There is certainly no shortage of races locally these days, but racing on the same roads I normally train on can get quite dull after a while. That’s why I’m doing a destination race or two this year — the Phuket Marathon on June 5, and Challenge Vietnam on September 11.
There’s an element of adventure when racing away from home. New athletes may choose a destination race as their first taste of the sport to help motivate themselves to train, while more experienced athletes may be looking for a different challenge or have dreamt of finishing a race that’s on their bucket list. (My ultimate bucket list marathon is the New York City Marathon, but I’ll save that for next year…)
Going to a destination race is different from racing locally. You can’t just drive from home to the venue on race morning, for one thing. A lot of thought should go into not only the logistics of how to get there and where to stay and eat, but also how to prepare yourself properly to race on unfamiliar soil.
Here’s how to plan your destination race.
How to Plan Your Destination Race
Determine how far you’re willing to travel and how much you’re willing to spend.
If you’re the kind who gets antsy on airplanes or fidgety on long road trips, then that should impact your decision about which race to target. But if you believe that race is worth it, then go for it. Maybe take a sedative and sleep through most of the travel. *wink*
Budget is really the limit when it comes to destination races. If there’s a race you’re dying to do even if it’s on the other side of the world, you would pinch pennies and save for however long it would take.
It’s just like going to a holiday destination, except there’s a bit more exertion involved than just lifting mai tais to your lips. And don’t waste the travel by heading immediately home after the race; if you can spare a day or so post-race to take in some sights and culture, I highly recommend it.
day trip to Phang Nga Bay via Two Sea Tour
For the Phuket Marathon, I’m taking my parents with me (and hopefully my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew) and my dad doesn’t have a great tolerance for being inside a plane longer than four hours. Phuket is an easy three-and-a-half-hour direct flight with Cebu Pacific on Friday evening. Then I have a choice of flying back home late on Monday evening on a direct flight or flying via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur on other days of the week. I’ve also been back and forth several times in the last three years so I have a very good idea of how much I will end up spending.
For Challenge Vietnam, I’ll be traveling by myself (or hopefully some more Pinoy athletes will join me!). I’ve done my research and flights via Vietnam Airlines connecting through Ho Chi Minh City seem to be the best; although there are cheaper flights via China Southern, the long layovers are less than ideal.
Research the requirements involved in traveling to that destination.
Most race websites will give you a rough idea of how to fly or drive into the venue city and may have partner hotels and airlines with preferential rates. The more thorough organizers will provide full travel packages at set prices. There are also third-party travel agencies that provide these services along with guaranteed entry to the race.
Sometimes these packages and deals can end up being more expensive than if you make the arrangements yourself. Scout the hotels within a one- or two-kilometer radius of the race’s start or finish on Google Maps and browse for deals on Agoda or Booking.com. For added thoroughness, check out their TripAdvisor reviews before booking.
Use a Google search to find out which airlines fly to the race city. Then you can see how much you could save by flying on budget airlines those versus full-service carriers. If you’re flying with a bike (when racing a triathlon), check the fine print on the airline’s baggage policy before purchasing the tickets to avoid any nasty hidden charges at check-in.
Take note: it isn’t enough just to find out how much plane fares, hotels, and transfers will cost. Some destinations may also require jumping through visa hoops, so make sure you can get everything sorted before you fly out.
As citizens of an ASEAN member country, my family and I will get 30-day visa-free entry to Thailand as tourists. Vietnam will allow me to stay as a tourist for 21 days. Easy! I’ve also reserved my hotel bookings using Agoda’s Book Now, Pay Later and Free Cancellation arrangement. This way, if I need to cancel the trip given enough lead time, I can do so at no financial cost.
Decide on the race before registration opens.
At the beginning of the year, employees receive a certain number of paid leave days which they need to schedule in advance. Notice how most new international races are announced in December and January? They want to be top of mind when you start thinking about when to take your leaves.
Once registration opens, many a sought-after destination race sells out quickly. The most popular marathons in the world like New York, Tokyo, and Chicago run lotteries instead to allocate slots to their races. Our very own Ironman 70.3 Philippines is one of the fastest-selling triathlons in the Asia-Pacific region.
So, once you’ve decided on the race you want to do, put yourself in position to pounce on a slot. Subscribe to the organizer’s email updates. Follow them on social media. Camp out on the registration page and keep refreshing if you need to, because before you know it, the next chance to do the race could be next year.
Train properly for the race.
Because you’re going to all the effort and expense of racing somewhere different and distant, you should get your money’s worth by preparing yourself properly. You want to cross the finish line strong and personally triumphant, not injured and at risk for DNF.
Take a look at the course profile and prepare accordingly. If it’s a flat course it will recruit the same muscles over and over again so you need to train for that. If it’s a rolling course you need to build strength to maintain your speed over the varying terrain. If it’s a hilly or mountainous course, then hit the inclines!
If the destination race is held somewhere with a climate or elevation that’s very different from your home country, you should find every opportunity to simulate race conditions while in training. This is where heat or altitude training comes in.
Don’t leave training ‘til crunch time; it’s important to build your fitness gradually so you can avoid illness and injury from doing too much too fast. There are a number of websites that provide marathon or triathlon training plans lasting several months (most will range from 12 to 16 weeks). You can also retain a coach who can customize the training to suit your unique needs, abilities, and goals.
From previous experience, I’m expecting the Phuket Marathon to be warmer and more humid than the Philippines. I will definitely put in the heat training hours during our own summer from March to May. Challenge Vietnam will be held on the pancake-flat roads of Nha Trang in September, typically a rainy month for Vietnam but because of its latitude it will still be quite warm and not much different from the weather in the Philippines.
It’s better with company.
Some of us may be lone wolves in our chosen sport, training and racing by ourselves. But having friends training for the same race really helps when motivation flags, and knowing there’s someone you know out there on the course who will have your back when things go wrong does wonders for peace of mind.
Traveling in a group can also cut costs per head particularly when it comes to hotel rooms and transport fares. As an added bonus, if you’ve got spectators in your group you effectively bring your own cheering squad. And it’s a lot of fun sightseeing after the race!
There are so many well-run races in breathtaking destinations around the world. This year, don’t miss out. Let your feet take you places… literally!