When in-person races begin again, how do you recommend traveling like an experienced pro? I've never raced outside of the country and want to be prepared for that opportunity.
One of the perks of running (whether as a weekend warrior, college athlete, or pro) is the impetus to travel all over the world for signature races. There’s nothing better than plotting a vacation to a faraway place with a big race followed by some sightseeing and tourism while your legs recover. Every big city in the world has a marathon, as well as some epic trail and mountain races in the more remote parts of the world.
As a runner, you owe it to yourself to make a big race trip at least once, but it can be challenging flying hours away from home and still turning in a peak performance. The pros sometimes travel and set up base over a week in advance of a big race to let their bodies recover from the rigors of travel. We can’t all travel on Nike’s dime around the world, so chances are you’ll be travelling a day or two before your race tops, but these tips might help you make the most of your travel, your running, and even help inspire you to combine the two.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Do your Homework – Before boarding the plane, always do a bit of research on where you’re going. If you’re staying in a hotel in a new city, try to look up where you can run. This is sometimes as simple as typing “Singapore running routes” into Google and reading a few articles. If you’re running a race, try to put yourself up near the course, so you’re familiar with at least part of it before the gun goes off.
Reach Out – Google sometimes fails us, though, and requires delving into a forum like Reddit or Let’sRun.com. LR is notorious for being full of trolls, but it truly is a well-spring of information like this. There are some genuinely helpful people on LR, and they’ll be more than happy to help out a fellow runner on the move.
If you can find a human contact online, a running club, for example, that’s a great way to not only hear about some of the best places to run but to already have some running partners lined up when you land.
Lastly, if you get lucky, some cities now have “running tours”. This can be a great way to see the city, meet some friends, and get in a great run.
Get creative – Once you’ve got your plans mapped out, it’s time to head to the airport. A short flight or travel day usually isn’t so bad, but if you’ve got a very long day (flying to Qatar, for example), and if you’re anything like me, you might want to try to break it up with a little exercise.
Yes, it’s true, runners have been known to jog around airport terminals on long layovers. A good friend of mine with a running streak dating back to his teens specifically plans his airline routes on transcontinental flights to guarantee that he has time to get in at least one mile in around the airport.
As long as you have a friend to watch your bags, this can be a great way to make a 4-hour layover less interminable and get the blood flowing after sitting in that tiny seat for hours on end. As long as you’re careful and don’t crash into anyone (try to find an emptier part of the terminal) you generally won’t be bothered.
If you have a really long layover and know the surrounding area, you can even leave your stuff with your travel buddy and head outside security and run outside – a great way to get some fresh air. If you don’t have a friend to watch your stuff, you can also find a quiet corner and do some strength and/or stretching exercises (bringing resistance bands and small rollers/lacrosse balls can be helpful here). Maybe incorporate some yoga into your layover as well!
Extra tip – When you get back, make sure you give yourself a little bird-bath in the airport bathroom so you don’t stinkify your poor seat-mates on the next flights (baby-wipes can help if you remember to bring them).
Exercising on airplanes is even harder, but not impossible (though probably impossible right now in the midst of the pandemic). If airline travel ever gets back to normal, you can get up and move around so long as you’re not annoying the flight attendants too much. If the cabin isn’t super busy with, say, food carts, you can walk (or even jog?!) up and down the aisle for a few minutes. Sure, you’ll get some funny looks, but whom amongst us runners isn’t already used to that. Also, take advantage of the larger space in the galleys to stretch or jog in place.
Set the Bar Low – Lastly, if you do arrive in time to run after you land, you should always expect to feel terrible. Even a relatively short flight leaves most runners’ legs swollen, your brain frazzled from getting up early and being cooped up in a plane all day, and your stomach feeling off. Eventually, you’ll feel better after “shaking out” – an easy jog to get the blood flowing – but it doesn’t always feel great at the time. Make it an easy run and don’t have any expectations on pace.
AWAY FROM HOME
Explore on foot – There’s really no greater way to get to know a new place than lacing up the running shoes and trotting through the streets (almost certainly getting lost for at least a few minutes). You’ll make some of your best memories while travelling out on your runs. Explore a neighborhood that’s off the beaten path or find a quiet dirt road that rolls through the mountains. Just get out there and interact with the locals!
Learn the Lay of the Land – Even if you scour Google Maps, investigate the local bus system, or create an hour-by-hour schedule for your visit, you won’t have a really great sense of a new place until you’re there on foot. You might not realize your hotel is actually on a giant hilltop or that what looked to be a few short blocks is actually several miles of industrial park.
Going for a run in a new place is by far the best way to get really get your bearings. Sure, you might have different landmarks than the guide books (“my hotel is one block uphill of the lady that sells avocado and tomato sandwiches in the morning”), but learning to navigate a new place can give you an unbiased look at what the city really looks like.
Strava can also be a really useful tool when you’re trying to figure out where to go in a new city. You’ll be able to get a sense of where runners are congregating and the best routes.
Accept and embrace the fact that you’ll run into the unexpected as you explore a new trail, town, or city.
This can be detrimental to your run (e.g., the beautiful trail you were excited to check out is, in fact, a muddy river because you didn’t consider that it’s the rainy season) or a pleasant surprise (e.g., you stumbled upon a delicious bakery at the end of your long run in a new city and can now gorge on the best blueberry muffins you’ve ever had).
In any case, having a flexible mindset and the expectation that you won’t be able to understand and control everything about this new place prior to getting there will prepare you to handle obstacles and enjoy the overall experience. The whole point of travelling to a new place isn’t to have everything go exactly according to plan. Get outside of your comfort zone and that’s where you’ll make the best memories.
Meet People – Just like reaching out to locals about running trails, the best way to get to know a place is to meet those who live there. Sure, tour guides and forums can clue you in on places to check out and things to do, but if you really want to get to know a place (a great restaurant, how to navigate public transportation, etc), talking to people is the way to go. Chat up another runner you see on the street or enter a road race and introduce yourself to the people who finishing close to you. They’ll be the best resources you can ask for!
Go with the flow – Unless you’re a pro athlete whose livelihood depends on running well enough to contend for the win, when you’re running a race halfway across the globe, you should go in with lower expectations for yourself than normal. These types of races are more about the experience than coming back with a big PR. You don’t really want to spend the majority of your trip cooped up in your hotel room obsessing about your goal splits or sulking after the race is over because you ran less than your best. Be willing to experience new things in a new place rather than getting too bogged down over the race.
Memory Lane – Whether you keep a running log, blog, or journal, it’s great to jot down some notes. You never know when you’ll be back in Duluth or Doha, and you can even make a recommendation for a friend next time they’re traveling somewhere you’ve been.
Keep in Touch – Finally, keep in touch with those you do meet during your travels. You never know when you’ll be able to reciprocate the role of tour guide and it’s always fun to have a network of friends all over the world.
One of the greatest gifts that running has given to many of us is the incredible network of friends all over the world. The opportunity to travel, try new foods, and visit local sites is great, but even more valuable is the friends we’ve made along the way of our running journey. The running community truly is a global network and running while traveling is a great way to connect yourself even more.