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Running races internationally

Posted November 7

Nothing about running a marathon is easy. Add to that the stress of traveling across time zones and the challenges are doubled. That said, there’s no better way to experience a city than to run through it elbow-to-elbow with thousands of locals. I’ve run through all five boroughs of New York City, through the ghost of the Berlin Wall, and most recently, past the bucolic countryside in Amsterdam complete with windmills. If you’re planning on running an international marathon or even one just a few time zones away, here are a few tips to make your trip, if not your race, a little easier.

  • Pack for various weather situations. We Utahns know weather can turn on a dime. No big deal if home is just a few minutes away. When traveling, pack a couple race day outfits for various weather scenarios. It doesn’t add much weight to your luggage. You can always buy forgotten items at expos, but often prices are far higher than you would pay at home. Save that money for souvenirs.
  • Consider a fuel belt, even if you don’t usually run with one, to carry your fuel. Amsterdam’s energy drink of choice was Isostar. Never heard of it? Me neither. I still don’t know what it tastes like. Never try anything new on race day, especially fuel.
  • No belt? Practice using the marathon's fuel. The beauty of the internet is access to anything and everything. Want the full marathon experience including its version of Gatorade? Order some product online and use it while training so your body can get used to it.
  • Take an inexpensive gym bag to use as a drop bag. Many international races allow you to use your bags as drop bags. The advantage is the ease of finding your bag at the end. Stuff it with dry postrace clothes, a bottle of water and some extra food. It wouldn’t hurt to have the phone number of a cab company and your hotel’s address as well.
  • Run with cash. Use it for a cab postrace or food. Berlin and Amsterdam offered a variety of food trucks with delicious options.
  • Practice getting to and from the race. I’m used to Utah’s street grid system. Going overseas is like sticking me in a snow globe, shaking it up and letting me loose. I never seem to get my bearings. Even if you are not navigationally challenged, it’s a good idea to do a dry run getting to the start line and coming back from the finish line. Have alternate routes planned in case Plan A doesn’t work. Not even our hotel concierge was aware that the trams in Amsterdam wouldn’t be running by our hotel. I found myself scrambling for a cab at the last minute. Post race was another challenge. My roommates walked all the way back to the hotel after their half-marathon. After running 13.1 miles, they walked an additional 5 miles.
  • Give yourself enough time to acclimate to the time change. I struggle with daylight saving time. You can imagine how challenging and eight-hour time shift can be. With that in mind, we arrived in Amsterdam on Friday morning and by Sunday race day, we were ready to go.
  • Familiarize yourself to your surroundings. Berlin and Amsterdam offered an easy run through the city the day before the race. They were free, informative and helped center me in the city. This was extra beneficial when trying to get home postrace.
  • Set your watch to your destination’s time zone as soon as you board the plane and act accordingly. Once I arrived at Salt Lake International Airport, I tried to live my life on Holland’s local time and stuck to my daily routine as much as possible, including exercising in the morning, eating at regular times and sleeping when the clocks in Amsterdam said it was bedtime. Getting into a regular routine as quickly as possible is the best way to beat jet lag.
Time zones and energy drinks may be different. Language may create a small barrier, but running is universal. No matter what continent or country you’re in, mile 18 is always a struggle. Porta Potties are familiar friends. “Eye of the Tiger” is a song staple (in Amsterdam we heard it three times along the course). Follow these tips, pack your bags and find your adventure.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner.

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