Tips for Race Traveling

Taken during my Alaskan Marathon Trip

     Running 39 full marathons in 32 different states so far.  I've picked up a few tips for race planning and traveling.

     People come to me asking for advice to help them plan their own race adventures.  So I have begun making lists of DO'S, DONT'S & TIPS based on my own experiences, to help the experienced runner and traveler to the novice contemplating on setting out for their first time.

     I am going to break it down into different categories and make a mini weekly blog series on them.  This week to start are tips for booking your race and a few travel ideas to help save money and make your traveling race experience the best it can be.

     DO pick races in places you've wanted to visit.  Research them first!  The truth is, not all races are great choices.  Some lack organization, race support or have other problems.  If you're an experienced runner, you may know what to do if you get into a bad situation in a race with no help or volunteers around.  But if it's your first race stick with one that is not only highly recommended by other runners.  But is also known for excellent organization, volunteers and a great course.  If you're going to spend the money to travel to a race, you might as well go somewhere amazing and have a great experience!

Taken at the start of my Colorado Trail Marathon
     DO pick the right race for you and your distance!  Now days hosting a race is all about the money they can make, so they'll throw in many distances just for the extra entries.  If you want to run a race and have a great experience, pick one that caters most to the particular distance you want to enter in (especially if it is your first!)!  I even go so far as checking to see how many people enter the race each year, is the race set for fast runners only or all runners?  Is it at a good time of year?  Type of terrain?  Check it out and make sure it fits whats best for you and what you plan to train for before you enter.

     TIP if running your first marathon, I suggest picking a race that is a marathon only race!  As a marathon runner, I find I love these races the BEST!  They are all about the 26.2 miles and they know what they are doing, provide the best course support, organization.  Additionally you generally you don't find these races stretched too thin for volunteers at the support stations and water stops!

On my West Virginia Marathon
     RENTAL CAR TIP - When booking your rental car online, don't bother signing up for an expensive upgraded vehicle (unless you need one.)  When at the rental counter when they offer you the upgrades for a price, just turn them down (again, unless you absolutely want them).  9 out of 10 times that I rent a car, I turn all these things down and then end up with an upgraded vehicle anyway because it's all they have left on the lot.
** Another tip, late afternoon or evening rental car pick-ups are the best time to get FREE upgrades, because most people arrive late morning or early afternoon and take all the cheaper vehicles then.

      DO if you plan on doing a lot of traveling and flying.  Pick ONE airline you like best, who has a miles or reward program and stick with them.  This will actually save you money in the long run!  Personally I love Delta, but that is because of the way I use them.  With their skymiles program I can generally get every 5th or 6th ticket free.  By always using the same airline I also earned my way into their FREE upgrades programs and generally get upgraded to first class about every other flight.  Let me tell you nothing is better when you are sore after 26.2 and you get the free upgrade into first class, that extra leg room to stretch out is simply fabulous!
     TIP, if you don't qualify for free upgrades, the emergency exit rows also have a few extra inches of leg room:)  (Of course this is on Delta, I would assume the other airline planes are the same, but I can't say for certain so it might be something to ask!)

On my Hawaii Marathon Trip
     DON'T book airfare on travel sites just because it looks cheapest. Personally I've found booking through travel sites for amazing deals is generally not so amazing!  I am sure sometimes they can work out (guess it just depends on what you like and dislike).  But for me, I don't think saving $100 on a flight ticket is worth having to switch airlines 2-3 times, long layovers, and 14+ hours later finally arriving at my destination (miserable) which should have only taken 2-6 hours in the first place!  Direct flights or 1 layover is my preference!  Besides with a race coming up, you won't want to be exhausted before you get there.
Generally you can get the exact same deals on the actual airline website, and in my experience if you have time to search a little they are occasionally even better!
So when booking a flight, however you do it.  Besides taking cost into consideration, make sure you think through all the flight details and layover times first.

