Our Best Advice for Running a Race Abroad

Our Best Advice for Running a Race Abroad

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I recently returned from running the BMW Berlin Marathon, my first 26.2 outside of the United States, and was happy I had done my homework: I researched every detail down to the ingredients in the race's Gatorade equivalent. Sure, I was being overly type-A, but it helped my race day go off without a hitch.

Once I was home, I got to thinking: More than 20,000 international runners will soon arrive in NYC to take on the TCS New York City Marathon. There’s probably one or two who could benefit from some advice on how to run a marathon in a new city. Whether you're traveling to New York in November or you're stateside and have set your sights on an Abbott World Marathon Majors race in London, Tokyo, or Berlin, use these tips to fine-tune your experience abroad. 

BEFORE YOUR TRIP

Book your travel so that you arrive several days in advance. How hard you’re hit by jet lag will depend on the direction of travel as well as how many time zones you cross. Your body will feel it more traveling east (New York to London, for example) than west (London to New York), according to research published in the European Journal of Sport Science. The same research suggests that it can take one day per time zone crossed for your body to feel fully adjusted—keep this in mind when purchasing your plane tix.

Treat yourself to extra leg room. I went for the lowest-price economy seat on my flight from New York to Berlin and was crammed into a four-person row, sleeping passengers on both sides of me—not ideal conditions when you’re traveling to a race. I made a mental note: Next time, spring for extra leg room or reserve an aisle seat.

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Adjust your daily routine. “One of the best ways to combat jet lag is to try and get on the race location’s time zone as quickly as realistically possible,” says Roberto Mandje, an Olympic distance runner and manager of runner training, education, and products at New York Road Runners. “If the time difference is six hours or less, then this might just mean going to bed a bit earlier than you normally do or adjusting your training times in the last week or two in order to better match your upcoming race start time.”

Pack your race-day essentials in your carry-on. Just in case your luggage gets lost, keep running shoes, orthotics, knee braces, your favorite sports bra—anything you know that you can’t easily replace while abroad—in a bag you’ll have with you at all times.

Get an offline map app. Use an app like HERE WeGo or Ulmon CityMaps2Go to download offline maps and you’ll be able to find your way around even when you don’t have cell service or data to use. Mark the location of the race expo and any sights you want to see while you’re in town.

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DURING YOUR FLIGHT

Start living like a local. Once you’re on the plane, set your watch to the local time at your destination and do your best to eat and sleep accordingly. If it’s nighttime there, try to get some sleep. If it’s not, attempt to keep yourself awake instead.

Move around the aircraft. Every two hours, stretch in your seat and take a quick walk around the plane to prevent stiffness and increase blood flow. “Compression socks or sleeves are also a great tool on long flights,” says Mandje. “They’ll help alleviate deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and coupled with the walks up and down the aisles, you’ll feel fresher when you land and exit the plane.”

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. The dry air dehydrates you, so drink extra H2O on board and once you land—even if you don’t feel super thirsty. While it’s tempting to take an airline up on its complimentary wine or beer—“It’ll help me sleep!”—or coffee toward the end of your flight—“I need energy to make it to my Airbnb without collapsing!”—caffeine and alcohol can also contribute to dehydration.

WHEN YOU ARRIVE

Stick to what’s on your training plan. “Run just as much as you would in your normal taper if you were to race in your home time zone,” says Mandje. “The difference here is that you may want to add in some light walks to keep yourself awake until a better local bed time arrives.”

Hold off on adventurous eating—for now. “Don’t do anything drastically different than what you rehearsed in your build-up toward the race,” warns Mandje. “If possible, eat and fuel with food that you can find anywhere, like pasta, rice, and other grains. If your dietary needs are tougher to duplicate outside of your home country, consider packing your must-have food essentials (while being mindful of TSA regulations) and bringing them with you. Or find restaurants that cater to your particular dietary or cultural needs.”

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Buy a MetroCard—or your destination city’s equivalent. Single-ride subway fare in New York City is $3.00 each way, but if you purchase a MetroCard, that fare drops to $2.75 each way.

Get to know the grid. Lost in the Big Apple? Remember: In Manhattan, streets go up in number as you head north; avenues go up in number as you head west. Below 1st Street, that logic falls apart a little, so use that offline map. Wherever you’re headed, research the basics, like neighborhood names and safe versus unsafe areas.  

ON RACE DAY

Don’t try anything new. We know you’ve heard it before, but if you haven’t trained with it before, whether we’re talking fluids, foods, gear, or shoes, then don’t let race day be your time to experiment. If you’re bringing your own gels, remember that they count toward the quart-size bag of liquids allowed in your carry-on.

Leave the earbuds at home. If you can run without music, do it. Or save your tunes for emergency situations, like when you need a boost at mile 20. There’s nothing quite like people cheering for you in a language that’s not your own.

Look up! Don’t get so focused on your finish time that you forget to take in all that surrounds you. I ran the Berlin Marathon in the rain and had wet socks and blisters by the 20K mark. Still, I’m smiling like an idiot in every photo because I couldn’t have been more excited to be running a marathon in my new favorite city.  

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