How to Choose a Destination Race

destination-race

There are a lot of wonderful things about racing close to home: the familiarity, the ease of logistics, sleeping in your own bed, and the support of your family and friends! However, running is a fantastic way to see a new place and a great excuse to travel. It’s no wonder that more and more runners are now choosing to run destination races. If you’ve never traveled for a race before, though, the options can be daunting. Here’s how to choose a destination race that’s the perfect fit for you.

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Enjoying the warm ocean after finishing the Reggae Half Marathon in Negril, Jamaica!

1. Consider your budget: Whether you’ve got thousands of dollars to spend for an international event or just enough to cover a hotel room in the next state over, decide how much money you’re willing to spend well ahead of time. In addition to the cost of the race, you’ll need to factor travel expenses (flight, rental car, gas money, etc), hotel costs, meals, etc. There’s no right or wrong amount to spend, just the amount that’s right for you! Pro tip: travel with running buddies and split hotel and rental car costs!

2. Check out the course: Some races, like the Berlin Marathon, are renowned for being extremely flat and fast. Others, like the Nevis Marathon in beautiful Nevis, West Indies, are known to be more challenging. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of traveling for a race, but it is worthwhile to know what to expect from the course before you sign up. When choosing a destination race, make sure you don’t overlook the topography of the area and compare it to your training.

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The Nevis Half Marathon was hilly and hot, but absolutely beautiful!

3. Look at the average temperatures/weather: Some of the most popular destination races are those that take place in warmer climates during the middle of winter. The appeal is obvious: escape from a snowy, icy hellscape and make your way to the beach! However, many runners overlook the fact that they aren’t acclimated to heat and humidity in January. If you are choosing to run in temperatures you aren’t used to, make sure to set your race goals accordingly. When I ran the Reggae Half Marathon in Jamaica in December 2015, I definitely wasn’t ready for the heat! By the time the Run in Paradise Half Marathon in Antigua rolled around the following May, however, I was much better prepared.

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Coming in strong at the Run in Paradise Half Marathon in Antigua!

4. Think about fuel: While traveling within your own country won’t yield many surprises, visiting another country for a destination race is more of a wildcard when it comes to fuel. When I ran the Dublin Marathon in 2013, the electrolyte beverage on the course was Lucozade – something I’d never tried before! Although it turned out to be delicious and sit fine in my stomach, the opposite could also have been true. Research what electrolyte drinks and fuel (if any) will be out on the course for the destination races you’re considering, and plan accordingly.

If you're thinking about #running a destination #race, don't forget to check in-race fuel! Danielle from… Click To Tweet

5. Decide on your goals for the trip: Why are your goals important when choosing a destination race? Obviously, your goals will affect the importance of the weather, the course topography, and more, but it will also help determine how long you should travel and what you should do. If you are choosing a destination race specifically because you know the course to be advantageous and you are trying to hit a specific time-related goal, like a Boston Qualifier, you may not be as worried about sight seeing but may be more concerned about acclimating to the altitude and weather. If the reason for your trip is primarily vacation and you just want to find a fun run to do while you’re there, you probably want to account for enough time to sight see while still resting up for your event. If you’d like to run fast and  sight see, choose a race like the Prague Marathon and plan the bulk of your trip for after the race, when you can be on your feet as much as you want!

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Can’t wait for this view at the Prague Marathon in May! Photo courtesy of RunCzech

6. Be realistic about your nerves: If you have never traveled for a race before but get extremely nervous before hometown races or when traveling in general, start small when choosing your destination race and go with a nearby state or city. If you’re ready to go a bit bigger but still find the logistics surrounding international travel intimidating, consider an event like the Run in Paradise in Antigua, where the race organizers provide transportation to and from the airport and the race start, offer organized tours for runners, and even have a charter flight just for runners. If a vastly different environment is more fun to you than intimidating, think of something like the Tokyo Marathon! Otherwise, stick to traveling to another state or city and ease into the process slowly rather than being a nervous wreck on race day.

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Heading to Japan pushed me way outside of my comfort zone, but it was one of the best experiences of my life!