View from Big Sur Marathon
     DO Book flights on Tue, Wed or Thur.  Never book a flight on a weekend, Monday or Holiday or you'll pay more, lots more!  I don't know why, but generally Wednesday's have overall been the best date for me to book!  (If you don't believe me, test it out yourself and you'll see what I mean!)

     DO (if you can) fly in a day or two before the actual race.  Weather or airline problems are unpredictable and unavoidable at times.  So if your flight is cancelled or delayed, you won't be stressing that you're going to miss your race or packet pickup.  If you can't do this, I'd suggest taking the earliest morning flight available, so if delays come up you have a better chance getting there in time!

     DO check travel sites for hotel deals first, then call the hotel directly.  I like to find a great deal on a travel site, then call the hotel directly and ask them if I have to book on the travel site or if they will match the deal. They'll be honest with you, and I think they prefer you booking with them directly so in my experience most of the time they will match a deal or even at times offer one slightly better.  If they can't then go ahead with the travel site deal.

     DON'T just book a hotel because it's cheap!  That is the worst thing you can do!!!  They are likely cheap for a reason (because no one wants to stay there).  Personally I prefer safety and location, cleanliness, free parking, free wi-fi and free breakfasts over anything else.  You can still find a great rate on a nice hotel, it just takes a little searching!

On my Minnesota Marathon Trip
     DO stay at a race hotel.  Generally you can get a list of these from the race website.  By doing this, you'll be surrounded by other runners.  (Usually) you'll have guests around you who won't be loud and keep you up all night before the race.  Sometimes race hotels are within walking distance to starting line, or will have free shuttle services to and from the start.  Also most race hotels will have an earlier breakfast just for runners.  An added bonus is all the fun runners and awesome new people you can meet and chat with and share your running stories.

     DO plan a few things to do and see before or after the race (again, if you can).  Whether you go do a little hiking, visit local attractions or set out on a drive to explore.  You'll enjoy the trip much more if you do something besides just fly in and out for the race only.  I personally like to plan my races near National Parks, Beaches, State Parks and Monuments, Historical Area's and Parks, Mountains and places that look amazing to visit.
     As you can see on my blog in the pictures in this post and also if you scroll down a bit on the page to the pictures below, I love to see AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL!!!  Makes my race in that state even more special and memorable!

     DO (if you can) be flexible with your time on your return flight (if the plane is overbooked) if offered the option to take a later flight for a travel voucher, TAKE IT!  Generally you'll only have to wait a few hours, so  use the time to eat a good meal, walk around and stretch the sore legs, read a good book...  By doing this you'll already have your next  airline ticket paid for or discounted and you can start planning your next race trip right away!
Passing the Alamo on my Texas Marathon
     It doesn't matter if you are taking off for a 5K, 10K, Team Relay, 13.1, 26.2 or Ultra.  Thinking things out ahead of time, making the correct planning choices and bookings will make a HUGE difference to your race experience (I promise!)

     I could give dozens more tips and information on this subject, but it would just be too long to read.  However, some of you may have some race travel tips you feel are pretty important to remember as well (or better:), so please share your own travel tips and suggestions with me and my readers!

Next week's blog I'll give running tips for the race!
Today, I am participating in Jill Conyers Fitness Friday, visit her website to see other fitness articles that may interest you!

Fun ways to track your progress

     I came across this fun online tool for runners, specifically distance runners.  You get to take a transcontinental virtual trip across the US.  You start in Yorktown, Virginia and will make your way across the country to Florence, Oregon.  CLICK HERE FOR TOOL

     What I love about this tool, versus all the other online running tools and other mobile tracking devices is the safety of it.  What a lot of people may not realize a lot of the running apps, track your run virtually, so someone could know where you are at, and know your habits.  This is great if you’re only giving the information to your spouse or family members for safety reasons.  But once you post it on Facebook, you have pretty much given a potential online predator access to your life and habits.

