You’d be surprised how much an exotic locale will help motivate your marathon training and keep you focused on your goal. Plus, new and interesting surroundings make the race itself fly by, whether you’re cruising through New York City’s five boroughs or along the beaches of Barcelona. But having done nearly a half dozen myself, I’ve learned, often the hard way, that you can’t just wing it—running 26.2 miles in totally unknown territory takes some planning.
1. Decide between urban and outdoorsy
Destination marathons come in two flavors: those with beautiful natural landscapes, like Big Sur, on the California coast, or those with electric and eclectic urban vibes, like Chicago or Paris. Worry less about the course profile itself than about what sort of place will inspire you most.
2. Study all the Internet intel
Research the race’s challenges and idiosyncrasies by lurking on message boards and personal training journals. (I like letsrun.com for its great course primers.) Runners are an obsessive lot, so their extensive reviews detail everything from the quickest route to the start line to a wonky turn at mile 22. Find out about the race’s official sports drink—no matter what it is, it’s time to start getting used to drinking it.
3. Book a home instead of a hotel
Most official marathon guides recommend getting hotel rooms close to the start. Instead, scan Airbnb and VRBO for a nearby rental. It might not be around the corner, but it will have more space and amenities—specifically a full kitchen so you can stick with home cooking. Plus, you can search for a place with a tub for ice-bath recovery. (Don’t forget to grab a few bags of ice and throw them in the freezer when you arrive.)
4. Relax, revel, recover—in that order
A long weekend is plenty of time to squeeze in a marathon, but you need to organize your time well (and the more time zones you’re crossing, the more time you need before the event). In the days leading up to the race, you should simply enjoy yourself, perhaps sneaking in just one short, easy run the day before. The day of the race (after you’ve run, obviously) is the perfect time to try out every microbrew and local food truck you can find. And take a day off after the race, which is when your body will want—or need—to do absolutely nothing, then fly home. If your flight will be longer than about eight hours, consider adding an extra day on top of that.
5. Match prerace meals to your home routine
Repeat after me: Nothing new on race day. Been doing your training runs on oatmeal and coffee? Bring them. And it’s OK to eat out, but stick to your favorite carbs: You a pasta guy, or more of a rice-and-beans dude? Find the best damn Italian or Tex-Mex joint in town. Just steer clear of heavy, high-fat foods
6. Recover right
You’ll want to pack in as much sightseeing as possible after the race, so you’ll need to bounce back fast. Immediately after running, hit up the massage tent at the finish line, then head to your rental for a 15-to 20-minute ice bath to reduce inflammation and flush lactic acid. Finally, put on compression tights (to boost circulation and oxygenate sore muscles), and get some extra protein. Hard exercise like lifting—or running a marathon— tears muscle; protein is what then speeds up the muscle repair.