Lyrical languages, jaw-dropping vistas, exotic foods and running a race — what’s not to love?!
Traveling overseas to run a race is an exciting way to broaden your running repertoire and experience one-of-a-kind adventures in places ideal for family- and friend-pleasing vacations. (Remember, they’re the ones who put up with your constant training!) While racing and travel can each have their high-anxiety moments, smart preparation and a good attitude are the catalysts to a memorable trip.
Where should you start? Put your finger on the globe and give it a spin! While most international big city events are similar in race organization and attention to detail as what you know in the U.S., you’ll find cultural differences at every race. Selecting smaller, off-the-beaten races can result in more colorful and unique experiences, as well as sometimes unavoidable or inexplicable challenges — especially when it comes to trail running events and ultra-distance races.
No matter what event you choose, keep in mind these experiential tips:
— Run for the experience, not necessarily a personal best. Enter your race with a range of goals in mind, but be realistic. You may be running on cobblestones, racing in oppressive humidity or sharing the route with commuting villagers, livestock and pack mules.
— Have a good attitude and a sense of humor. Even without language barriers, understanding the course map and race protocol can be a challenge. The course markings may be far from accurate, in another language, in the wrong order or even upside down. Plus, the race may or may not start on time.
— Have an open mind, a sense of adventure and respect for the locals. Expect that you’ll have to make adjustments. “What do you mean there’s no fresh juice bar or cell reception, and the power goes off at 9 p.m.?” If a race website says “stream crossing,” it might really mean class III rapids.
— Consider packing your own race-day fuel. The best way to ensure you’ll have what you’ll need before and during the race is to pack your owns gels and fluids.
— Know that things can go sideways. Plan in advance for the unexpected and you’ll be preparing your next globe-trotting adventure before you cross the finish line.
RELATED: Competitor.com’s Race Calendar
March 2; Moshi, Tanzania
Runners who make the journey to northeastern Tanzania for this race are rewarded with a stunning Mount Kilimanjaro backdrop, as well as a route that travels through banana and coffee plantations and local villages filled with cheering locals.
Bonus: Double or triple your adventure by adding a wildlife safari and Kilimanjaro climb to your trip.
Nagano Olympic Commemorative Nagano Marathon
April 20; Nagano City, Japan
Home to the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, Nagano City is set in a fairly level valley amid the Japanese Alps, making for a flat racing route with surprisingly long straightaways. The course passes by many of the Olympic venues and along the Chikuma River before ending with a grand finish in the Olympic stadium.
Racer Tip: Soothe weary muscles in one of the many local onset — aka, natural hot springs.
April 6; Paris, France
Yes, it’s a race, but the Paris Marathon is also a cultural experience like no other. This 26.2-miler takes runners along the Seine River and through the heart of Paris on a route beginning on the Champs-Elysees and passing many of the city’s iconic sights, including the Louvre, Place de la Concorde, Isle de la Cité and the Eiffel Tower.
Did you know?: To race, you must present a medical certificate stating you are fit to compete.
April 13; London, England
Thought up in a pub over pints, the London Marathon began in 1981 and has been going strong ever since. The flat and fast course lets runners battle for a PB while taking in landmark sights: the Tower Bridge, the Cutty Sark, Parliament Square and Buckingham Palace.
Drink Up: There are plenty of aid stations along the course, but, in case you want to quaff a pint mid-run, 80 pubs line the race route. Cheers!
Aug. 23; Reykjavik, Iceland
A flat course and cool temperatures make Reykjavik a runner’s paradise. And talk about an after party — the race coincides with the annual Reykjavik Cultural Night, a citywide event drawing more than 100,000 revelers (that’s almost a third of Iceland’s population!) to the world’s northernmost capital city.
Bonus: There are direct flights from several U.S. cities, including New York, Washington, Boston and Denver.
Marathon du Medoc
Sept. 13; Pauillac, France
Go to this marathon to savor the running experience and the wine, as you run through vineyards, villages and chateaus in southwestern France. The 30th anniversary of this running and wine-tasting spectacle has a “Countries of the World and their Carnivals” theme, so expect costumes and revelry to be over the top.
Bonus: Upon completing your vineyard jaunt, get the royal treatment and stay in a chateau!
