How to plan, pack and train for a destination running race

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Run, Training, Training "How To's", Training Insights, Where To Run

Entering a race outside of your hometown, province or even the country adds a whole new level of motivation. It might just be the jolt your run training routine needs. Not only does it give you something ‘different’ to train toward but choosing an event with different elevations, terrain and perhaps weather conditions to what you are used to adds to the adventure element and will push you to step out of your comfort zone.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Train for the terrain

If you’re planning to run somewhere different from your local streets or trails, be sure to train for the conditions of your destination. For example, ahead of UTMB 2021 Ryan Sandes spent a lot of time training in the Outeniqua Mountains behind George. UTMB is the pinnacle of ultra trail racing and takes place on the Tour du Mont Blanc route through France, Italy and Switzerland over a distance of approximately 171 kilometres with a total elevation gain of some 10 000 metres.

“The mountains in George are big,” Sandes points out. “It really reminds me of the European-style mountains where you have these long, runnable climbs. The trails are also really well groomed, maintained and marked thanks to people like Zane Schmahl from Mount Co.

According to Sandes his home trails in Table Mountain National Park tend to be more technical and rocky. “Those kinds of trails are not great preparation for UTMB. So, to train for all the elevation gain in UTMB I find that the George trails are a lot closer to European running, with long sustained climbs, some over 1000m in one climb. There are also lots of switchbacks and the trails are smooth, very much like UTMB.”

You may not have UTMB on your goal list but if you are from the coast and are looking at running a race up-country in the future, make sure you add some altitude to simulate those thinner air conditions. Or, for example, if you are used to groomed trails and are planning a race in the Boland make sure you train on rocky, rooty, loose trails to be prepared for what you might encounter.

2. Immerse yourself in the culture

“As in, try to live like a local,” says Matt Healy, explaining that he learned a lot on his first European race when he finished in the top 10 of the prestigious Mozart 100 by UTMB. “I had the opportunity to get there three weeks before I raced, but I’m assuming most of these guys would get there the ‘week of,’ either way, I think it’s really important to make yourself at home as much as possible and just becoming super comfortable with wherever you are at the place you’re at before you rock-up to the start line.”

Matt Healy On Run In France
Matt Healy in France

According to Healy, this ‘comfort’ is important for race success, regardless of your race goals and whether you are racing four hours from home or on another continent. In addition, what is the point (really) of travelling to a destination race and not enjoying the destination too? Sightseeing and doing ‘touristy’ things can also help overcome some of the pre-race tension.

3. Study the route (and recce-run if you can)

“If you have enough time, definitely try to orientate yourself with some of the trails. Become familiar with the route, especially the more important parts such as the aid stations and the big climbs,” Healy says.

4. Gear up accordingly

As with training for the route you need to gear up accordingly. If you’re planning on racing in another country during, say, the wet season, make sure you have the best foul-weather gear, have tested it all and are comfortable running in it. If you are planning on racing in Hawaii, gear up for heat. By definition, a destination race means you are travelling, so make sure you’re geared up for all the potential mishaps (from luggage getting lost to random tummy bugs) as well as the unthinkable — getting injured. Adequate Travel Insurance is non-negotiable. It is a remarkably imprudent decision in these times to not have adequate cover. You need Travel Insurance that will cover things such as missed flights, injuries that might need a Medivac, or even just illnesses and hospital visits.

5. Don’t forget to have fun

Plan your destination race to form part of a vacation or long weekend (in the least, if it is within South African). Schedule your race close to the start of your holiday so you can spend the rest of those all-too-valuable leave days recovering, recharging and enjoying the destination. If you’re planning on racing in the Western Cape in 2023, here are a few adventures to add to your itinerary.