For runners who enjoy travelling, the appeal of taking part in an international event is obvious. But when it comes to figuring out transport and accommodation – not to mention acclimatising to a new country and overcoming the language barrier – many can be put off. Here are some tips from runners who’ve previously ventured overseas for an event…
As only the third British woman to run a marathon on every continent, Shona knows a thing or two about running abroad. She will undertake another challenge next year as she takes on the Genghis Khan Ice Marathon in Mongolia. She will also be heading to Japan for the Tokyo Marathon. So what’s the big draw about international events?
Shona explains: “There are so many things! Firstly, if you’re going to suffer, it’s more fun to do it in an amazing location. Secondly, I enjoy meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. It’s a fantastic way to see a new location. If you’re not ready for a full marathon, there are lots of half marathon and shorter options available.”
If you’re worried about the hassle of making travel arrangements and booking a hotel, Shona suggests letting someone else handle it: “I’d book with a specialist company, such as Sports Tours International. They take care of all logistical planning, leaving you to focus on enjoying your run. They’ll also make sure the hotel location is within easy reach of the start and finish, something which is priceless!”
Less prolific in his international running events but no less enthusiastic is Rory McGinley who took part in Barcelona Marathon in 2013. Rory echoes Shona’s sentiments on the joys of running abroad: “It’s a great way of seeing a new city. You can go on a guided tour and walk around for hours seeing the sights. Or instead you can combine the two and run a race.”
If you’re someone who gets a boost from hearing strangers yelling out your name at a race – and let’s face it, who isn’t?! – be prepared for some slightly unusual interpretations of your name, warns Rory: “The Barcelona crowd struggled with my name a bit. I have a Scottish/Gaelic name so heard many different pronunciations of it along the course. It felt great though having them make the effort. It was like I’d been accepted as a local.”
When abroad it’s easy to be lured into eschewing your regular eating habits in favour of exotic local delicacies. Rory advises to resist this urge: “It’s really important to be selfish and realise you need to put your own needs before local customs. Try and stick to your diet/schedule that you would were you racing back home. No matter how tempting your new surroundings are!”
After failing to get a place at London Marathon, and determined to run a marathon with his son, Stephen Bell secured entry for Paris Marathon in 2013 – his first international race. He then went on to run Amsterdam Marathon in 2015 (‘very flat’), and ran Rome Marathon on Sunday (2 April). It’s fair to say he’s caught the travelling bug… in a good way.
“There’s a lovely atmosphere about races abroad, you’re surrounded by runners of all nationalities. And supporters too. I find the whole experience quite relaxing. Hearing French/Dutch people shouting out, ‘Stevie’ was great fun!”
Instead of choosing a travel company, Stephen prefers to go it alone: “That way if anything goes wrong I’ve only myself to blame! On a serious note, I like having the control over where I’m staying/how I’m travelling. I understand why others would prefer to use a specialist company though.”
Being neither fluent in French or Dutch, did Stephen have any linguistic difficulties while abroad? “None at all. Paris and Amsterdam both cater for non-native speakers and don’t expect your French or Dutch to be up to scratch. Picking up my bib wasn’t an issue. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s run abroad and had any problems.”
- Stick to your dietary routine – no matter how tempting the local fare might be!
- Book well in advance – either with a specialist company or by yourself.
- Stay close to the start line – you don’t want to contend with subway maps and erratic taxi drivers on race day.
- Don’t worry about the lingo – most international events will have instructions in English.
If all this talk of running in foreign countries has whetted your appetite, you can visit the Sports Tours International website to see the range of international events they have on offer. Bon voyage!