Although I did my first triathlon in a village that’s still in Metro Manila, almost all my other triathlons I’ve had to drive long distances or fly to. While that’s mostly a function of not having any viable open water swims in Manila (who wants to swim in polluted Manila Bay?!), part of the allure of a triathlon is tackling the swim, bike, and run in an exotic destination race.
I think it’s also the same with marathons; once you’ve done some of the big ones in the Philippines, you start to think about going the distance, but elsewhere in the world. It’s an addictive combo: doing the tourist bit while indulging in your sporting passion.
International races are a bit trickier than if you’re racing just somewhere else in this beautiful country of ours. You’re in unfamiliar environs and the people don’t speak your native language, the currency is different, and the food foreign (naturally!). But I’d like to offer some tips from my own experience the past year to help you enjoy the race you’ve traveled so far to do.
1. Sign up for an iconic race. I like scanning my Facebook news feed and seeing all the races my friends have either signed up for or have just come back from. It’s from their experiences and hype that I get an idea of what races to put on my bucket list. When I sign up for a destination race it’s because that race has a rich history, or it’s in a unique setting.
2. Train specifically for it. If a race is flat and windy, find some headwinds. If it’s hilly, do hill repeats. You may not be able to train on the course itself (travel cost may be prohibitive) but if you can duplicate the course conditions, the less worried and more confident you will be about race day.
3. Stay close to the action. Check out your options for accommodation and transport; if you have to travel more than 30 minutes to get to race central, consider getting a place closer and you may even be able to walk or bike it. Homestays and apartments (like those on AirBnB) are great alternatives to hotels if you don’t need full service.
4. Go for an easy run upon arrival, or the morning after. This helps flush the travel stress from your body and can invigorate you, especially after really long flights. It’s also a great way to explore and take in the sights without having competition on your mind. If anything, it can make you more comfortable and at-home because it makes a strange place more familiar.
5. Make new friends and strengthen old friendships. With each of my destination races I’ve managed somehow to build in opportunities to mingle with other athletes at pre-race clinics, or I’ve traveled with acquaintances and parted as really good friends. You may be a solitary racer but seeing friends on the course can really give you a boost.
6. Race well and don’t give up! Barring serious injury, illness, or mechanical failure, nothing should stop you from toeing the start line and crossing the finish line. You’ve trained hard and traveled so far to be there, so don’t waste the opportunity for experience! At the very least it can give you war stories to trade with fellow athlete friends. You rarely talk about how good a race you’ve had; it’s always the stories about pulling through the tough times that keep getting retold. And in not giving up you prove to yourself what you’re made of.
7. Stay for the party. Don’t let the champions have all the fun spraying champagne over each other. ;) Whether it’s the official post-race party you buy tickets to or just a pig-out session with some friends, have some fun after the race.
I like post-race parties because I get a chance to meet the pros who have graced the race. These people are superhuman in comparison to myself and I always take inspiration from their feats. They embody human potential fully realized and legitimize the sport.
8. Don’t forget to be a tourist. Make some time for a tour after the race. There’s no shame in showing your excitement and wonder when you go some place you’ve never been. Take photos (selfie sticks are amazing for solo and group travelers alike) and bring home memories. Buy souvenirs, taste strange food, wander a bit… Honestly this is something I don’t do enough of; I fly out so soon after every race because I have to be back at work. But travel enriches you and gives you a wider perspective about this world we live in, and it’s valuable in your development as a person.
I’m already planning and saving up for my races next year. Have you ever done a destination race, or do you plan on doing one soon? Let me know in the comments!