I recently did the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, and whilst I’ve done many, many races in my running time so far, it was my first race in another country. It’s not that different in all honesty, but obviously you are a lot further away from home and your race prep needs to be a little more detailed. Here are four things that are pretty important when planning a race abroad.
#1 Luggage Allowances
This will of course vary depending on where you are going, the method of transport you are using, and also the duration of the stay. Running gear is pretty basic really, and as long as you’ve packed your trainers and at least one running outfit, you’re good to go. Write a list of everything you need. Pack everything. Unpack. Pack it again. Double check everything. I’d say it’s better to over pack (within luggage limits) and not use something than getting there and wishing you’d packed it.
If flying, are you travelling with checked luggage or hand luggage only? Hand luggage is limited for space, but also for the liquids that you can take on too. However it does mean you’ve got a lighter bag, and you don’t have to wait around when you get off the plane. When I went to Disneyland we were there from Friday-Monday so we took just a carry-on suitcase each. It was enough for us to get by on for those few days.
If travelling by train you’ve got more lenience with the actual items in your luggage, but size will still be an issue. You either want to be able to fit it on the overhead storage, or hope that you’ve been seated near the luggage rack and that it actually has space.
Also to note, with trains I find you definitely have to do a lot more walking about, and you don’t want to be lugging a big old case around everywhere.
Going by car gives you so many more options when it comes to the things you take with you, but obviously your destination is a lot more limited. From the UK, there are a few different European destinations that you can drive to – longest journey I’ve been on was a coach trip to Venice that took 27 hours!
If driving, the size of the bag isn’t really an issue when you’ve got a car that you can also fill. Obviously you don’t want to be going overboard here, but I guess you just get a lot more freedom.
#2 The Weather
Is it completely different to conditions that you are used to? Is the weather unreliable? Are you prepared for all weather conditions just in case?
Being from England, I’m very used to seeing all four seasons within the same day. Even then, it doesn’t really get to the extremes so, for me, even an easy couple of miles in Cyprus this summer felt tough. And that’s because I’m just not used to running in 30+ degree weather.
My race kit for France included my intended shorts and fancy dress outfit, but also included spare leggings and a top in case of really low temperatures as well as sun cream in case it was really hot. When we arrived on Friday it was rainy, but not too cold. Saturday gave us a mostly sunny day with a little drizzle late afternoon/evening. On the Sunday we were treated to a very warm but drizzly run. No sunshine, but muggy enough that I was so glad I stuck to my shorts. That afternoon we had a torrential downpour whilst waiting in Studios for Woody… You just can’t guarantee the weather.
Be prepared for the whatever the local climate is like. Research beforehand, maybe search for race recaps from those who have done it previously. You know your own body and how you deal with different temperatures on a regular basis. My next race will be a 10k in Limassol, Cyprus and I chose to do the 10k distance because it would be my first time running it a hotter climate than what I’m used to. Most important thing is just to be sensible.
#3 Medical certificate / Documentation
Not needed for every race in other countries, but something to make sure about before you go. The half marathon at Disneyland Paris required a medical certificate signed by a doctor and translated into French. And frustratingly, not all doctors will easily give this to you.
The first doctor I saw straight up refused. No explanations from him or allowing me to get across what the actual certificate was for. Now I went back to that same practice a month or so later and asked at reception. They booked me an appointment with a different doctor. This one took a quick look at it, asked if I was healthy and signed it right away. Some will want to do a bit of a medical, some will charge you, some won’t. It’s just luck of the draw really.
The certificate lasts a year from when it was issued to you, so I’d say get it down sooner rather than later. No one wants a last minute dash trying to get a doctors signature. Have a look at the race regulations for overseas entrants to see what exactly you need to take.
#4 Eating Arrangements
If you’re away and staying at a hotel, odds are your breakfast options are slightly different to what you would usually eat on race day.
Likewise for dinner the night before.
If you have a fully set routine, it’s probably best to take your own foods. Breakfast being the easier one to manage. I wanted to take over some porridge – completely forgot to buy any. Remember what I said about packing and unpacking? Yeah, that’s why.
For dinner I would do a little research beforehand to see what’s in the area. You definitely don’t want to be trying anything new the night before! My pre-race dinner is spaghetti 90% of the time. It’s easy, filling and it just feels like a necessity now, you know? My own pre-race routine.
For my last half I was lucky in that Planet Hollywood in the Disney Village have a huge portion of vegetarian spaghetti that I could dig into. Certainly made me feel much better about the day ahead.
Now this also includes any race fuel that you use. I always take a few gels with me when I do a half marathon. I don’t always use them all, but they’re there just in case. Your race might offer gels/food on the way round, but if you haven’t trained on them then it’s probably not the best idea to chance it.
The gels I took to Paris had to go into my liquids bag too – something else to think about when you are packing. I took plenty of snack bars/dried fruit packs with me to snack on throughout the days, and I also took a water bottle that I could fill up once there.
Choosing Your Next Race Abroad
And then all that’s left is to go run your race abroad. The way I look at it is that you can travel to new places, see new things and do something that you enjoy whilst there as part of the experience. Running abroad is something I am definitely looking to do a lot more of! I think once you’ve done one, it’s like getting that running bug all over again.