Racecation, while not in the dictionary (yet), is when you combine a race with a vacation. Racecations have become fairly common, especially with the longer distance races like the half marathon and marathon. Since I am running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to my 38th state, I have planned my fair share of racecations. Obviously I love racecations but I know many people may be anxious about running a race that’s far from where they live. If you’re one of those that’s on the fence about it, read on.
Why should you do a racecation?
If you choose your race within a reasonable drive of a scenic area, you can follow up a race with a fun vacation, a sort of celebration or party if you will. While you can do it in reverse, with the vacation first then the race at the end, I don’t advise that if at all avoidable. I have had a few racecations this way because of my daughter’s school schedule (she’s never missed a vacation, racecation or otherwise with my husband and me), or a holiday that I didn’t want to be traveling during, or some other logistical reason. One thing to know about my family’s vacations are they are rarely the kind where we lounge around in hammocks for half the day. We have active vacations that include hiking, swimming, taking walking tours, etc. Not exactly the kinds of things you want to be doing right before a race, though.
It’s not the best idea to follow up a week of hiking with running a half marathon or marathon, but it can be done. The best way to plan this kind of racecation where the race is at the end of your vacation is to make absolutely sure you stay off your feet as much as possible the day before your race (two days prior is even better). So if your race is at the end of your vacation, go hiking, swimming, playing with your kids outside but then watch a movie and lounge by the pool the day before your race.
How to Choose Where to Run
Assuming this isn’t your first race (I’m not sure I would recommend a racecation for someone’s first race ever), you hopefully know by now what kind of races you enjoy. Do you like big races? Choose one of the Rock n Roll Series races or see my post on one of my favorite big races, Shamrock Marathon, Virginia-24th state. Although I have not done any of the Disney races, I know they are hugely popular. Prefer small races? One of my favorite small races was Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.
Unless you are running a race in all 50 states, I would say just choose a place where you’ve always wanted to go (or go back to) and see if there’s a race at that place. If there is, do a little more research to see if it’s one that’s doable, which brings me to my next point.
Do a Little Research on the Race
I have some websites I go to for choosing races. They are halfmarathons.net, runningintheusa.com, halfmarathonsearch.com, coolrunning.com for starters. If I’m looking for a specific race in a specific area, I would just google it and find information that way. Also remember that races come and go, so a link could be outdated. I signed up for a race that was last spring from a website that was outdated, only to find out the race had been canceled after I had already made my travel plans. In place of the canceled race I ended up running the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state. In my case, there was no way to know the website was outdated without contacting someone from the site and getting a response back, which fortunately happened to me. I think this is rare, however and it’s the only time something like this has happened to me.
Before you hit click to enter a race electronically, do some further research first to avoid disappointment or at least know what you’re getting yourself into. First see when the race is going to happen. Is it in Florida/Georgia/Mississippi/Texas/Louisiana in July or August? You should pass on that since that’s one of the hottest months in the south and you’d likely be miserable running anything longer than a 5k at the crack of dawn. Minnesota in February? No thank you. Personally I’m not a glutton for punishment. Rhode Island in October? Now you’re talking. Perfect weather and peak foliage for the leaves in the New England states.
Check out the day and time of the race. If it starts at 5:30 am and you can barely drag yourself out of bed to run at 8 am, you might want to think long and hard before signing up for an early-morning race, especially one that early. Remember, that’s start time, which means you’ll have to be up and at the race way before then. Also, if it happens to fall on a day when you or your family have plans, that won’t work for a race that’s in another state.
Click on the elevation chart (if there is one). If you despise running hills and this course is straight up a mountainside and back down, I wouldn’t advise running that. Or, conversely, if you really enjoy some small to moderate hills to break up a marathon and this course is pancake flat, it might not be the best choice. Often, there is no elevation chart or it’s misleading more often than not, de-emphasizing the hills along the course. That’s happened to me more than once where I checked out an elevation chart of a race, only to find it loaded with many more hills than I thought it would or the hills were much steeper than I thought they would be. All you can do is make the best of it if that happens.
Look at the race course. While it likely won’t mean much to you since it’s in a place you’re not familiar with, it’s still a good idea to see where you’ll be running. Sometimes you can gain a little insight like if you’ll be running past ocean views which will help pass the time and keep you preoccupied with the view.
