For many runners, being active is such a big part of our lifestyle that a more fitness-focused vacation helps recharge our physical and mental health more than a sloth-like week by the pool. Exploring trails in a beautiful location or running a race that you've had circled for months can make for some amazing vacation memories--and leave you feeling more rejuvenated (and accomplished).
Whether you want to participate in a destination race or just enjoy exploring a new city on foot, here's how to plan your perfect "runcation."
Determine your vacation goals.1 of 7
Are you headed to a goal race with the intention to PR? Or do you just want to enjoy running in a new location? Are you planning to dovetail the trip with some family time and activities for the kids? Or is this solely a running-focused adventure?
Having clear goals in mind for what you want this vacation to be will help you select the right location and plan the best activities for a memorable time. Keeping those goals in mind will save you from sabotage your running plans. Take a moment to write down the goals you have for the trip, as well as the things you are most looking forward to, and keep those in mind as you craft your itinerary.
Consider the company you have tagging along.2 of 7
Unless you are vacationing solo, you'll likely have one or more friends or family members along for the trip. Keeping those companions in mind while planning your activities is key. If you are running in a race, take some time to research optimal areas for spectating or alternate activities that your spouse or kids could participate in while you are off running. For bigger races, you may be able to locate a coffee shop or cafe along the race course where your family can enjoy some snacks or a cup of coffee while they wait for you to run by.
If you aren't racing, spend some time thinking about the optimal time to schedule sight-seeing runs around your destination city. If you are headed somewhere warm, you may want to plan for early morning runs to avoid the heat and to keep the rest of the day clear for activities with your travel companions. If heat is not an issue, talk to your family and determine when the best time might be to go and run. It could be that naptime for the kids is the best time for you to hit the trails. Creating your run vacation schedule with others in mind will help ensure that everyone has fun.
Scout races and /locations.3 of 7
Once you've hammered out a goal for the trip and consulted with your travel companions, start looking for locations that fit the bill. With most races, you'll have a host hotel that is convenient to the course, but it may make more sense to choose a hotel somewhere else in the city that's closer to other attractions you plan to visit.
If you just want to run on vacation (and don't plan to race), a good way to choose a place to stay is to research the most popular running routes or trails in the town. Choosing a location that is central to the routes you'd like to run will increase the convenience (and fun!) factor of being about toby allowing you to simply walk out of your hotel and hit the road. If you are unsure of the best places to run in at your destination, you can search online for popular routes or trails, or utilize some of the online tools (such as Strava Heat Maps or the USATF routes database) to research popular running routes.
For example, let's say I was headed to Charleston, South S.C., Carolina and knew that my family wanted to stay in a hotel in the downtown area. Using the "Advanced Search" option on the USATF site, I can search for 5 to 7--7 mile routes in Charleston that start downtown and view some options. You can usually tell popular starting points by scanning the names of routes in the city you are visiting. - a scan of the results for "Charleston, SC" brings up several called "Battery" - which suggests that running around Battery Park by the waterfront is a popular destination. Using a site like Strava Heat Maps or USATF, where other runners have already mapped routes, can help ensure you are running in safe locations for runners as well.
Make a (packing) list and check it twice.4 of 7
There's nothing worse than finally getting to your destination only to realize that you've forgotten a key item from your race day kit. A packing list is especially essential if you are running a destination race, but all vacationing runners can benefit from making a list of items to include.
Be sure to account for your normal race day gear and nutrition, as well as additional running attire for pre-race shakeout runs and post-race cool down walks. Keep in mind the weather in the location (especially if it is very different from the climate you are coming from) and pack accordingly. Most urban race locations will have retail stores nearby for you to purchase things you might have forgotten, but runners heading to rural locations will want to triple-check that they've packed their running essentials. Pack those items in your carry-on to ensure that even if the rest of your luggage is lost, you'll have what you need for race day.
Make a plan but keep it flexible.5 of 7
There's a saying that all good marathon training plans should be written in pencil--the idea being that, while you need to have a solid, well-thought out plan to follow in order to reach your goals, you also need to be free to modify the plan when needed. Planning for runs on vacation is very similar.
Having a plan in place for when, where and how you are going to get your runs in is great, but extenuating circumstances may require some flexibility on your part. A rainy day may cancel your planned trail run, or a late night of vacation indulgence may keep you from getting up in time to run before the family activities you have planned. Expect to have a few times where your planned schedule doesn't quite line up with reality and learn to let it go. Enjoy the new experiences and realize that it is a vacation after all.
Run and enjoy!6 of 7
Some of my favorite running memories have happened while running in a new place. There's not much that can rival the amazing feeling of exploring a new city on foot or taking in the sights and sounds of a new race course. And some of my most memorable moments have even happened when things don't go quite as planned. Just remember to carry your phone and credit card in case you get lost!
Embrace the adventure that comes along with traveling and running in a new location and have fun! Striking the right balance between relaxation and adventure will leave you rested, rejuvenated and ready to tackle your next block of training.