How to Prepare for an International Destination Marathon

destination marathon
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Destination marathons are becoming popular for fitness fanatics. No surprise there: Destination marathons can be a cool way to see the world and test your endurance on unfamiliar terrain in beautiful locations.

And there are plenty. Some of the more spectacular marathons around the globe offer beautiful scenery in mind-blowing locations:

  • The Kauai Marathon in Kauai, HI, which happens in early September
  • The Paris Marathon, a spring run through the City of Lights past iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, and the Notre-Dame Cathedral
  • The Hawke’s Bay International Marathon that winds through lush countryside and vineyards on the North Island of New Zealand
  • The Midnight Sun Marathon in May in Tromsø, Norway, during the time of the year when the sun doesn’t set
  • The Great Wall Marathon, which includes a stint of brutal climbing interspersed with trots though charming local villages
  • The Antarctic Ice Marathon, a once-in-a-lifetime run on the frigid geography inside the Antarctic Circle. (There’s even a 100k race for the truly masochistic.)

Travel-minded marathoners focus on joining the Seven Continent Club. (It’s also called the Official 7 Continents Marathon, Half-Marathon, & Ultra Club, depending on your affiliation.) The feat involves—you guessed it—running a marathon on each of the seven continents, include Antarctica. Usually, the Seven Continent Club hinges on seven big destination marathons: the iconic London Marathon, huge New York City Marathon, hectic Tokyo Marathon; down-under Sydney Marathon, and the historic Buenos Aires Marathon.

Another huge marathon goal for elite runners is conquering the six “world major” marathons: London, New York City, Tokyo, BostonChicago, and Berlin.

Preparing for a Destination Marathon

For some, just heading a few states over to run a marathon in the U.S. can be challenging and intimidating. Globe-trotting to a foreign land to pound out marathon miles? That’s a feat for the daring.

Some full-service tour guides, like Marathon Tours & Travel out of Boston, offer trips to over 40 events on all seven continents. They’ll set up everything for you and will handle any snafus or headaches that come your way while traveling. They can even help you get into some of the trickier races like the London, Tokyo, and Berlin marathons. (They will not, however, run the races for you.)

The key to transitioning to global marathon running is realizing that everything is going to be slightly out of whack.

“What people traveling to running events have to understand: they’re going to be eating different food, sleeping in a different bed, and they’re going to be affected by some jet lag, particularly when you go to a destination like New Zealand,” says Thom Gilligan, CEO and founder of Marathon Tours & Travel. “You also have to adjust your expectations for your finishing time accordingly.”

We got the top seven tips from Gilligan and Hal Higdon, author of Marathoning from A to Z and Run Fast, to make your destination marathon a success.

1. Carry Your Gear on With You

“Always, always pack your running gear in your carry-on,” says Gilligan. “And make sure you have a full day’s change of clothes in case your checked baggage is delayed 24 hours. You’d be surprised how many people don’t follow this and end up without their running gear for race time.”

Higdon agrees, saying you should be particularly sure to pack your racing shoes on your carry-on since you can replace clothing fairly easily compared to well-fitting shoes.

2. Manage Jet Lag

“When traveling afar,” says Higdon, “contemporary wisdom suggests that you need to arrive one day early for every time zone you cross.”

Gilligan says the effects of jet lag can vary dramatically from person to person. “Another rule of thumb is to leave one day of rest at the destination per hour of jet lag,” he says. “If you’re traveling to Europe for the London Marathon, from the East Coast you have a five-hour adjustment, which should be doable in about three days.”

But, says Higdon, if you’ve trained properly, that’s more important than any time-zone change. “A study at the University of Georgia suggested that runners, particularly elite runners, can adjust rapidly to time zone change,” he says. “So while it sounds sensible to arrive one day for every time zone ahead of the marathon, I don’t think that is practical for most marathoners. Arriving at least in time for a few days with more sleep time than tourist time should be sufficient to prepare for the race.”

3. Get a Massage

One way to conquer jet lag is to get a massage shortly after getting off the plane, says Higdon.

“When running an international race, I locate a massage therapist who could bring my body back to normal as soon as possible after landing,” he says. “You may need to search a bit to find such a massage therapist in, say, Finland or Australia, but it is easier than you might think thanks to the Internet.” Just Google “massage therapist” and your location, but be cautious so as not to wind up in the wrong hands. And when using a new masseuse, be very precise about instructions, says Higdon. “You do not want someone doing deep massage the day before the big race. If it hurts, react fast and tell the therapist to back off.”

4. Bring Special Food or Drinks

“If you rely on any type of special nutrition in your training or during your marathon, bring it with you,” says Gilligan. “Don’t expect to be able to get it when you travel overseas because there’s always variations. You may not get Gatorade in Germany, for example. They’ll have their own version of it, but when somebody’s used to training or running their events on a certain electrolyte replacement, their stomachs could react negatively to something different. You’ll usually be able to find variations, but you don’t want to be testing something new during a marathon.”

5. Make Copies of Your Passport

“Another very important thing that people should always do before heading out for a destination marathon [or any time overseas] is make a copy of their passport and put it in a separate part of their luggage just in case it gets stolen,” says Gilligan. “We’ve had lots of situations where people have had their pockets picked for wallets and cash and their passport got stolen.”

Copying your passport helps to expedite the process of retrieving it. You can also take a few photos of your passport with your smartphone.

6. Be Aware of Weather/Altitude

“Shifting climates or altitudes when you travel can cause discomfort and result in slower race times,” says Higdon. “When faced with a climate change, adjust your goals accordingly. Usually it is easier to run an unseasonably warm marathon in the fall than in the spring, because you will retain some of the heat resistance garnered training through a hot summer.”

Make sure to do your homework and look at the weather forecast, says Gilligan. Know what you’re up against—it’s always better to bring a little bit more than a little bit less.

7. Relax and Enjoy the Trip

Make time before and after the race to visit the area you’ve just run 26.2 miles through. Be an intelligent tourist, says Higdon. Plan ahead and study travel brochures and information online. “Arrive early enough to you can visit museums and participate in activities unique to the area,” he says. “It will enhance the experience both for you and those who accompany you.”