The scenario is a common one: You commit to a destination race in some faraway locale that involves a plane ride or a road trip, but when the time comes, you’re either too stressed about the upcoming race to relax or you’re too tired after the race to do much.
In other words, destination races can be a great way to experience new places and get some competition in. But, when, exactly, is the best time to sightsee? Before your race, when you’re trying to save energy for race day or after your race when — depending on your mileage — you are supposed to be prioritizing recovery?
Unfortunately there is no cut-and-dry answer to timing your vacation. We spoke with some experts to find out what makes logistical (and physical) sense for a pre- or post-race vacation.
WHY RUN A DESTINATION RACE
Runners are known to devote most of their recreational time (and even some of their social time) to the sport, so it can be hard to set aside time for other things such as travel; why not combine the two? If your family is itching to head to Disney World, get in your mileage by running one of the runDisney races. If you have a friend who lives overseas who you’ve been hoping to visit, check out their local running scene and sign up for a race. Of course, solo travel is also encouraged.
Carefully consider what you want out of the experience. First, decide if the race is the crucial factor or simply the excuse for the trip. Then figure out whether you want a more leisurely trip or something that is highly interactive. Finally, how will you keep your legs fresh?
Take both your fitness level and race goals into consideration; if you are planning on racing hard, you may decide to opt out of any sightseeing the day before and after the race to make that event the priority.
WHEN TO DO A PRE-RACE VACATION
Taking vacation prior to a race allows your body time to acclimate to a major time change or climate change as well as difficult travel. “In some of our more exotic destinations such as Madagascar and Kenya, the race is toward the end of the race package tour because of the logistics of getting there. We definitely account for race day and make sure the day before is low key with ample time to rest. In these cases, we still offer a sightseeing extension after the race and get around 50% participation,” says Jeff Adams, president of Marathon Tours and Travel.
If you choose to go with a tour, Elizabeth Corkum, a personal trainer and running coach at Mile High Run Club, says choosing a group that specializes in travel specifically with runners in mind is key. They know to keep your pre-race routines in mind and will often make sure the day before your race is low-key.
WHEN TO DO A POST-RACE VACATION
When it’s a major race that’s stressing you out or you haven’t had to travel far, doing the race first might be best. “The best time for a runner to sightsee is post-race so that they can relax and enjoy their time without the anxiety of a race ahead; some also worry about exerting themselves too much or not having the right nutrition beforehand,” adds Adams.
A lot of your planning surrounding sightseeing depends on the race and how much walking you normally do outside of your weekly running routine. For example, Corkum walks an average of 3–6 miles a day in the city (even on her hardest training days), so walking around before a race wouldn’t be a huge adjustment for her body, however, if you’re not used to walking a lot, it could leave your legs tired.
Often, exercise after a race is incredibly helpful in how you’ll feel and recover, though there may be soreness and stiffness in the process. “I’d recommend you sightsee on your own, so that you can go at your own pace,” Corkum encourages. “If you feel more comfortable with a group, choose a tour that will move at a leisurely pace. Stretch and rest breaks may or may not feel necessary. ”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sightseeing can intertwine with a big goal race seamlessly. The key is to stick to your pre- and post-race routines to make sure your body gets what it needs in the window surrounding the race.
“When in doubt, focus on race preparation, even when you’re excited to explore,” encourages Corkum. “Remember to hydrate and carb load while traveling, especially with flights and time changes. It’s easy to abandon race prep mode when in a new place. Just keep the pre-race process in check. Don’t eat anything new to you before race day; save the fun food and drink for after. Get sleep.”
Don’t let the logistics keep you back from a destination race and don’t be afraid to sit out of some sightseeing if you need to. Just the experience alone will change you. “[Meeting] international and local runners,” continues Adams. “The sport of running brings all nationalities together regardless of your race, your culture, your background. Travel experiences make you richer.”