“Never Limit where running can take you. I mean that geographically, spiritually, and of course physically.”
As someone who has always loved to travel, it was only natural that after ‘discovering’ a passion for long distance running, I would combine the two, making running a main purpose or focal point of any travel experiences. Living on a small island, I have to travel to go anywhere, so it means that I have many opportunities to run in different locations. I get a lot of questions about how I select my races, how to pack, what happens if there is jet lag, what if the race is providing an unfamiliar sports drink – the kinds of things you usually don’t have to worry about when you run close to home. So I’ve decided to give some of my tips and ideas on how to make your destination running experiences positive ones and will share them over the course of the next few weeks, as I get ready to run my next destination race in Marrakesh, Morocco!.
Selecting the right race
Congratulations! You have decided to do a destination race. But how do you pick the right one? In all honesty, it’s a very personal decision as to what ‘the right race’ means to you. Perhaps you are planning on a certain location, and you would need to schedule your trip for the dates where a run will take place in your destination of choice. Alternately, you may have a set of dates designated for travel and now want to find a place where a race will happen. If you are planning to travel a long distance for a specific race or destination, it might be a good idea to plan early and get the jump start on ensuring the race/flights/hotel rooms are not sold out and are affordable!
Set your race and trip goals
Taking a trip for a race can be a large financial and time commitment, depending on where you are heading and for how long. You don’t want to have a bad experience with your travel or race, so it is important to think about what you really want out of the trip and race well in advance so you can plan for that. For example, if you want to attempt a PR/PB at your destination race, you may want to find plan your experience around a race/course that is favourable for running a fast race, plan to arrive to the destination days in advance (especially if you are going to be changing time zones and don’t want to be jet lagged!), and really plan your non-running activities so you don’t wear yourself out sightseeing in the days leading up to the race. You also may need to pack your own nutrition and research restaurants at your destination to ensure you are ready for your big run. This is all in addition to ensuring you have time time to train properly to achieve your running goals.
However, if you are more interested planning a great trip and want to include a race for the ‘fun’ of it, with little emphasis on your finish time, that is ok, too! It likely will give you more freedom with your travel dates, and you won’t have to necessarily worry about walking 10 miles the day before the race because you are doing all the sightseeing of this new place. You also may not be as fussed about trying new foods or having the local beers as you would be if this was a special attempt at a certain time goal.
For me, I don’t like to limit myself when going to new, exotic destinations, preferring to enjoy the overall experience and have more of a fun run during the race. Of course, when I ran Dusseldorf, I did everything I could to enjoy my visit – and still ran my fastest marathon! Some days, you just have it, no matter how many altbiers you have the night before…
Create a budget
Travel budgets can quickly get out of hand, so I recommend doing a little research on the internet to see approximate costs for flights, trains, hotels, race related events, etc. Add money into your budget for meals, local transport, souvenirs, tips, and entertainment. By looking at all the aspects of travel, you can start to put together a budget you are comfortable with and will get you the experience you want. You need to choose what is worth spending up on or where you can economize and save money. For example, flights can take a significant amount of your budget for a trip. But if you have a long flight, travelling across many time zones, it might be worth it to you to budget for comfort-level seating or even first class so you can have some extra space. Accommodations can also be expensive, so it’s important to decide what you want and need from where you are staying. Some people are happy with renting a room through a service like VRBO or Air B&B. I personally like staying in a hotel, where I can get assistance from the front desk/concierge if needed. This is especially important to me if I am travelling alone or in a foreign country where I may need help with the language. It is usually a more expensive option, unfortunately, but I am willing to pay a bit more for the peace of mind it gives me. Another example is location of the accommodation. If accommodation close to the start/finish is really important, it might be worth it to pay up for a place in the location you want, saving money in another area of your budget instead. Do your best to stick to your budget as overspending can be very stressful and put a damper on the experience. To help avoid feeling like this, I usually add a little cushion for unexpected expenses that might crop up – because almost no trip goes entirely to plan!
Phone a friend
Taking a ‘race-cation’ can be a great way to have some ‘me time’; it can also be a great way to connect with friends! I’m ok to travel by myself in most places, and I have never shied away from a trip if I don’t have someone with me, but I have to say that the times I’ve had a companion along have made the experience that much more memorable. So if you are planning to pack your bags and head off for more distant locations, I recommend finding a friend to go with you and share the experience. Contact them while you are planning your trip (or before, if you want to ensure a certain person is able to join you!), give them the dates, location, possible costs, etc so they can decide if they are able to make the trip with you.
Don’t shy away from this if someone is not a runner – your friend or family member may want to go even without a running experience of their own. They can be your cheerleader and get some of the great photos and videos of your run. I’ve been fortunate that my husband – who does not run marathons – will join me for trips, even agreeing to run a 5K if that option is available. He has said many times that my running takes us to places he has never considered visiting but is so glad we have travelled there. I also am fortunate to have my annual girls race-cation with my friend Sarah, who sometimes runs and sometimes just goes along for the travel. I love having her as my travel partner as we visit places in Europe and soon to be northern Africa!
Booking your travel
Everyone has their own booking strategies, but I do start looking at flights well in advance to see what costs will be. My favourite site is kayak.com as it can compare many different options from a variety of airlines (or hotels or rental cars). They also have an option to create a price alert, which will let you know if the price for your itinerary (or dates for room/car) goes up or down. When you have your ideal price for your ideal itinerary, book it and save all confirmations in one place.
For goodness sake, don’t forget to register for the race!
In all the excitement of planning a trip, you may forget one big detail – registering for the race itself. I’ve had a friend do that, not realising it until they got to packet pick up. Unfortunately for them, the race was sold out, and they had to switch to being a cheerleader instead. Luckily, it was only a minor disappointment for them in the moment. But you can avoid ALL disappointment and ensure you register as soon as you confirm your travel plans.
Where will running take you in 2020?
What pre race-cation tips do you want to know about? Or what tips would you like to share with others? I’m planning to do other blogs about packing for your trip/race, enjoying the destination, and being race ready. If you have other topics you would like me to cover, or want to contribute your ideas to an upcoming blog, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.