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How To “Do” A Destination Race

People who think running is so great because “it only requires a pair of shoes!” have never packed for an out-of-town race. You’ll likely need your favorite socks if it’s hot, favorite socks if it’s cold, race nutrition, expo clothes, expo-if-it’s-cold clothes, airplane snacks, favorite cap, favorite-cap-if-it’s-raining option…and then there’s the whole thing about how to manage getting there healthfully and what to pack to eat before the race. We turned to pro and everyday athletes to help you nail what to take, eat and do to have your best and most hassle-free “away” race ever. Their tips:

Taking It With You

Carry on, friends.

Yes, that bag that you clutter up the overhead storage bin with should absolutely include your race apparel and your race-day shoes. “Lost” is not a good place for your dependable race gear. While you could buy more clothes, you know the “nothing new on race day” rule, right? Mile 5 is a bad time to find out that cute new top that seemed so soft chafes like crazy.

Keep your sports drink powders in their original containers.

Heather Wurtele, a pro athlete who’s earned six Ironman titles, knows a few things about travel and packing. In addition to spending plenty of time on airplanes, she spent years traveling with her triathlete-husband around Canada and the U.S. in a 23-foot RV. For air travel, she says, “I double-bag nutrition and electrolyte powders in zip-top freezer bags. If I put them in a carry-on, I save myself the hassle of a bag search by leaving them in the labeled canisters because a Ziploc baggie of white powder generally elicits questions at security. I take them out of my bag and put them in a bin to go through the X-ray machine.” Gels should be TSA-friendly, but pack extras in your checked luggage in case they get confiscated.

Roll With It

Tuck a foam roller into your bag, recommends runner, nutritionist and personal trainer Carrie Burrows, Ph.D. No, not the giant ones—numerous companies make travel-sized rollers (like the Trigger Point GRID Mini Foam Roller). Or pack a lacrosse or tennis ball to minimize space but maximize your ability to keep muscles loose.

Go Beyond Snacks

Airplane snacks are a given—of course you’re going to have nuts or fruit with you; maybe even nut butters and rice cakes, dried edamame, string cheese or some kind of healthy cereal. But if you’re headed to a place with a dodgy food or water supply—or even a location where stores don’t stay open past 9 p.m. or you don’t have a way to get around town—consider bringing dinners, too. “I’ll pack those tear-open packages of pre-cooked rice, and some salmon, instant oatmeal and hemp hearts,” Wurtele says.

Consider a kettle.

Don’t find out the hard way that not every hotel room has a coffeemaker. When you see an empty space where that cup of joe should be in the morning…well, that’s no way to start any day, much less a race day. “I’ve gotten into the habit of packing a small electric kettle after having several hotel rooms without a kettle or coffee maker. I’d rather spend time with my feet up than figuring out a way to boil water in my room,” Wurtele says. Consider one of the many nifty, small, collapsible silicone kettles on the market (like the CXAK Outdoor Portable Collapsible Silicone Tea Kettle).

After you boil that water…

Numerous athletes say they won’t travel without their AeroPress to brew the perfect coffee. “It’s very compact, easy to use and quick,” says runner, personal trainer and Ironman athlete Rob Jackson, founder of Minimal FIT in the UK. “I’ll also take ground coffee beans I’ve had before so I know they agree with me. I put them into a resealable bag and have enough to last all the days before, during and after my race.”

Getting There

Compress

Several athletes swear by their compression gear (socks, tights) for the airplane ride there and back. It keeps your blood from pooling in your ankles and, at the very least, helps you avoid swollen ankles and feet (which means no blisters when you put your shoes back on and take the long walk to baggage claim). 

Go Early

“Build extra days into your itinerary for acclimation to the destination and for jetlag recovery,” says coach and ultrarunner Sarah Lavender Smith, author of The Trail Runner’s Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Trail Running and Racing, from 5Ks to Ultras. “Ideally, you’ll want one extra day per time zone change.”

At The Hotel

Aim High

“It can be worth paying for a room on a higher floor to avoid street noise,” says runner and wellness and nutrition counselor Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N. “You can’t always control the environment you’re in, but you can prepare the best you can to make it as quiet and relaxing as possible.” Tuck a sleep mask into your bag, too, she says, in case the curtains don’t cut out the light that’s outside your room.

