In a break from If you fancy a bit of race tourism yourself, here are one or two things I’ve learned along the way.
Packing for a race away is much like packing for a race at home, just with a weight restriction and the possibility of being frisked. There are some essential things to consider when travelling to pastures new though. For example, remembering to pack your trainers (and, if applicable, your sports bra) in your hand luggage: they are the things you won't want to be replacing at the Expo when your hold luggage ends up on a flight to Svalbard. You could, of course, wear them to travel, just remember to pack some spares: it is generally considered poor form to board a return flight the morning after your marathon smelling like a buzzard's burp. Offending trainers should be hermetically sealed, or at least double-bagged in Sainsbury's carriers, and buried at the bottom of your suitcase; if you can convince a friendly member of cabin crew to dangle them from the wings, even better.
As the saying goes: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. That is unless the particular energy drink brand at that marathon gives you a squirty stomach and untrustworthy farts. Just as in any marathon, you're advised to fuel up on what you're used to in training; the same, quite miraculously, is true when you race elsewhere too, so take your race supplies with you. If you’re taking hand luggage only then remember that your gels will form part of your liquid allowance; it's up to you whether you prioritise them over your shampoo. Race day breakfast is another important consideration: I’m a big fan of muesli and yoghurt, not just because I know I can digest it, but also because it’s reasonably easy to translate in supermarkets across the world.
If you’d like a supporter to join you on your marathon adventure, remember to be honest. I heard a celebrity chef on the radio last week, laughing about how he lied to his wife so that she’d come along to his races abroad. The fact that he got away with it only leads me to assume she was growing bored of his fancy nosh and was relieved to have an evening eating a plateful of flaccid macaroni as she joined him in carb-loading the night before his race. You’re better off just coming clean: this is not going to be a way of treating your non-running partner to a romantic city break in a glamorous European destination (not unless a long walk to a conference centre, where you’ll queue to collect a number and dither over buying some self-tying shoe laces and the latest anti-chafing runners' lubricant, is what gets them in the mood). If your partner does come along to support, be decent enough to flash them a smile whenever you see them on the course, no matter how much you're wishing you'd Vaseline'd wherever you didn't remember to Vaseline, and make sure you take them out for a proper meal afterwards to say thank you. Whether or not you choose to show them your chafed bits afterwards is entirely your decision.
My German wasn’t up to asking, “excuse me, Sir, but why are you weeing on my leg?” when I ran Berlin marathon; lucky, really, that the perpetrator was British. It would be churlish to assume everyone speaks English though so, as a minimum, I do try to make sure I know how to say “thank you” to the marshals and volunteers in their language. Jay went one step further here and provided some handy race day phrases for any Paris marathon runners earlier this year; I sincerely hope he’ll be expanding this to other languages soon. Over the course of 26.2 miles, you can expect to hear all sorts shouted at you by supporters along the route: “Heia heia!”, “Lauf lauf!”, “Allez allez!” all generally mean, “keep running, you fruit loops!” The most difficult interpretation, however, can come from the pronunciation of the name written on your running shirt: “Yah Katty!”, “Yeh Ketty!”, and “Wooooooo Kezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzneeeeeeeeeee!”, have all been shouted in valid attempts to pronounce my name overseas, and I was genuinely grateful for each and every one of them.
When the race is done, it’s important to remember that the local population’s interest in your marathon will wane as soon as the roads reopen. If you’re lucky, the staff at the restaurant and bar will humour you as you lower yourself gingerly into a chair for the evening with a medal around your neck, but don’t expect the same treatment from the airport staff the day after. There is always someone still wearing their medal in the departure lounge but no-one will think you’re a hero if you set off the security gate by waddling through wearing it and squealing, “Oh, this old thing!” Pack it into your hand luggage instead and, you never know, it might distract the supervisor from his cup of coffee long enough to trigger a bag search: you can then assume the podium position, hands aloft like the champion you are, as you're unceremoniously patted down.
Finally, if you're travelling abroad for a marathon, be prepared to accept that your race is not necessarily your priority. While PBs are certainly not out of the question, flying to another country and staying in unfamiliar surroundings may not be the perfect preparation; yes, the pros do it but I'm sure they'd equally like to spend the evening at home in their own bed before a big race too. Instead, accept your adventure for what it is, be that an opportunity to explore a new city, to spend time with the friends you don't see often enough, or simply to learn another new way of pronouncing your name. Run well but remember to have fun.
So, where are you planning to race next?