When we choose a goal race, we are often preoccupied with the deliberation leading up to the final clicks on the screen. When the rush of the final commitment wears off, we are left with the training to be done – which of course is where we come in!
Certainly, the start of your program is the most important thing. However, it also makes sense to begin planning travel as soon as possible, to ensure your race weekend experience is all that you hoped for. Here are a few tips to optimize your goal race travel.
Read the race participant info early...and often
Most big races require number pick-up at a participant expo the day or two before the event. Some races may also have a fairly complicated process set up for start area arrival and finish line departure. Race directors know thousands of people need to get in and out and have thought through how best to get everyone where they need to be.
Before you set up any travel plans, make sure that you have a good sense of the logistical tasks required of you by the race. The flight that arrives at 5pm may be the least expensive, but you may be out of luck if the expo closes at 6 and your flight is delayed. Even if you are local, securing a ride or a forming a carpool to the start and away from the finish can make the difference between a successful day and one that turns south when you are rushed and hurried, or forced to stay outside in the cold while waiting for a ride.
Even if you review race day details upon initial registration, it makes sense to return periodically to ensure you have not missed any updates. If the race’s plans have been forced to change by unanticipated construction, a different level of participation than originally expected, or any other reason, you will want to make sure you have plenty of time to make your own adjustments.
Check out the race-sponsored travel options, but don’t limit yourself to those.
Many races partner with local hotels and even some airlines to provide options for participants. These may very well offer the best prices for places to stay within walking distance to the start or finish. As such, they should be checked first as they often sell out early. Before you act on a pre-pay option, however, consider hotel reservations with a closer cancellation date in case of injury or change of plans. Also consider other ways to stay in favorable locations relative to the race. If you are early enough, travel websites that offer flight / hotel options in combination may provide value as those negotiated prices might have been made before the race blocks were established. Vacation rental sites like vrbo.com or airbnb.com may offer houses or condos for rent at reasonable rates, particularly if you bring the family along for the big day. Finally, never underestimate the power of a call directly to an onsite reservations agent or even the front desk of a small hotel.
Consider your regular pre-race routine and sketch a travel scenario that will allow for as much familiarity as possible.
Do you prefer to eat dinner at a certain time? Do you try and head to bed at a certain time? Do you prefer a certain type of food in the evening or morning before the race? Take these preferences into account when you make your initial travel plans. How long might it take to get to and from the expo? Where will you likely eat and how close is it from your hotel? If you want coffee in the morning, where will you get it and are they open at that hour?
For these reasons and others, it often makes sense to arrive two days before your race so you have a day to take care of whatever you need to do without being rushed for time. Similarly, if time and finances allow, you may be well served to depart the day after your race instead of that same afternoon. You never know quite how you will feel or how long it might take to exit the finish area, and no one should be rushed after a terrific race effort.
If you need to make a choice between staying near the start or the finish of a marathon, by all means, stay by the finish.
Unless the start of your race is extremely early or in an obscure location, definitely err on the side of staying by the finish. You can always get up 10 or 15 minutes earlier to get to the start with all your energy intact, but anyone who finishes a marathon will be glad that a hotel room is close by. Very glad.
If planning a general vacation in concert with a goal race, plan to race at the start of the trip whenever possible.
Many people combine travel to a new destination with an opportunity to complete an exciting goal race. If you do so, consider how much more you will be able to enjoy your surroundings without the concerns of a race over your head during the “fun” part of the trip. You’ll want the freedom to walk without worry of fatigue in your legs, the freedom to eat adventurously and the flexibility to have a schedule that doesn’t demand eight hours of sleep. Yes, distant travel may require a couple days to adjust to a new time zone before the race. However, it is always best to celebrate the completion of your goal with the bulk of your vacation after the race.