With the Autumn marathon season in full flow, plenty of runners are heading overseas to find fast courses, high levels of competition or just for a different adventure. But do you need to consider when racing abroad?
When travelling overseas, regardless of your experience and whether it’s a track race or marathon, there’s more than just the flight to consider. How you cope with a different culture, environment, location and time zone can all play a vital role in ensuring you arrive on the start line ready for the race. Below we will discuss how to plan for and how to adapt to any issues arising on your overseas adventure.
Unless you’re like Dennis Bergkamp and insist on going everywhere by land and sea, an overseas race (and even one in the same country) can involve a flight, and you want to make sure this has as little impact as possible on your race.
It all starts when you book it initially and the time and day you pick to travel. If there is acclimation for altitude and heat to contend with in your race location then there need to be other considerations made, but ideally arrive a couple of days before your event so if there are delays or your bag is lost, you have time to resolve the issues and stress levels are kept to a minimum so it does not affect performance.
We all think early morning flights are a good idea, giving you the rest of the day to relax at your location, but the biggest issue is the interruption to sleep and that can take days to recover from.
Time and time again the 6 am or 7:30 am flight seems ideal. But then we think about logistics on the day and you’re up at 3am to get to the airport and up late the night before packing bags, checking you have all the right gels and generally faffing about. A night of just three hours sleep can ruin any chances of a PB even before you’ve stepped on that flight.
The night of missed sleep, along with the heightened risk of just being a highly trained athlete, also leaves you more vulnerable to picking up colds and viruses on the petri dish that is an international flight, which again may cause you issues on race day.
Most of the time it’s just the best value hotel we can find near the race start, but considering all the time and effort, as well as considerable financial investment, you put into your running and training, it’s worth considering spending a few extra quid on the right pre-race location to get it right.
Check out those reviews and particularly look for noise complaints. Budget hotels also seem to attract big stag and hen groups and with races mostly on weekends, you don’t want a party in the room next door at 2 am before you toe the line.
Also look at the local travel infrastructure such as motorways or train lines on the map. It takes two seconds to look on the map for the hotel and just see if anything like that, or the best nightclub in town, is nearby. The nightclub might be useful for celebrating afterwards, but not best for your prep.
Try to take into account your logistics for race day and how you can make it the start. Seven bus journeys to get to the starting area could be an issue. Personally, I’m not too fussed about the journey back afterwards, it’s not going to affect how you run on the day, although, it may be when you need to be within crawling distance.
As with any race, it’s good to have a routine that you’re used to and not have the body doing anything new on the big day. If you have a set meal or any dietary requirements then do some research beforehand. If you’re vegetarian, gluten-free, or only eat bananas, then a little research before the trip can help avoid an hour of wandering around looking for somewhere to eat, or a supermarket with a bunch of athletes hungry, grouchy and somewhere new. We’ve all done it.
Don’t start trying all the local delicacies and treats before your race afterwards. Every time I’ve raced in Turkey the temptation of Turkish delight is hard to fight, but save it as a reward for after you have finished as 2kg of Bratwurst on a Friday night might not be the best way to ace Frankfurt marathon, however much you love them.
When it comes to race food too, either bring it all from home and pack it accordingly (remember that gels have to be in your hold baggage or in your little plastic bag for liquids) and don’t rely on finding them in a local sports store upon arrival. Manage as many variables as you can before travelling. Even researching the local checkpoint food and drinks and trying them in training before race day.
Check the weather report
Now, this sounds like simple advice, but when all you’ve packed is a vest and a light coat, finding snow upon arrival can be a bit of an issue. Generally, have an idea of what to expect but freak unexpected weather happens everywhere and short of packing everything you own, taking five minutes to check the internet and pack accordingly, could save a lot of hassle.
The most versatile piece of kit I can recommend packing for races are arm warmers because they can turn any outfit into weatherproof and be also rolled down if it gets too hot. They’re not really suitable for walking around town before the race though, except in Italy, where anything goes fashion-wise.
One more consideration for anyone with the possibility of anti-doping controls, consider what you’re taking on board and whether it abides with WADA guidelines, rather than just grabbing the first protein bar you see that is covered in foreign words.
It takes a few seconds to check online for any medication too, so don’t be that athlete that takes something in a foreign country without checking. Many pharmacists will provide you with the best quality medication for solving your ailment without considering anti-doping rules, so take the time or ask someone in the know (as a UKAD anti-doping Advisor happy for you to send an email over).
Bring home with you
Final extra tip, that you can thank Renee McGregor for, is to take a little bit of home with you, something as simple as your usual pillowcase could be all the difference in making you feel comfortable the night before and getting a good night sleep. If it has to be your favourite teddy bear, like Fast Running’s Ben Riddell, then so be it. Make yourself feel at home.
Racing overseas can be exciting and adventurous, but if you’re there for a PB then remember that is the focus. Sightseeing and holidaying can be done after the race, hobbling around with friends also celebrating new PBs and brilliant memories. Don’t ruin your chances before you get to the start line.