,1 km (Half-Marathon) / 42,2 km (Marathon)
  • Reykjavik Marathon Homepage

Reykjavik Marathon has come a long way since it was first held in 1984, when 214 runners took part. It’s now by far Iceland’s biggest running event, held annually, with around 15.000 participants during last editions, of which 3.000 foreign runners. Runners can choose between three timed distances : marathon, half-marathon and 10 km race. Families and children are also welcome to take part of the 3 km fun run. The Reykjavik Marathon is held the same day as the Reykjavik Culture Night (Menningarnótt), that draws 100.000 people every year! The event celebrates all things cultural, from concert venues, fine arts, food… And just Icelanders’ renowned hospitality!

Our 5 day / 4 night package offers an inclusive Iceland experience with popular highlights, as well as an entry to the fun and happy Reykjavík Marathon. Go to package details.

8. THE TOUGHEST FOOT RACE - Fire+Ice Ultra

Fire+Ultra Iceland - © fireandiceultra.com

Fire+Ultra Iceland - © fireandiceultra.com

The longest, the toughest… Ok, this was before we introduced you to the Fire+Ice Ultra Race that breaks all records! This 250 km 6-day stage race starts at the North of Vatnajökull Glacier, Europe's Largest Glacier, then through Iceland's raw and remote landscape and over to the North Coast. A physical and mental challenge for every runner, and the difficulties of different terrains, from glacial rivers and lava fields, to deserts of volcanic ash and grassy meadows. Will you dare?

9. THE LONGEST - Hengill Ultra

Hengill Ultra - © Hengill Ultra Trail

Hengill Ultra - © Hengill Ultra Trail

  • Next edition: September 6th-7th, 2019
  • Where: Hveragerði (South)
  • Distances:  5 km / 10 km / 25 km / 50 km / 100 km
  • Hengill Ultra Homepage

This race takes participants through scenic hot streams, open ranges and mountain rifts in the Hengill region. Runners can choose betwen four distances: 100 km race, 50 km race, 25 km, 10 km while recreational runners and families can go for the fun 5 km run. The 100 km actually consists of the 50 km trail run twice over and is the longest trail run in Iceland. The terrain is a mix of marked paths and narrow, steep paths like the crest leading up to the mountain Skeggi, the highest point of the race, at 810m. From the top, enjoy the view all the way to the mountains around Þingvellir.

10. THE COLDEST - Powerade Winter Run

A race not for the faint-hearted! Powerade Winter Run is a very popular 10 km winter race series, held once a month from October to March. The race is held in all kinds of weather, from a sunny winter day to a snowstorm, but never in the history of mankind the race has been cancelled due to bad weather or unsafe conditions. Good to remember to dress accordingly and to wear reflective clothing as the race is held in the dark. A soak in one of the city’s hot tubs after a successful wintry race is the best reward ! 

As you understood, running in Iceland is not only about pure performance but also about experiencing raw untouched nature and enhance your travel! And discover places you might want to revisit later!

About the author

Web and marketing specialist

Camille Beuvard

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