For those driven to compete: Destination races
April 11, 2023
Once athletes reach a certain level of achievement, whether amateur weekend warriors or full-on pros, local competitions can start to feel less challenging. In addition, the promise of a taking part in a famed competition—and the fun travel that can be wrapped around it—can be an extremely motivating factor in training and performance. It’s why so many athletes make the decision to compete in destination races and travel to a famous competition, whether it’s across the country or around the world.
Participating in high-level sports competitions can be exhilarating, but it also comes with a unique set of challenges when it comes to travel and health considerations. Whether you are traveling within the United States (U.S.) or internationally, it is essential to plan and prepare adequately. But by taking smart precautions and addressing potential risks, you can minimize the chances of unexpected problems and have a memorable and successful experience. Purchase a travel medical plan or travel protection plan for the just-in-case scenarios.
Most popular destination races and competitions
Looking for ideas as you plan a destination marathon? Here’s a short list of well-regarded competitions that have been popular with runners, cyclists, triathletes, weight lifters and more.
In the United States…
Big Sur, California: The Big Sur International Marathon traces a route on scenic Highway 1 along the rolling hills of the Pacific coastline—a view that surely keeps runners energized.
Boston, Massachusetts: The world’s oldest marathon is also one of the most prestigious, with the Boston Marathon attracting some of the most elite runners in the world.
Chicago, Illinois: The world-class Chicago Marathon is one of the largest running events in the world, plus its civic-minded participants raise record amounts of money for charities.
Kona, Hawaii: The endurance triathlon world championship will be held in Hawaii this year, hosting female athletes as they undertake a grueling 140.6-mile journey on land and water.
New York City, New York: Runners love the New York City Marathon for its route through all five boroughs of New York City, as well as the opportunity to visit a must-see destination as well.
And around the world…
London, England: The London Marathon is known both for its route through famous and picturesque neighborhoods as well as the colorful costumes and fun attitude of participants.
Phuket, Thailand: The Laguna Phuket Triathlon is held on an island paradise in the southern part of the country, with the swim portion of the race held in both the Andaman Sea and a fresh water lagoon.
Cairngorms National Park, Scotland: A completely unique nighttime triathlon at this stunning destination challenges participants to swim a mile at midnight, cycle 56 miles under the stars, then run Cairn Gorm and Meall a’ Bhuachaille mountain paths as the sun rises.
Alpe D’Huez, France: In the winter, it’s a ski destination; in the summer, this city in the Alps is a key stage for the cycling tour races as well as the hub for the popular Alpe d’Huez Triathlon.
Paris, France: Europe’s biggest marathon is held annually, with a route that takes in some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and a finish line next to the Arc de Triomphe.
Tianjin Province, China: The Great Wall of China Marathon is known not just for its incredible location, but also for its challenging course navigating irregular stone steps.
Berlin, Germany: Starting and finishing at the beautiful Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Marathon traverses historic parts of the city and is known to be a fast course for runners chasing their PB (personal best time).
Considerations for marathon travel planning
Traveling for athletic competitions comes with a few special considerations on top of the usual trip-planning must-dos. We’ve assembled a few that you should include in your planning.
Climate and altitude One of the most crucial marathon travel tips we can offer is to consider your destination’s climate and altitude. There’s a reason many world-class professionals train at higher altitudes: the thinner air affects performance. If you are not used to local conditions, your performance can suffer.
For instance, if you are flying from a place with a lower altitude to a higher altitude location, your body may take time to acclimate. Similarly, extreme temperatures can also impact your performance. It is essential to research the weather conditions at your destination and prepare accordingly. This may include wearing appropriate clothing, staying hydrated, adjusting your training regimen to simulate the weather conditions, and traveling early and allowing a few days to adjust.
Jet lag is also a common challenge for athletes traveling across two or more time zones. It can disrupt your sleep patterns, making it challenging to maintain a consistent training schedule. Plan ahead and adjust your training schedule to accommodate the time difference, which may include arriving at your destination a few days early.
Dr. Amit Arwindekar, UnitedHealthcare Global Medical Director, has additional ideas to help avoid jet lag: “Make sure you get plenty of rest before you travel, drink plenty of water on the plane, and get sunlight when you arrive in your destination to help you reset you internal clock.”
Competing can be stressful, and it is essential to prioritize your mental health before, during and after. Make time to rest and recover, and take breaks from training and competition if needed. Surround yourself with a support system that can provide emotional support and help manage any stress or anxiety.
Before you go
As with any international travel, there are important steps to take to ensure your safety and success at a huge competition popular with both participants and spectators.
If you are traveling internationally, it is essential to check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine recommendations for your destination country and ensure that you are up-to-date on all necessary shots. Some countries may require specific vaccinations, so it is essential to research the requirements well in advance of your travel.
In case of an emergency, it is important to have access to medical support. Research the available medical facilities at your destination and ensure that they have the necessary equipment and personnel to handle any medical emergencies that may arise. It is also a good idea to carry a basic first-aid kit with you. Consider travel medical coverage as well (more on that later).
Additional resources include:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers' Health: This website provides information on travel vaccinations, destination-specific health risks and other health considerations for travelers.
- World Health Organization (WHO) - Travel and Health: The WHO's travel and health page provides information on travel health risks, immunizations and other health-related topics for travelers.
- International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM): The ISTM is a professional organization that provides resources and education on travel medicine and health for travelers and healthcare professionals.
- American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM): The ACSM is a professional organization that provides resources and education on exercise science, sports medicine, and related topics for endurance sports athletes.
Protect your health and your trip
Trip protection is a must-have for athletes traveling for competitions, especially if you are headed to an international event. This coverage can provide a backup plan for unexpected medical expenses, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen events that could disrupt your plans to compete.
Ensure that your travel insurance policy covers you for your specific needs, such as emergency medical care, loss of baggage, or sports equipment, and travel delays. In addition, some plans will cover sporting equipment damage or loss—important coverage to consider if you are bringing a favorite bicycle or other essentials key to your success. These are just a few of the reasons having a plan designed for travel may benefit traveling athletes.
Considering international travel? Depending on your destination, medical insurance that travels with you may be a wise choice, as you can find a plan that covers health care needs as well as access to 24/7 support and other just-in-case coverage.
Check out SafeTrip International Travel Medical plans, or add on trip protection with the International Travel Medical Plus plan for 24/7 on-call support for any health need. You can even add the Optional Extreme Sports Coverage or sports equipment loss and damage coverage to a policy. For domestic competitions, the SafeTrip Travel Protection Plan will cover cancellations, delays, or lost luggage. Whichever plan you choose, you’ll be prepared for interruptions or cancellations due to health or another emergency, and can focus on the challenge ahead with no-hassle backup medical care and support.
While at the competition
The day of competition is an exciting one, but if you’re in unfamiliar territory, take a moment to ensure these essentials are well planned for.
Food and water safety
Food and water safety are critical when traveling for an endurance sports competition. Consuming contaminated food or water can lead to illnesses that can significantly impact your performance. It is essential to research the destination country's food and water safety guidelines and take necessary precautions, such as drinking bottled water and avoiding street food.
Training facilities and equipment
If you are traveling for an endurance sports competition, be sure you have access to appropriate training facilities and equipment. Research facilities at your destination and ensure that they meet your needs. You may also need to transport equipment such as your bicycle or trisuit, so make appropriate arrangements to protect your investment in case of any damage or luggage loss.
Staying hydrated is crucial for athletes, especially in hot and humid conditions. It is essential to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the competition to avoid dehydration. You may need to carry a hydration pack or water bottle during the race to stay hydrated—not all races have water stations as in the U.S.