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What is your bucket list race?
For some, this may be stateside like Boston or New York. For others this may be an international race, like Berlin, London, or Tokyo. Whether you’re hoping to travel to Paris, France or Paris, Ohio, being prepared and planning ahead will help you make the most of your trip. Whatever foreign course you want to conquer, you are going to want to make the most of the experience racing in a new country brings.
While we’ll certainly walk you through all the pre-race planning, there are some things that may still be a bit of a shock and take a little navigation when you arrive, like reading race signs in a different language.
Before panic mode sets in, we have you covered; from the best app to download to help navigate languages to how to find the perfect place to stay. Here’s your go to guide for not only crushing but enjoying the experience your international race journey will bring.
Race Planning: Choosing Where to Stay
Before you book where you are going to stay, do a deep dive on the area of the race and your available choices. Choosing your accommodations wisely is one aspect you can control that may contribute to your overall performance in the race.
Registered dietitian and avid international runner, Elana Natker, shares that she first asks herself, “Can I stay with friends or someone living locally?” Natker notes, “That’s ideal, since I can have a lot more control over the food I’m eating, how it’s cooked and how I can best prepare my breakfast the morning of. Also, I need to drink one good cup of coffee before a race (important not just for the caffeine, but for my morning “zen”), so being in control of my pre-run brew is critical.”
If you don’t know anyone in the destination city, Natker recommends staying at an Airbnb or somewhere that has a kitchen or kitchenette to allow you to prepare your pre-race meals. However, if neither are an option, then consider a hotel as close to the starting line as possible. Her motto, “The least amount of stress the morning of the race.”
Travel Essentials You Need to Pack
According to certified sports dietitian, Meghann Featherstun, MS, RDN, CSSD, “When traveling out of the country for a race, take any fuel that you cannot live without. If there is something specific you always eat before your marathon or during your carb load, pack it.”
For example, Featherstunn shares a staple she uses herself and with other runners she coaches are graham crackers. However, since traditional style graham crackers aren’t available anywhere but Canada and the United States, she suggests packing sleeves in your shoes to keep them from breaking.
If you’re traveling overseas to run a race, it’s likely it’s not your first rodeo. But, it can be a little more challenging to run to the store quickly the morning of a race in a foreign country if you forgot the gels you planned to use as fuel during the race.
Write down everything you’ve done during training in regard to your nutrition at least three weeks before your set to leave for the race. From electrolyte tabs to the race gels, gummies, or what-have-you that are your go-to’s for instant energy when your glucose needs a boost.
Natker shares she’s a firm believer of not doing anything new in the 24 to 48 hours before a major race. While other countries will certainly have their own spin on pre-race fuel choices like peanut butter and toast, she says she prefers to pack her own, knowing her body is used to the particular brands she’s used throughout her training.
Even for the race itself, both Natker and international marathoner, Chantal Holl, from the Netherlands, recommend bringing your own hydration drink and sport gels. Given different countries may use different fueling aids at these stations, it’s important to think about your personal needs, preferences, and what your body is used to and rely on the stations only for water.
Here is a mini checklist to get your brain turning!
- Hydration tablets
- Consider the tablets for ease of travel and portability
- Racing gels or gummies
- Pre-race carbohydrates
- Graham crackers, oatmeal packets
- Allergen Friendly Products
- Gluten-free pasta, bars, breads
- Protein Sources
- Single serving protein powder packs
- Travel size peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
- Vitamin C
Save Space, Buy These There
We get it. You have a lot of things to bring for the race, an entire suitcase for your nourishment isn’t like an option. Before you travel, search nearby markets and restaurants near where you are staying. This will help you feel confident in your fueling options. Plus, it allows you to get to know ahead of time a little about the area and where you can plan to stop for any essentials you may not be able to pack.
Unless you have a food allergy that requires you to be extra cautious about the food swaps you make, it’s likely that most countries will use some sort of wheat flour to prepare traditional carbohydrate sources, like baguettes, soft pretzels, bagels, crackers, etc. So, you can likely purchase something of the like at the local market when you land.
