Traveling around the world for marathons and half marathons

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In 2012, shortly after crossing the finish line of the New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, Laurel Butterfield was stuffed with oysters and bloody marish. It was Butterfield’s first out-of-town race—and her first time in the Big Easy—and her strategy was simple: “I’m going to commit to two hours or less to run. I’ll get to see interesting parts of the city and then when I’m done, I’ll eat everything in town and have a good time.”

The communications executive, who moved to Belgium from Chicago during the pandemic, met friends in Valencia, Spain, last year to run the marathon and has plans to run the Marathon du Médoc in September. During a stay in Japan, Butterfield flew to Seoul to run a marathon and spend a long weekend in South Korea.

Runners who love to travel—and travelers who love to run—have passports stamped and bucket lists checked off one race at a time. For many people, the destination race serves as an incentive to travel somewhere new and stick with an exercise regimen.

The first time I set foot in Vermont was ostensibly to run the 2012 Crazy Half, but even though I somehow placed third in my age group (I appreciate the small field of entrants), I didn’t care that much about my performance at 13.1 miles as I did to visit the Green Mountain State.

Although I have yet to race internationally, since the Vermont half, I have run marathons in Duluth, Minn.; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; and Corning, NY, along with about 50 half marathons across the country. For me, the post-race fun – local beer is almost always on the menu – and the bragging rights (after all, it’s cool to run a marathon outside your hometown) were part of the charm, even more so when BQ (qualifying of Boston ) I had been chasing has escaped me time after time.

Alisa Cohen, founder of Luxe Traveler Club, a boutique travel agency, said most of her marathon-traveling clients are novice runners who like the athletic component such a vacation offers. Planning a trip around a destination race “adds all the excitement of marathon training” and is a great way to see a city and build a trip around it, Cohen said, noting that Paris has become a popular destination. this way.

Spencer Farrar’s first international race, in Scotland in 2006, got him hooked on race travel. (“I had little interest in bagpipes at the time.”) “A lot of my races are honestly determined by location,” said Farrar, who works for a private equity firm and splits his time between Hawaii and New York City. . Increasingly, he said, most of his trips are related to running.

Farrar’s favorite racing destination is South Africa, where he has run the Friends Marathon (an ultra) nine times and will run his 10th later this summer. The itinerary changes with each visit, though Farrar said he’s planning to stop again in Cape Town, one of his favorite cities, which he called a “foodie paradise,” before heading to wine country.

Two of New York attorney Ruth Gursky’s most memorable racing experiences took place in Sydney and Amsterdam, respectively. As a participant in the Gay Games, a sporting and cultural event with a mission to promote equality, Gursky made these events part of a larger plan to discover diverse cities. “It’s fun to meet other athletes from other countries and visit new places. Otherwise I would never have made it to Sydney. It’s a long journey,” Gursky said.

David Killian, site selection officer for the Gay Games Federation, said a lot goes into choosing where the Games will be. In addition to the great support of the city and the ability to play games, Killian said, “having the right destination is an important part of it.” Although the organization isn’t as concerned about whether the location meets the participants’ vacation criteria, Killian said, “it’s been very difficult to get people from all over the world excited to go to a small town.”

Doug Thurston, race director of the Big Sur International Marathon, which draws runners from more than two dozen countries and all 50 states, said “building running as part of your vacation experience is more popular than ever.” Citing the growth of marathons in Southeast Asia, Thurston said “you can now build a package list of international travel destinations with nothing but cities and marathons in all these cities.”

Most established major city marathons—New York, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Berlin, Tokyo, London—take participants on a 26.2-mile tour through city streets. Local restaurants often rally behind runners, offering special meals before or after the race, and communities tend to be supportive, coming out to cheer and holding signs with phrases such as: “Smile. You paid for it, and, “That’s a lot of work for a free banana,” designed to make runners smile through the miles and, often, through the pain.

But it’s not just the world’s biggest cities where runners are flocking. Some Big Sur participants and their accompanying families treat the race, which takes place every April on Highway 1, like their California vacation, injecting “millions and millions of dollars into tourism,” Thurston said. Houston First CEO Michael Heckman echoes this sentiment when talking about the Chevron Houston Marathon: “Signature events like these provide tremendous value to the city and the local economy – especially to nearby hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues along the course, even even cars – share drivers.”

One of Alaska’s premier events, the City Hall Midnight Sun Marathon, prompted Sally Pont to sign up and start training again. The DC-based college counselor’s first 26.2 miles was the Philadelphia Marathon in its early days. Pont, who was attending graduate school at Penn State, about three hours away, said the race “wasn’t an excursion per se, but the experience of going through the whole city and then finishing at the museum made me realize what a marathon was like.” . much more than running.”

“If I were to do another marathon, I’d do something interesting,” Pont said of the 2003 marathon in Anchorage, where she spent a few extra days to enjoy a blues festival in Denali National Park and a seaplane ride. on a glacier.

Madeleine Fontillas Ronk, a sea glass artist who lives with her family in the Los Angeles area, similarly won the opportunity to travel to Cuba in 2017 to participate in the Havana Triathlon. “We just thought we should do it now because who knows?” Fontillas Ronk said, noting that they used a travel agent to make all the arrangements, given Cuba’s strict travel restrictions. While Fontillas Ronk and her daughter focused on pre-race activities and the race itself, Fontillas Ronk’s husband joined other members of the runners’ family on a tour of museums and art galleries.

Cuba isn’t the only destination where using the expertise of a travel planner can help eliminate the stress of planning to travel the distance on foreign soil. Since 1979, Marathon Tours & Travel has partnered with races around the world and assisted runners with ground-based logistics, including race registration.

“It’s really turned into this great group of motivated individuals who, of course, have a passion not only for running, but for traveling and visiting different destinations around the globe,” said Karen Hoch, who has been on staff for over seven years.

Butterfield calls the race the appetizer of the trip. “Obviously, you can’t explore every nook and cranny of a city, but the race gives you a map of the city,” she said. The course itself gives the experienced runner an idea of ​​what she wants to explore in the days after the race. Racing, Butterfield said, is “the thing that whets your appetite.”

Lastoe is a writer based in Brooklyn. Its website is Find him on Twitter: @stacespeaks.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Travel health advisory information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health advisory website.

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