7. Do your research: Websites like Marathon Guide can be extremely helpful in learning about different races. You’ll be able to review other runners’ experiences and learn about the logistics associated with each event! You can also check the event’s Facebook page for posts by runners written immediately before and after the event to see what went smoothly and what didn’t.

Whether it’s running races across the states (40 and counting, so far) or in different countries (six and counting!), I’ve enjoyed every event I’ve ever done. When choosing the destination race that’s right for you, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself about your goals and let the rest of the pieces fall into place! There is an event out there for everyone. Need some suggestions? Check my race reports page for reviews of all of my events!

LEAVE A COMMENT: Have you ever traveled for a race before? What is the most important aspect you consider when choosing a destination race?

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10 thoughts on “How to Choose a Destination Race

    1. That’s not creepy at all! That’s why I put it out there 🙂 I’d love it if you came to one of my destination races! I’m headed back to Antigua for the Run in Paradise on Memorial Day Weekend – I highly recommend that one!

    1. It sounds so obvious, but I didn’t think about it at all before I went! I literally was at mile 3 of the marathon and saw Lucozade and I was like well…here goes nothing! Fortunately, it was delicious, but ohhhh it could have gone so badly!

  1. Cayman Islands Marathon, Boston Marathon, and Mount Desert Island marsthon. Traveled to all of these and spent a week at each location. We front loaded the trip with the marathon in the first couple of days and the rest of the week relaxing (Cayman Islands), hiking (Bar Harbor, ME), and sightseeing (Boston).

    1. Those are all on my list, Stephanie! I think it’s smart to get the race out of the way first and then plan your activities for the rest of the trip. I know I tend to exhaust myself when I travel, which is not super conducive to feeling good during a marathon!

  2. So many of my races are destination races. I traveled for my first ever half, but it was in a place I had lived/visited before, and it wasn’t overly far from where I live.
    Since I tend to race in North America (for now!) I haven’t considered fueling, but that’s a super good point to consider.

    1. Fueling seems like such an obvious point, but it was definitely something I didn’t consider. I don’t know why I just assumed everyone uses Gu and Gatorade when that’s clearly not true! It’s not even true for races in North America, you know? Oh well, live and learn!

  3. I’ve traveled to two different places for races: Cocoa Beach for the Space Coast half marathon (4x), and Chicago for the marathon. I don’t really think of Space Coast as a “destination race” in terms of the travel planning — it’s basically a 24-hour trip for us — drive down, hit up the expo, check in, get dinner, relax at the hotel, sleep, run, shower, drive home. I’ve traveled with the same friends each time, and we now have the routine pretty much down pat. It helps that the logistics for this race are pretty smooth — if you stay at one of the race hotels (there are nearly a dozen, I think), they offer free shuttles. The biggest challenge involves falling asleep early enough in the hotel room, to get up at 3:15AM or so (it’s a 6 AM start, and the first shuttles leave around 4:15am…).

    Chicago was a completely different beast, took a bit more pre-planning — had to find a hotel that worked well (proximity to mass transit was key) without breaking the bank, and strategize what I was going to be doing outside of Sunday morning. Lots of people from my club were at the race, but I was traveling solo — although I was able to split my hotel with a friend who flew in for a Cubs playoff game (this was 2015) the last night I was there. I did make the mistake of doing a LOT of walking on Saturday. I now suggest to friends going to Chicago that they do the architectural river cruise on Saturday, and buy their tickets in advance (they were sold out when I went). But the Chicago Marathon is one of those destination races that I find myself often recommending to people considering travel for a marathon.

    I’m hoping NYC may be in the cards for me this fall (many factors at play there)… that will be one I run more for the experience than for a PR…

    1. I love races like Space Coast that make it so easy. Route 66 is kind of like that as well – there are a million host hotels and they all have shuttles and guaranteed 3 pm checkout on race day, which is super convenient!

      Chicago is definitely a different animal. I found it not to be too terrible logistically (for example, you don’t have to be at the corrals obscenely early, which is nice) and there are tons of hotels very close to the race start. I was able to use points, which was so helpful! The river cruise is a great idea. I know I walked around a ton before the race too!

      I am also hoping to do NYC this year, but I have to admit that the logistics scare the crap out of me. Oh well, I’ll cross that bridge if I get in!

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