Tips for Traveling to a Race

My recent trip to Nashville for the Women's Half Marathon was the longest distance I've had to travel yet for an athletic event.  Between airline itineraries, hotel reservations, packing lists, travel schedules, and coordinating with other people, it's not always easy to work out the logistical details and make an advantageous plan for traveling to a race.  There's already enough stress already around training for and competing in a major race, so here are a few tips for making your trip a (mostly) stress-free success:

1.  Arrive at least 2 days before the race.  I'm glad we arrived in Nashville on Thursday before our Saturday race.  The last thing I would want to do is sit on an airplane all day before running 13.1 miles.  We had time to go to the Expo and pick up our race packets the day before without feeling rushed.  Plus, with the possibility of travel delays, weather events, or (like this past weekend) a fire in the Chicago Midway airport, it's safe to have an extra day before the race.  

2.  And stay at least 2 days after the race.  After running my Half, what the doctor ordered was a long nap and general laziness (or "extreme curling" as my sister and I say).  I wasted about 8 hours in bed after the race, and I didn't feel guilty at all because we still had an extra day for fun and sight-seeing!  

3.  Stay moving on the days leading up to the race.  On the day of travel, walk around the airport until it's time to board the flight, stand up to drink your coffee or read your book, and do some ankle pumps and isometrics during the flight.  Stay moving as much as possible to keep your joints from getting stiff and help promote circulation. On the day before the race, get some light exercise.  Walk around town to do some (easy) sight-seeing, or we really enjoyed renting bikes in Nashville and doing some exploring!

4.  Be that tourist in those sneakers.  I know, how embarrassing to wear "sensible shoes" while traveling.  (I'm not even a mom yet!)  But it's worth the risk of looking like a nerdy tourist and sacrificing the heels (or cowboy boots) for something comfortable and supportive before the race, and your feet will thank you later.  Save your cute footwear for after the race!

5.  Pack all the essentials in your carry-on.  Knock on wood, I have never had my luggage lost in all my hundreds of trips, but it could happen.  The worst case scenario would be to lose your luggage with your running shoes, race day outfit, snacks, foam roller, and other important items that you need for the race, so keep all the crucial items in your carry-on (and you might as well just wear your running shoes during travel).

6.  Make your hotel/vacation rental reservations in advance.  Lots of races will have a block of hotel rooms at a discounted price for race participants, and this will usually be in a prime location near the start or finish line.  Staying in the designated hotel may be a fun way to meet other runners too.  However, for Nashville we rented a condo on, and we loved it!  It was more affordable than a hotel room, offered much more space, and we had access to a full kitchen for cooking meals and storing leftovers, which allowed us to save on restaurant costs.  Our place also had a pool, which unfortunately was already closed for the season, but would have been an awesome post-race treat.

7.  Bring your own snacks.  Two days before a race is not the time to gorge on fast food in the airport or sample those tasty treats from local street vendors, and it's not the time to invite a new food into your diet.  Stick with foods your body is comfortable with leading up to a race.  This probably means bringing your own Luna Bars, Honey Stingers, Gu packets, fresh fruit, or whatever you prefer for pre-race fuel.  Along with snacks, bring your own water bottle to fill up in the airport (after you get through security, of course).  Hydration is key before a race, and the 4 ounce plastic cups of water on the airplane just won't cut it.

8.  Don't let your vacation begin until the race is over.  You're on vacation!  In a new city!  Yay!  But don't forget your main priority for the weekend: your race.  As tempting as it may be, just say no to Baileys in your coffee on the airplane, 2-for-1 cocktails on Thursday night, and the unlimited mimosa bar on Friday.  You can enjoy all these things later, without jeopardizing your race.  (Confession: We had a beer or two Thursday night in Nashville, but we figured it has a high water content and was a better choice than whiskey!)

9.  Know the course.  This is easier said than done in a destination race, and most runners won't have the opportunity to practice on the actual race course before arriving. However, you can study the map on the race website, read about elevation changes, or even check out parts of the course the day before (another great reason to rent bikes!) so you have a mental snapshot of what to expect.  How many hills are there?  Where is the longest hill?  Are there any popular landmarks to look for?  Where is the finish line?  I would also suggest learning where the water/fuel stops are located along the race route.

10.  After the race... Celebrate!!  You earned it!  Now is the time for VACATION! 



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