I’m starting to feel like it’s almost time for another triathlon in my life. Believe it or not an olympic distance requires a racecation from Halifax as a home base, at least for a night or two. If it’s a half iron I’m after it’s all the way to Quebec at a minimum.
For many looking down the line at this time last year planning to travel, for a race or not, was just too risky. That group included me. But looking at 2023 I think it’s back on the table. So what elements go into the perfect racecation?
There isn’t a perfect time to arrive in your location before your race but rather a series of guidelines. I would recommend arriving at least the day before in all cases at a minimum. Ideally, you want to arrive earlier in the day as races notoriously start very early in the morning. If you plan on arriving at your location very late at night the day before even the slightest travel delay will put your morning race in jeopardy.
How long you should actually arrive in town before your race depends on how big a deal it is for you. If it’s no big deal at all, like a 5k is for me now, then the day before is fine.
If it’s a medium deal race, like a 10k or maybe a half would be for me at the moment, then you want to arrive at the very least early in the day before. For these sorts of races you might want to scope out the location beforehand but you will definitely want to have some time between the stress of traveling to unwind the day before to get in the race headspace.
For a really big deal race I would want to arrive at least 36 hours before start time. I would definitely want to check out the course, let my body de-puff from traveling and have a day devoted to preparation before I lined up. I would want to take that whole day before to make sure I had a plan to get to the start line the next morning ready to race.
If your race is in a place where you don’t speak the language or a vastly different time zone you want to extend these times. If you are planning a bigger vacation around your race then come early and race towards the end of your stay.
I get that arriving earlier is tough for the budget. If you are squeezing these times shorter then consider shelling out extra for direct flights or super convenient accommodation locations and transport to compensate for a shorter than ideal stay.
If I’m vacationing with hubby or visiting family then I can mostly try to sleep next to his straight pipe level snores. If I’m racing a big race the next day I’m going to need my own room. The point is to be realistic how much comfort you will need. Ideally you want to look for a place that mimics your race prep at home. That could be a kitchen, private bathroom, your own bed or somewhere you can make your favorite brand of coffee.
It could also be worth it to book a super convenient hotel room the night before even if it costs a little more during a longer stay. When I did the 10k in PEI our apartment was about a block and a half away from the start line and it made for a stress free race morning.
In my city the Bluenose is the biggest race on this coast every year. There are quite a few downtown hotels that would be incredibly convenient though a bit pricy. If you are interested parking and driving downtown Halifax isn’t the easiest thing to do if you are unfamiliar. It’s harder on the Saturday afternoon than the Sunday morning though.
I think we all have a perfect race breakfast meal and a night before carb load. For the most part our perfect choices do tend to be pretty simple. Mine is pizza and garlic fingers and a peanut butter sandwich. If you know you are going to be traveling to a faraway place for a big race take some time in training to develop a simple meal the night before your long runs and the morning of you can count on finding in your race location.
Here are some options widely available to try:
- Buttered noodles
- Cheese pizza
- Peanut butter sandwich
- Quick oats and water
- Veggie pasta with oil
- A bagel
- Veggie Sushi
- Mashed potatoes
- Garlic bread
- Bars you bring from home
Start line/ race route surveillance
When you race close to home you’ll have a good idea of what that part if town is like and how to get there. Plus you probably won’t be as nervous racing close to home as you will be if you are away. A great way to set yourself up for success is to do a little stalking beforehand.
We’re not taking about following the race director to dinner but rather checking out the course itself. This will help you picture what your race day morning will look like, how to get there and point out any issues that might come up. If you can swing it take a drive or walk out to your race location after your arrive in town and before the big day.
You can run on the race day route, check out the transition area or maybe even drive the whole course. Even olympic athletes like to check out their venues and its correlated with better race performances too. Plus it will cut down on the nerves once you’ve seen it.
Easy short race
What counts as an easy short race will vary for everyone. For me a 5k or 10k probably qualifies. For a super ultra runner even a marathon might qualify as no biggie. For a new runner a 5k might be a really big deal. Whatever the distance, if your out of town race is easy and short its probably not worth arriving terribly early, and scoping out the course before hand. It might not really matter what you eat the day before or the morning of.
It is worth it though to give yourself enough time to deal with any travel hiccups like flight delays or road construction along the way. Usually if I’m driving a couple of hours to a race the morning of, I will just plan on getting there at the start of kit handout and about an hour before the start time. That will probably mean sitting in the truck for a while but it’s better than missing the race all together if there is a traffic jam along the way.
Big challenging race
I regularly drive to smaller races over an hour away but the longest most complicated race I’ve ever done was an Olympic triathlon located about two hours away. Technically that’s a drivable distance the morning of but I still opted to arrive the night before. That gave me time to drive the bike course, check out the transition area and water and look at what the running trail would be like. I didn’t have to worry about picking up my kit the morning of and I had time to make sure my bike was working well after being put back together.
If you are doing a big race that is a once or year or less distance than your should try to do as much preparation as is reasonably possible. Arrive early, scope everything out before, track down your favorite meals and make your race day life as easy as possible.
Though I haven’t officially put a half iron on the bucket list yet it is something I might like to do. If I decide to tackle this challenge it will involve traveling thousands of km to the nearest race. Though it would be an expensive endeavor when you consider it would take at least 6 months of training, sacrifice and dedication it would be short sighted to not give myself the best chance on race day.
It can be expensive to pay for extra accommodation nights, meals out and you’re probably going to see the sights while you’re there, but it’s worth it. Challenging yourself via a big destination races is an investment in yourself. Your training makes you healthier and gives you more self confidence. If at all possible set yourself up for success as much as you can!
A vacation plus a race
Many athletes myself included opt to include a race in their otherwise scheduled vacation whenever possible. You might pick any race available during your visit or pick the time of your visit around a specific race. The ideas goes that as long as you’re going anyway you might as well pick up a medal as a souvenir.
If this is the case pick a distance that will be simple enough for you to cover given the training you will be doing around that time. Chances are pretty good that your race will be on a weekend morning. Ideally you could schedule your destination race towards the end of your visit. If you do so you’ll get familiar with the area, transit and meal options just by enjoying your vacation beforehand.
Try to let go of time goals for your bonus race. You might be feeling the physical effects of traveling like bloating, soreness from exploring or tiredness when you line up at the start line. Instead focus on having fun and the cool and exotic medal you’ll get to hang on your wall when you get home!
Whether you are traveling for a special destination race or doing a bonus race while on vacation timing and preparation is key. However, not every away race requires the same attention to detail. Are you planning any away races for 2023? What’s you best tip for racing away from home?