The Dos and Don’ts Of Destination Racing

DO: Wear the race t-shirt, as runners do at the Llao Llao 21K in Argentina. It fosters a sense of camaraderie.

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Take steps to make sure your overseas race is an epic running experience.

Globetrotting to a race—so romantic. Imagine the Facebook posts, and the possibilities. I did.

Two days later I was toeing the line at a boutique half-marathon—the Llao Llao 21K—in Bariloche, Argentina, a small adventure-oriented city in the foothills of the Southern Andes.

Known for its chocolate industry, Bariloche is surrounded by the kinds of places travel writers keep to themselves. It’s smack-dab in Patagonia, where broad rivers lumber by snow-capped pyramids, spilling into ocean-like lakes, and December means the start of summer, not winter.

An escape from winter—that alone could justify the trip. The Llao Llao hotel— base of operations, start and finish—also could. The “World’s Best” resort and spa has the riddle of refinement solved; it’s five-star and unpretentious. Running shoes welcome and Vibram-soled trekkers a norm.

And it’s all about the environment. The Llao Llao occupies a peninsula hilltop in Nahuel Huapi National Park—nearly two million acres of calving glaciers, “monkey puzzle” trees, and an alpine trail system (complete with huts, or refugios) that’s ripe for running.

So I’m here. I’m in. I made it. The day is warm, and breezy like spring. Idyllic describes it. The start time? 11 a.m. A 400-person group stretches to “Gangnam Style,” and the countdown begins. Local heavies from rival provinces Rio Negro and Chubut front my wave—the only wave. Toward the back, it’s more of a celebration of the day; it borders on a dance party.

The stage is set for a destination race to remember. Sleep deprivation adds to the euphoria. And we’re off.

A while later I’m shuffling up the last pitch, the finish-line banner held taut by some sort of dream just in front of me. Did I win?

Kind of. It was the single-best running experience of my life.

But it takes more than dumb luck and a wad of pesos to guarantee a great destination-race experience. Here’s what I learned: essential tips for would-be runner-travelers.

Do Start With The Destination

And this is critical. Start by choosing a destination—somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Then schedule your vacation around, not for, the race.

Don’t Make It An “A” Race

Planes, trains, and automobiles—not to mention jet lag—don’t make for fast running. Best to think of this as a “run,” and plan it during your off-season or as a training (tempo) run leading up to a goal race. Your ability to “let go” and to run for fun is directly related to how far you should or shouldn’t travel.

Do Race First

By racing toward the beginning of your trip, you’ll have your only “obligation” out of the way. You’ll be able to eat (Argentine asado, for one) and have the option to drink your way through the rest of your vacation, and you’ll have time to act on advice from your new runner-friends—local people with similar interests to yours.

Do Run Blind

Running an unfamiliar course makes every turn a discovery and every view a surprise. It also encourages running at a sustainable pace; when you don’t know if a climb continues for 200 meters or two miles, you’re more likely to stay within your limits (and to enjoy every aspect of the experience).

Do Wear The Race T-Shirt

Unlike U.S. runners who slip on their tried and true race kits, runners in many other countries wear the race T-shirt during the race. The camaraderie resulting from this simple gesture is surprising. Don the race tee, and barriers like language and nationality crumble; you’re united by a common goal. But, plan accordingly. Pulling on an unworn, unwashed tech tee just before a race can end badly. Pack an anti-friction cream or give your nips the courtesy of a Band-Aid.

Do Make It A Family Affair

In this life, you either grow together or you grow apart, and few memories compare to those of family travel. Many events offer races of different distances, so there’s something for everyone. At the Llao Llao 21K, runners can choose from the half-marathon (21K), 15K or 9K. Traveling with kids? Childcare is a new idea for most race organizers, and it’s not offered at every hotel.

… OR DON’T

Bringing sand to the beach isn’t always a good idea. And, depending on the destination, it can be disastrous—haunt you for the rest of your years. Running is a great way to meet people, and by taking part in an event, you’re initiated—no longer a tourist. The smaller, more intimate (and remote) the event, the more likely you are to get to know your fellow runners.

Do More Than Race

It seems obvious, but the days leading up to and including the event should make up only a third of your stay. If you’ve done it right, the memory of the race will be just one of many souvenirs.

The Llao Llao 21K is part of the four-race National Parks Marathon Series. For more information, go to www.runargentina.com.

This piece first appeared in the February 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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