     So when I saw this online Transamerica virtual trip, I signed up and will be inviting all of my running friends to see who can make it across America first.
All you have to do is log your daily mileage and the tool does the rest.  Not only does it provide you with a map of your journey, but it has actual pictures of the road(s) across the continent.  This could just be for fun, but if you like to travel (which I do) you can take a look at some of what America has to offer and if you see a picture or destination you like, hey plan a trip!

     The tool is also great because if you are not a distance runner, but have a team of running friends, you could enter your trip across the country as a team. 
Or if you’d like set up a little healthy competition with your friends and track each other’s progress as you make your journey this year.  The tool will even send you a message if you didn’t hit your weekly goal and one of your friends is passing you.

     Because everyone is different, one thing that works for someone may not work for another.  I bet there are dozens of fun and different ways to stay healthy and active and share your goals and progress with others.  So please share with me any tools or apps you love to use to track your progress.  

Getting Creative with Workouts

     So I recently (Monday) noticed my treadmill smelt like something was burning in it.  So apparently you can run them to their death!
We've had 10 years together, a lot of boring miles, but at the same time helpful miles. Especially since I only run on the treadmill when the weather outside is impossible to run in or I am forced into a very late night run where it's just safer to run indoors:)
     I am hoping I can find replacement parts, but if not I guess it's done its job:)  My longest straight run on it was 18 miles (horribly boring, but watched a few good movies to pass the time.)
However, despite my dislike for the treadmill, I can't believe I am saying this but I miss it!

     So because of the continually bad weather here, never ending snow and freezing temps.  I am left with a couple of options, go to the local fitness center and use their treadmills and indoor track - I dislike gym's more than running on a treadmill at home.
Or get creative...

     I am going with the GET CREATIVE method (for now...  I'm sure I'll eventually need to hit up the gym a little).  So I have been turning my home and normal life into workouts.

     For starters, the stairs.  I have 2 flights of them inside, and a 3rd if I count the set outside on the back porch.   I am a distance runner and I can run several miles easily.  But you throw in only running up and down stairs and I feel like I am out of shape after only 5 minutes...
It can also get boring, so I have been mixing it up. here is what I have been doing:

Run a couple of flights of stairs, stop and do 1 minute of what I call elevated push-ups (using the stairs)
Run a few more flights of stairs, stop in the middle and do 1 minute of jumping jacks.
Run a few more flights of stairs, stop at the top and do 1 minute of sit-ups.
Then repeat.
I do this for about 30 minutes, it really wipes me out!

     I do own a stair climber machine, but I find it works best to use while watching any T.V.  I find actual stairs slightly less boring than the machine!

     Other things I have been doing.  I have a part time library job that lets say I do for 4 hours a day.  Mostly just standing around, but does require me to go around and find items on the shelf and push 100 pound carts.
Well since I can do this without anyone having a clue or thinking I am weird, I have added a leg workout to it and I take the long way around the libraries with the carts now:)

     When I have to squat down to get a book at a lower level, I will squat and hold the sitting position for 15-20 seconds.  (In case anyone is watching I just pretend it is taking me longer to find the book, LOL)
I have been offering to pull the "holds" which no one likes to do and they are glad to hand over to me.  This gives me a 15-30 minute time period (twice a day) where I can do squats and lunges and hold them and burn a few extra calories and get a decent leg workout in, all at the same time having some alone time.  I don't know why I never thought of this before!  The best part is, I can plug in my headphones and listen to some great tunes while I do this:)

     I know that none of this will completely help me keep up my mileage for running, so yes I will force myself out to the gym or if mother nature plays her part maybe the temps will melt the snow enough to run outdoors a little??? (PLEASE)
But it's changed things up, I've discovered new muscles and I guess in a way it is it's own form of cross training:)  Overall, I think (for now) this is a good thing that the treadmill broke!

     So what kind of fun and  CREATIVE things do you do, when you need to mix it up, or just get creative to get a workout in?