Racing Away

In the past few weeks, both of us have traveled out of town for races, so of course we’re now full of advice for anyone who likes “racing away”.

Traveling adds an element of excitement to any runner’s race calendar – whether you are flying to a big-city race across the country like the New York Marathon, or driving within California for a 200-person trail race. The possibilities are limitless once you broaden your horizons beyond our local community.

However, race travel requires some logistical expertise - and if you’re not careful, too many mistakes can make your trip a frustrating experience, or cause you to have a disappointing race. So here are our tips for racing away:

Save your sightseeing for afterwards. We know, it’s tempting to check out all the tourist spots or to visit three different friends when you have some free time in your destination city – especially someplace like New York or Washington DC. But the best thing you can do beforehand is to sit in your hotel room and rest your legs. Bring a few books, watch some TV, and save your energy for race day.

For long-distance travel, the best time to arrive is two days prior to the race. Go to the race expo the day before and then veg out for the rest of the day. Schedule your trip to include free time after the race, and use those days to take in the sights or indulge at all the fine restaurants in town. The bonus for doing it this way is that the walking is good for your recovery, and after finishing your marathon, you can pretty much eat whatever the heck you want.

Adjust to time changes gradually. If you’re traveling to the Eastern or Central time zones, you can start correcting for jet lag and time changes a few days before you leave. Spend a few days waking up earlier and earlier at home until you are almost in sync with your destination time zone. We know, it sounds crazy, but this actually works.

Learn the course. Most major races have websites with course descriptions such as maps and elevation profiles. Familiarize yourself to prevent surprises late in the race. This also helps you decide whether to save more energy early in the race, or how hard to press the hills when they appear.

Bring your secret weapons. Even though you may be heading to a big city, don’t assume you’ll be able to find your regular pre-race meals. Pack any special food such as snack bars, energy gels, or your preferred coffee blend that you want to have with you. This saves you the anxiety of running from store to store to find something before the race.

Check the weather. Yes, this one seems obvious, but runners sometimes overlook it in their pre-travel frenzy. Go online to check the forecast at your destination, and pack for the most probable scenarios. Sometimes you’ll be surprised – as anyone who ran the normally-cool Chicago or Twin Cities Marathons in humid 90-degree weather a couple of weeks ago can tell you.

Traveling to races is costly. If you pack properly, you’ll spare yourself the additional (and embarrassing) expense of having to buy new gear at the race because you weren’t prepared.

Check your accommodations. Figure out where your hotel room is in relation to the race. For some races, the start and finish areas are in the same location, but other courses are point-to-point. Would you rather have convenience before or after the race? Close to the start line, you may be able to sleep a little later on race morning, but close to the finish you’ll be able to crawl into bed more quickly afterward.

You may also have to take buses either to the starting line, or from the finish area. If you picked an economical hotel somewhere out in the boonies, you might end up triangulating for a few hours before getting a chance to rest.

It’s usually worth a few extra bucks to stay someplace that’s convenient to the race expo, or within walking distance of the start or finish area. Most big races have a headquarters hotel that meets these criteria – but they tend to sell out early, so plan ahead. You can also call the race hotel and ask them for nearby alternatives if they are sold out.

Sometimes at big-city races, there are a lot of cancellations before marathon day from runners who couldn’t make the trip. With a little negotiation, you might be able to upgrade your hotel location at the last minute.

Beware of your friends. Many runners opt to stay with friends in the host city. Just be careful if they want you to stay up late catching up on old times and drinking margaritas - especially if you’re counting on them to drive you 30 miles to the start at 5:00 AM the next morning. In some cases, it’s better to be anonymous in a hotel room somewhere. Remember, there’s plenty of time for socializing after the race.

Wherever you may be journeying for your goal race this fall or next season, we hope our advice helps you have a P.R. day.

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