If you’d like to double-check the ingredients, download the Google Translate application. This tool is extremely helpful and allows you to upload a photo of the words you would like to translate and instantly does so on the image. However, note that many countries’ nutrition facts panels are quite different from the US version, meaning it may be harder to decipher the grams of carbohydrates per serving if that’s of importance to you. In that case, it may be better to pack those items you use as your race fuel.
Consider These Factors to Reach Your Peak Performance
There are many new factors to consider when traveling abroad, such as jet lag, hydration, and more. While these will require you to plan a bit more time into your pre-race schedule to be properly rested, hydrated, and fueled than if you were running at home, it’s not impossible to set a personal record running abroad.
Natker shares, “With destination races it can be hard to know what to expect, especially if you’ve never been on those roads before or know much about the elevation and potential choke points along the route.” However, don’t let that deter you from reaching your goals. Natker suggests starting with a few time goals in mind, “one that you should hit based on your training, and a stretch goal if the endorphins from the race propel you to go faster!”
Featherstun agrees, noting she’s had clients achieve personal records (PR) traveling to other countries for their races while others that have leaned into the experience more. Either way, both are excellent goals. But, you will want to think through a few other factors you may not have had to the extent that international travel will require you too.
If you’ve traveled from the west coast to east coast in the US, then it’s likely you’ve gotten a taste of jet lag before. However, international jet lag is a different beast. Not only will your circadian rhythm need time to adjust, but so will your appetite. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a few treatments to help aid the adjustment to the new time zone:
- Meal Times: Aim to have a smaller meal before your flight, with a few mid-air if you’ve got a long trek. When you land, try to stick with eating your meals during the time frame of the country. This will help train your body to the new time zone.
- Sleep: Similar to your eating schedule, try to follow the sleep-wake cycle of the locals.
- Caffeine: While not recommended long term (and especially before a race if you’re sensitive to caffeine and gastrointestinal issues), however this may be a quick fix when you land to provide a little boost if you land in the morning or mid-day.
- Melatonin: Research appears to be mixed on the inclusion of melatonin to help with jet lag, however short-term use appears to have very little side effects in healthy individuals. Consider a dose of .5 to 5 mg (the latter is more likely to provide benefit) to assist with time zone adjustment. Just do not try this for the first time the night before your race! Instead, try a smaller dose while still at home a few weeks before you leave before bed to see how your body responds.
Read more: Caffeine and Endurance
This isn’t brand new information for runners, but when you have to board a flight to get to your race, it becomes an even bigger concern. According to a 2020 research study published in Nutrients, airplane cabins are controlled environments with much lower humidity than normal air. Considering this factor, flying can impact your fluid and hydration levels, potentially leaving you dehydrated after your flight.
Hence why it’s very important to travel smart and hydrate before, during, and after your flight. Consider packing an extra electrolyte container in your carry on. This is convenient and will allow you to easily pop a tablet into your water bottle every few hours with the passed water the attendants will offer you.
Make the Most of the Travel Experience
Depending on the distance you’re traveling, you’ll likely want to give yourself at least 48 hours before you race to settle in. If you can swing a full week away, then do it! That way you will have time to acclimate before the race and plenty of time to enjoy the culinary scene and soak in the beauty of the country when you finish.
While you will probably experience “runner’s high” alongside those natural endorphins that come with travel when you land, it’s likely you won’t want to stop into Tripadvisor’s top recommended restaurant the day or two before a race. Instead, Natker suggests saving that restaurant for post-race victory and considering opting outside another way. Holl recommends using these days to gently move your body, explore the race path, and visit an outdoor landmark that may be on your bucket list. It’s a low stress way to keep active and see the city. Bring hydration and fuel essentials wherever you decide to venture and schedule plenty of time to rest.
It’s possible to crush your international race while enjoying the experiences a new country offers. However, you must plan ahead, even more so than you would for a race in your home country. Do your homework, pack smart, and most importantly, focus on fueling your race and managing your total wellness, including sleep and hydration. Before you know it, you’ll be flying back home with a medal, photos, and most importantly, memories that’ll be with you for a lifetime!