Racecation Packing List
For a racecation, your packing list is a bit more complicated but doesn’t have to be daunting. Yes, weather is often unpredictable, more so in some parts of the country than others. My best advice is to pack for what you expect the weather to be like (shorts if it will be warm, pants if it will be cold) and then add in a couple of extra items “just in case.” For instance, if it’s supposed to be warm where you’re headed, pack shorts, short-sleeve shirt or tank top, and running capris or a long-sleeve shirt (your preference), just in case it’s cooler than predicted.
As a minimalist packer who hasn’t checked a bag with an airline in years (Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again), this may seem contradictory, but trust me, it works. I learned the hard way at Missoula Marathon, Montana-22nd state that the weather can change drastically the day before your race. Better to have an extra shirt or pair of pants than be miserable when running your race because you didn’t pack enough.
When I was packing for my Missoula racecation, I checked the weather for Missoula, Montana and the forecast called for warmer temperatures so I packed shorts. However, a cold front came in the day before the race and the weather the morning of the race was supposed to be much colder than predicted. I had to find a running store and attempt to find running pants during the middle of summer, which of course they did not have. Instead I had to squeeze into capris that were a size smaller than I normally would have bought and run a half marathon in clothes I hadn’t trained in. Normally you don’t want to run in anything you haven’t previously trained in but given the circumstances I felt it was a better option than freezing during the race.
Your packing list should include:
clothing (as mentioned in the previous paragraphs pack an extra item or two just in case but don’t pack more than one of the same item, such as two pair of shorts)- short-sleeve or long-sleeve shirt, shorts, capris, and/or pants, sports bra, socks, jacket and gloves if it will be cold
running belt and bottles (if used for races or at all)
running watch with adapter for charging
sports supplements (Gu, Gels, Nuun, etc.); don’t rely on whatever the race has if you currently train with something specific
wear your running shoes on the plane if you’re flying (pack one pair lightweight shoes); do this going to the race. Doesn’t really matter coming back home. This is really about worse-case scenario to me. My shoes are the one thing I really don’t want to be without.
Choosing a Place to Stay
I learned years ago to try to find a place to stay the night before the race (and also after the race unless you’re moving on to somewhere else for your vacation portion) that’s within walking distance of the race start. This saves you grief in a myriad of ways. For one, you can sleep in a bit longer instead of having to get up earlier to take a shuttle or drive to the start. Also, often a nearby hotel will have a code for runners staying there that will give you a discount. This information should be readily available on the race website. If it’s not, contact the race director for suggestions of where to stay the night before the race.
If you are going to stick around in the town where the race is after the race, it is nice to be able to go back to your hotel after the race and take a shower and nap rather than having to check out in a hurry to catch your flight back home. Even if the race is in a location that’s say a two hour drive from where you planned the vacation part of your racecation, you might want to stay in the city of the race for the night before and night of your race, before moving on.
If You’re Flying to Your Racecation
One thing to be aware of when you’re flying back home, I have been stopped twice at security for having my race medal in my carry-on luggage. If you check luggage, this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you don’t check luggage like me, this can be an issue. Believe it or not, I was stopped at Boston Logan Airport after the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon, Massachusetts- 29th state. I would have thought that of all places, the security staff at this airport would have seen a medal or two, with the Boston Marathon and all of those medals going through after the race. My bag was stopped and my family (and everyone else in line behind me) had to wait while the security person pulled out my bag, called for a supervisor, who didn’t respond for quite some time, then a supervisor finally came, pulled out my medal and verified that was the object they were looking at on the x-ray screen, and sent me on my way again.
This happened again at my most recent race in San Diego Silver Strand Half Marathon, California-38th state. I asked the security agent what I was supposed to do with it and he said, “Wear it around your neck proudly! You earned that medal!” I’m pretty sure it would have set off the alarms going through the metal detector, but I guess he meant put it in one of those small round containers for wallets and jewelry before I went through the scanner. Hopefully I’ll remember to do that the next time.
If you’ve never done a racecation before but have been thinking about it, my advice is to choose a race that’s about 2 or 3 hours from your house but somewhere you would actually like to spend a few days after the race (and the night before the race). This way you can drive to the race and not have to worry about the extra logistics that come with flying to a race but the drive won’t be too bad. Work your way up to farther ones from there once you feel more comfortable. Racecations definitely require more planning than running in local races, but I find them much more interesting and I’ve gotten to where I enjoy the planning that’s involved.
For those of you that have done or do racecations, what are some of your favorites? For those of you on the fence about doing a racecation, which one(s) seem most interesting to you?