Running Abroad: Tips for Running in a New Country
You’ve run your first international race and now there’s no stopping you. You want to run all the races, in all the countries and on all of the continents! The running travel bug sure is relentless.
Unlike competing in a local race, though, traveling to an international one comes with more logistical schlep. Just thinking about passports, visas, vaccinations, flight schedules, well-located accommodation and possible language barriers is enough to put many runners off running abroad for good. So while there’s no way to avoid all of this, it certainly helps to know what you’re doing. And don’t fear – we have your back! This logistical cheat sheet will take you from nervous traveler to global running expert in no time at all. Ready?
First Things First
Most international running adventures require you to be proactive long before boarding your flight. So be sure to make the necessary arrangements well in advance in order to save yourself from last-minute drama:
- Keep your passport up to date. Nothing causes more panic than discovering last-minute that your passport has expired!
- Apply for your visas timeously. Double-check the anticipated visa processing time of the country you’re headed to as soon as you’ve decided on a destination.
- Get your vaccinations sooner rather than later. Some countries require routine vaccinations as part of the visa application process. Be sure to get these sooner rather than later (but still within the validity spectrum for your trip’s time frame). This way, should your body experience some adverse effects as a result of the vaccine, it won’t affect your trip or your running.
- Book your accommodation so that you arrive in your destination a few days before your race. Bart Yasso, former Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World who has raced in more than 50 countries, recommends giving your body one full day of settling in for every two time zones that you cross. Book your flights and accommodation accordingly.
- Book a plane seat with extra leg room. Or, if your budget doesn’t allow it, at least reserve an isle seat to give you the chance to stretch out every once in a while. Once you have your flight number, head to seatguru.com to find the most spacious (economy) seats available on your flight.
- Get an offline map of your destination before you fly. You don’t want to get lost before having a chance to buy a sim card and data.
- Study the race logistics. Leave nothing to chance. Knowing beforehand how many aid stations, water tables and bathroom stops to expect en route, as well as what type of fuel (if any) will be on offer, will lessen the chance of unpleasant race-day surprises. Once again, pack accordingly (think fuel belts, additional fuel, etc.).
What and How to Pack
Then, with all the traveling logistics sorted, keep the following in mind when packing for your race:
- Make provision for all possible weather conditions. Even if the long-term weather forecast predicts sunshine on race day, pack a long-sleeved top and water-repellent top layer just in case.
- Pack a clean, unused garbage bag. These are excellent for keeping you dry and warm pre-race. Just snip two holes in it for your arms and a smallish one for your head and voila! And once it’s served its purpose, simply rip it off and pop it in a garbage bin.
- Pack all your race-day essentials in a separate carry-on. This includes running shoes, socks, underwear, bottoms, tops, electronics, orthotics, a cap or visor, sunglasses, lube, nutrition, race bibs and timing chips, SPI belts and hydration aids (if using). You don’t want to be stranded with nothing but the clothes on your back if your checked luggage goes missing!
When and How to Fly
Having a good flight can make or break an international running trip. So be sure to do the following:
- Set your watch to your destination’s local time as soon as you get on the plane. This will help ease the transition into a new time zone by starting to adapt your sleeping and eating patterns on the plane.
- Wear full-foot compression socks on longer flights. This will help prevent the pooling of blood in the lower legs, which contributes to that ‘dead-legged’ feeling on race day.
- Move around during your flight. Take regular (at least once every two hours) walks up and down the isle and do the seated, in-flight exercises detailed in the flight safety card.
- Stay hydrated while flying. Carry a refillable water bottle with you and refill and sip often.
- Pack ear plugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow for getting some sleep during your flight.
- Keep a flight-sized bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on and use it often. Also, if your in-flight neighbor has a cold or flu, kindly request a seat change.
Once You’ve Reached Your Destination
Once you’ve reached your destination, you’re almost home free. Just keep the following in mind:
- Resist the temptation to take an afternoon nap. This will just delay your body’s adjustment to the new time zone. Wait until it’s evening before going to bed.
- Take a slow, easy shake-out jog. This will help familiarize you with your new surroundings, identify some good eating spots and loosen your legs after your flight.
- Complete race registration as soon as possible. This will free up your mind to enjoy your surroundings instead of worrying about possible last-minute registration mishaps.
- Rehearse getting to the starting line a day or two before the race. Getting familiar with the public transport systems and timetables ahead of time will decrease race-morning stress.
The Little Things
Want to boost your trip’s status from “good” to “unforgettable”? Then don’t leave out the following details:
- Put your name on the front of your running vest or shirt in big, bold letters. Running abroad doesn’t come cheap and, as a result, many international runners don’t have the extended support systems that they normally would have at a local race. The solution? Get hundreds of strangers to cheer you on by name by showing them who you are.
- Stick to what you know works. Yes, shopping at a race expo is enough to make any runner’s heart go vroom. And by all means, go ahead and treat yourself. But save your expo purchases (and that includes nutrition!) for testing out when you’re safely back home, in a non-racing environment.
- Mind what you eat. Where possible, pack a solid stash of tried and tested pre-race and running fuel to take with you on your trip. Save sampling the foreign cuisine for after you’ve crossed the finish line.
- Avoid drinking tap water when advised against it. You certainly don’t want to miss your race on account of a stomach bug!
- Consider making use of the race’s gear-check facility. Seeing that every international race is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’ll probably want to hang around and soak in the post-race atmosphere for as long as possible. So pack a bag with a clean change of clothes, wet wipes, comfy shoes and some deo and check it before toeing the starting line. No one wants to spend an entire day in damp, funky running gear!
- Look up! Don’t be so focused on clocking a good time that you forget to notice your surroundings. You’ll probably never get the opportunity to run there again, so drink it all in!
Go with the Flow
And while these tips and tricks certainly will increase your chances of having the time of your life, remember that unforeseen glitches do happen. Flights get delayed. Luggage goes missing. Cellphones get stolen. And while none of this is ideal, try to stay calm and go with the flow if it happens. After all, there’s nothing like a bit of unplanned adventure to spice up those post-holiday stories!