Befriend The Bartender

“I’ve had bartenders blend up my protein shakes,” Burrows says. “Hotels are usually really accommodating.”

Make sure you can get back to the hotel after the race.

Figure out your route and, more importantly, check beforehand to be sure you can go back into the room and shower after the race, says Greg Drach, co-founder and crew chief of Midnight Runners, Europe’s largest run crew (based in London). “There’s nothing worse than flying back home without having a shower,” he says. And that’s not even from the perspective of the people who have to sit around you.

Use the ice bucket’s plastic bag.

That plastic bag + that ice machine down the hall + the tendon that started bothering you = aaah.

Race-Morning Bonus

Play It Again

“Ask your friends to leave you a voicemail with well wishes for your big day,” says Christine Diven, who’s run marathons on numerous continents for charity (including races on the Great Wall of China and in Antarctica). “If they leave you a voicemail, you can turn it into an mp3 and add it to your playlist. It’s incredibly uplifting to hear your bestie’s voice at mile 22 when you’re halfway across the world and want to quit.”

Stay Clean

“It doesn’t make sense to put a ton of time and effort into your training only to have it derailed by catching a cold during travels,” Wurtele says. “I’m a total germaphobe, and I go to town on the hand-washing and use a paper towel to shut off the faucet afterward, and I use hand sanitizer obsessively; I avoid touching my face and generally try to be aware of germs. I also wipe down eating surfaces and re-sanitize my hands after touching common utensils at, say, a hotel breakfast buffet.”

Bring Extra Outfits

It may have been gorgeous in your race location all week, but that doesn’t mean it can’t take a sudden dip, like the windchill during the 2014 New York City Marathon that made temps in the 40s feel like it was in the 30s. Put some just-in-case clothes in your bag, too, recommends Erika Lee, a Los Angeles–based performance coach and consultant.

Go Direct

“Try to book direct flights to minimize the chance of your bag getting delayed by not making a transition during a flight change,” Lavender Smith says.

5 Cool Races Worth Traveling To

With Your Girl Pack

Thelma and Louise Half Marathon and Relay in Moab, Utah (June 2, 2018)

Participants have called this half marathon and relay (each runner does 6.55 miles of the marathon course) “all about having fun.” After all, you get to choose which name (Thelma or Louise) goes on your bib, and the original convertible from the movie leads the race. Last year, nearly 400 women turned out for the half along with 40 relay teams.

If You Love National Parks

Grand Teton Half Marathon in Jackson, Wyo. (June 2, 2018)

While you don’t run through the national park proper, “it’s about as close as it gets,” say race organizers—but total elevation gain is less than 600 feet. Bring your camera; the finish has some stunning views of the mountains. The organizers, Vacation Races, hold other races near national parks throughout the summer, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and Zion. 

Wine, anyone?

Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon in Napa, Calif. (July 14, 2018)

You’ll experience a whole different kind of “cheers” after running through rolling hills and vineyards. Cross the finish line, and you and about 3,000 other competitors get to salute yourselves with a glass of local wine.

Do A Classic

Virgin Money London Marathon in London, UK (April 2019)

Run this marathon majors race and sightsee at the same time—you even get to run across the Tower Bridge and finish near Buckingham Palace. It’s so popular that the only way to still race it in 2018 is to enter as a charity runner (all other slots are full), but it’s a great one to plan ahead for in 2019. Be prepared to have your finger on the “enter” button in early 2018 for the 2019 race—for this year’s race, the entry window was last May.

Because…Vegas

Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half in Las Vegas, Nev. (November 10–11, 2018)

Run on the famous Vegas Strip in the marathon and the half; the weekend also offers a 10K and 5K that start and finish on that famous bit of roadway. The event happens in the evening, so you can take in the full power of the lights that turn a Vegas night almost into day.

Related:

5 Things To Think About When Planning A Destination Race

Runners Share Hilarious Destination Race Horror Stories

Cost-Efficient Tips For Destination Race Lodging