Sept. 28; Berlin, Germany
Join the elites and run through history (in 1990, three days before German unification, 25,000 marathoners ran through Brandenburg Gate) on one of the world’s fastest marathon courses.
Racer Tip: Listen up! Live music was added in the 1980s as a way to motivate runners — now the course is lined with more than 1,000 musicians.
Oct. 26; Venice, Italy
Running through a city best navigated by boat lets you see it in a way no one else does — by foot! A temporary 170-meter floating bridge (built just for race day) carries runners across the Grand Canal, and 14 bridges in the last 5K keep participants engaged until the finish.
Bonus: October is a quiet season in Venice, making it easy to see the sights and tuck into a cozy trattoria for a plate of pre-race pasta.
Athens Classic Marathon
Nov. 9; Marathon to Athens, Greece
Travel back in time and pay homage to Phidippides, the Greek soldier who started the marathon craze with his 490 B.C. run from Marathon to Athens to announce Greece’s victory at the battle of Marathon. (For the record, Phidippides actually ran more than 26.2 miles, making it the world’s first ultramarathon.) The history remains, but modern improvements include regular aid stations and a well-marked route. You’ll have stories to tell your running buddies for a lifetime.
Bonus: Celebrate your personal marathon victory by climbing the steps of the Acropolis to visit the temple of Athena Nike, honoring the goddess of victory. Be sure to look at the frieze of historic battle scenes, including the Battle of Marathon.
The Reggae Marathon
Dec. 6; Negril, Jamaica
A beachfront course (the loop course travels along Negril’s Seven-Mile Beach), reggae bands, still-in-the-shell fresh coconut water at the finish line, a small field and a laid-back island vibe make for a vacation-ready, low-key race scene.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: No matter how intoxicating the sound (the pre-race pasta party, with music, can go late, and the race starts pre-dawn to beat the heat), try to save most of your steel drum swaying until after the race.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Around the Globe
The newest crown jewel among the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series’ international race offerings is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool Marathon and 1/2 Marathon on May 25, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles becoming a worldwide sensation in 1964. In true Rock ‘n’ Roll fashion, the course route will pass through the Cavern Quarter, where the Beatles got their start in the early 1960s, as well as along the waterfront, through historic neighborhoods, past two football clubs (or as we say, soccer) and through Europe’s oldest Chinese community, for a rich cultural experience from beginning to end.
Other stops on the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll World Tour include Madrid, Oslo, Edinburgh, Dublin, Lisbon, Montreal and Vancouver. For a complete list of Rock ‘n’ Roll races, visit runrocknroll.competitor.com/tour-stops.
Take on One of These World-Wide Challenges
World Marathon Majors
Launched to recognize the world’s top elite marathoners and reward them with a hefty $1 million cash purse, the World Marathon Majors has also become a right of passage for age-group runners. The series began in the 2006–07 racing season around the classic marathons in Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. The Tokyo Marathon was added in 2013.
Seven Continents Club
If you want to run a marathon or half marathon on each of the seven continents (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Antarctic), the Seven Continents Club can help with travel logistics and will officially recognize your accomplishments once you cross the seventh finish line.
Tips For Racing Overseas
— Check with your doctor or local health department about recommended vaccines and medicines (like tetanus and malaria medicine) well in advance of your trip.
— Prepare for the body stress of time-zone changes. Sleep well before you travel and get on local time as soon as you arrive at your destination.
— Hydrate on the plane. Drinking water will help offset the drying effects of flying, plus frequent bathroom breaks keep you on the move. Try to stand up and move about once an hour.
— Travel in compression socks or calf sleeves to keep blood moving and prevent leg swelling.
— Respect the local culture. Whether it’s wearing the official race shirt or women needing more conservative running apparel, local customs may impact you. Investigate before you go, and when in doubt, check with the race organizers.
— If you have specific dietary needs, bring food with you. Pre-race meals, aid-station offerings and electrolyte-replacement products will likely be different than what you are used to; bring your own for peace of mind and tummy.
— Pack your race kit in your carry-on bag so lost luggage doesn’t ruin an event.
— Check your phone plan for international rates before sharing race updates and photos with friends and family back home.
— Pack the proper adaptor for your destination to keep watches, cameras and phones charged and ready to go.
— Study the route and course markings to familiarize yourself with which symbols, signs (possibly not in English) and landmarks to follow on race day.
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