Personal Record: Race Travel

By March 29, 2011April 11th, 2014Running Times Magazine

By Rachel Toor

As featured in the March 2011 issue of Running Times Magazine

Me, I like to go. Offer me a trip to Iowa and I’ll take back every mean thing I’ve ever said about the Midwest. Ask me to come along on an expedition to Antarctica and I’ll forget that I suffer when cold and say, Hell yeah.

Recently a friend who used to run told me that he was interested in training for a marathon, that he wanted something “picturesque,” like somewhere in Italy, and wanted his (non-running) wife to join him on the trip and during the race.

I got this message a couple of days after I had flown 24 hours to run, 36 hours later, a marathon. It occurred to me that traveling to do races may not always be the best idea, especially for people who aren’t experienced marathoners. I told him to do a local one and then take a vacation in Italy.

How much better it is to sleep in your own bed before and after a race, to eat your normal foods, to not worry about getting blood clots on long plane trips. To be able to find bathrooms to deal with the inevitable effects of effective hydration. To feel like you’re not missing anything if all you want to do before the race is lie in bed and worry and all you want to do after is lie in bed and whine. To know that months of training may pay off in a PR or Boston qualifier.

Everyone knows it’s not a good idea to spend time before a long race walking around sightseeing. And in the days after, you may not want to yelp “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” down every one of the Spanish Steps or drag your burning calves up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.

Traveling to do a marathon, especially internationally, is just kind of dumb.

Why then, is it so appealing?

Why is it that whenever I plan to travel anywhere, before I make hotel or plane reservations, I poke around to see if there are any races? Marathons are the best, especially if they’re on trails, but gnarly, nasty ultras that will surely leave me bloody and bruised are good too. Even shorter distances, if they’re boutique-y and unusual, will suffice.

There’s something in me that says that if I’m going to travel, I should race.

This is, I know, nutty.

What’s nuttier is to time trips to friends or family around races. If I want to visit my brother in West Virginia, why wouldn’t I pick dates to coincide with the Charleston Distance Run or the Rattlesnake 50K? If I want to see friends in Durham, why not go when I can also do the Uwharrie 20-mile trail run or the Umstead Trail Marathon? I mean, I still want to see the people. But I also — and I can’t help this — want to do the races.

Perhaps for me it’s a way of feeling at home. I love nothing more than the time before the gun goes off, milling around with other runners, making conversation in the porta-potty lines, talking about the course. It feels familiar. It feels good. These are my people, I think, as I look around at faces I’ve never seen but still I recognize as friends.

Maybe it’s because I like to pile things on. Why just go on a business trip when it can be a business trip and a marathon? Home for the holidays — and an ultra. I like to stack up diverse chores, to move from one world to another.

Hooking up with a local running group can be great. I ran with the Hua Hin Hash House Harriers when I was in Thailand and got to see a part of the country — and, ahem, experience aspects of the expat culture — I would never have known about. I’ve run with the Serpentine runners through the parks of London. It’s all good. But not quite as good as a race.

Except, maybe, when traveling with others. Then marathoning can be a drag. Non-runners will want to visit crumbling European cathedrals, take their shoes off to walk through Asian wats, try weird, exotic fruits and indulge in heavy, spicy feasts without worrying about the consequences on race day. If you’ve traveled to a region known for its wines, you will want to imbibe. Certainly, the people with you will want to.

I understand all of this, and try to keep it in mind when I make my plans. But for me, though I know it doesn’t really make sense, there’s nothing like traveling and doing a race. It may not make for speedy times or easy recoveries, but it does something else. It brings passion to my journeys. And there’s no better souvenir than one you have earned by running 26.2 miles.