Running 26.2 miles may sound intimidating, but every year more and more people participate in endurance sport challenges – long distance runs, rides and swims – with great results for their health.

Arizona just might be one of the best places in the country to train for, and compete in, such activities.

Our warm, sunny weather allows competitors to travel light – no cumbersome extra layers required – and keeps the routes dry for fast speeds.

The result? Nearly a full calendar of days perfect for training, as well as abundant events in which to compete.

Arizona Marathons and Endurance Runs

The centerpiece Phoenix marathon is the P. F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Marathon (Jan. 15, 2012), a music-filled full or half marathon through a trio of cities that finishes up outside Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

The Grand Canyon Marathon (Nov. 12, 2011) takes place before the canyon area gets too chilly, and the awesome scenery alone should keep you going through mile 19, just to see what mile 20 looks like.

The Yuma Territorial Marathon (Jan. 28, 2012) rolls through the cities of Somerton and San Luis, just a few miles from the Mexican border, while Payson’s Zane Grey Endurance Run (April 21, 2012), now headed into its 23rd year, shows off just how gorgeous running in Arizona’s northern regions can be.

The Sedona Marathon (Feb. 4, 2012) provides inspiring red rock vistas perfect for enjoying at a runner’s pace, while the Havasu Half Marathon (April 14, 2012) takes competitors over the famous London Bridge and rewards them with beautiful lake views.

Cycling Events in Arizona

Tucson is the place for pavement riding in Arizona, with some of the best road biking in America and many of the state’s biggest cycling events. In fact, biking icon Lance Armstrong and his team have traveled to Tucson to train in its hills.

That said, the streets and trails of the rest of the state provide plenty of pedal-driven competitions as well.

ELTOUR_1_hi[1]218x152.jpgArizona’s largest cycling event, El Tour de Tucson (Nov. 19, 2011), raises money for a number of great causes while providing more than 9,000 riders the chance to compete or to simply enjoy a leisurely ride.

The El Tour de Mesa (April 14, 2012) is a similar event, a sort of Tour de Phoenix that runs through scenic east Mesa.

The Kitt Peak Ascent (Nov. 6, 2011) promises to test riders’ legs and lungs. Beginning on the Tohono O’odham Reservation, just southwest of Tucson, the ride involves merciless uphill pedaling, including an elevation gain of 3,250 feet over the 10-mile course.

Mountain bikers seeking endurance cycling in Arizona should show up for Kona Bikes’ 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (Feb. 17–19, 2012), a grueling 17-mile course that includes eight miles of desert single track through the Sonoran Desert just north of Tucson.

Phoenix’s Dawn to Dusk Ride (Dec. 3, 2011) through McDowell Mountain Regional Park, outside of Scottsdale, provides another huge endurance challenge for experienced mountain bikers, as well as a chance for more novice cyclists to enjoy the lush desert wilderness.

Prescott’s Go! Off Road Duathlon (March 10, 2012) combines both off-road running and biking, starting and ending with a trail run, but allowing for an eight-mile mountain bike trek in between.

More Arizona Challenges

Want to be an Arizona Ironman (or woman)? Try the Ford Ironman Triathlon (Nov. 20, 2011) in Tempe and add a swim to your running and biking agenda. While registration for the 2011 event has closed, registration for 2012 has already begun. Check out the route this year, and use the next 12 months to train.

For more exotic competition, check out the Tough Mudder Arizona (Jan. 14–15, 2012) in Whittmann, or the Arizona Super Spartan Race (Feb. 11, 2012) in Chandler.

These races are endurance races with a twist – namely obstacles such as mud crawls and wall climbs. Camaraderie is the order of the day in these often-raucous events, since finishing first is not nearly as important as finishing, period.