The Destination Race: A Must For Every Runner
I’m not a serious runner, but I am serious about running. Since I got into jogging about seven years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone more than a few days without lacing up my sneakers: during my ninth month of pregnancy with my now-three-year-old (because it became more of a waddle-meets-walk at that point), in the two months that followed her birth (because if you have kids, you know why) and last year during the first few weeks after my mom died (because I could barely breathe, let alone run). I’m that person who takes her running gear on vacations and business trips. And most Sunday mornings, I’d rather get up early and go for a jog than sleep in. Running is just part of my routine.
When it comes to logging mega miles or nailing best pace or finish times, though, I really couldn’t care less. I’m into running more than the race to the finish line. I attempted a full marathon in 2008 (and missed the last 3K due to a tornado warning, but that’s another story) and, even then, it was all about the experience surrounding the race. I did a half-marathon and 30K as part of my marathon training and I’ve done a few fundraising events since then, but I’m not really the competitive type who itches to race. I didn’t have much interest in signing up for one ever again – until an opportunity came up to do a half-marathon in Barbados last fall. Combine a long run and a mini-beach vacation and I’ll happily pin a race bib to my chest and join the masses at the starting line.
Read on for a glimpse at how I got ready for my destination race and some tips on prepping for your own.
Racking up The Kilometres
I may have been enticed by the promise of palm trees and sandy beaches, but after I signed up for Run Barbados 2015, the reality set in quickly: I had to get my butt in shape. I started paying more attention to my diet, skipping the coffee-shop muffins and loading up on lean protein and tons of greens. I also focused on cross-training, including yoga and Pilates, to stretch me out and help with my core and back strength.
There are lots of theories around proper distance training, including specific ideas about diet and exercise, but ultimately I think the most crucial part of a basic training plan is just logging the miles. You have to slowly get your body used to running for two-plus hours straight, along with all that entails, from drinking enough fluids to keeping your energy levels up. Over the next eight weeks, I slowly built up my mileage, increasing my long runs until I crept up to 19K the weekend before I got on the plane.
Bags Packed, Ready To Run
Packing for a destination race is a key part of the pre-race planning process. From lucky socks to energy gels, you’ll need to have all of your race-day gear checked and triple-checked because finding your favourites away from home might be tricky. And don’t forget about your race-day breakfast. I was lucky: The Crane resort, where I was staying, happily accommodated my order of peanut butter on bread, a banana and a glass of OJ, but not all hotels will deliver breakfast the night before a 3 a.m. call – or even have your must-eat foods available. Once all of your essentials are accounted for, make them fit into your carry-on – there will be no way to replace your worked-in sneakers if your luggage gets lost or delayed.
Head in the Game, Toes in the Sad
We landed in Barbados on a Friday afternoon in early December to a very humid 30°C. I was relieved to have two days to acclimate to the weather before the race – two days to explore the beauty of Barbados, which also helped me get into island mode (read: relaxed).
When it comes to the love of running, a destination race will totally fuel that fire. You’re exploring new terrain and soaking up a different culture while you make your way around the city or countryside and through the course on race day – a course that, if you travel to the Caribbean, will likely be less busy than you’d expect.
During the race, I was often thrilled to find myself almost alone on the road, with just a few other runners and support volunteers in view (the solitude I love in a morning jog was here, too!). But it was all wonderfully different as well: I was mesmerized by the rhythm of the ocean crashing in the distance, watching wild dogs prance along beside me and hearing roosters crow as the sun came up. I walked away from the finish line slowly and drenched in sweat but totally exhilarated.
Post-race, I retired to my room at The Crane, a gorgeous four-star resort that boasts lush gardens, award-winning restaurants and a world-famous beach – in other words, paradise. I ordered a big breakfast and had what was probably the best nap of my life, sprawled out in a lawn chair in the shade of the hot Barbadian sun. One of the biggest benefits of a destination race: When it’s all over, you are on vacation and have totally earned every afternoon snooze, rum punch and dip in the pool you desire.