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The pros and cons of destination races

Berlin Marathon (wiki commons)

I’ll admit it; I’m a huge fan of destination races. It’s not that I like traveling per se, I’ll just find any excuse to run a flat race – the Charlotte, N.C. area is pretty hilly! I do plenty of short local races, but any time I want to race a half marathon or further, I tend to look in my home state of New Jersey or sign up for a runDisney event.

However, while destination races have perks, they also come with some drawbacks. Here are my pros and cons of racing away from home:


  • You can have a “racecation”. Racing is a celebration of running. What better time to celebrate than when you’re on vacation, especially if friends and family are with you. Tip: If you’re on a weeklong vacation, plan it so you race within the first few days. Then you won’t have to worry about tiring your legs out when sightseeing and you’ll be able to enjoy some extra local beverages, too.
  • You get to run through a new area. Most runners agree – the best way to check out a new locale is on foot. Run 13.1 or 26.2 miles through a city and you’re guaranteed to see more than just tourist traps. Tip: Don’t forget to study the course map with your spectators before the race so you can know where to expect them.
  • The energy. There’s something truly magical that happens when tens of thousands of runners take over an entire city. The whole town gets into race mode and you’ll feel like you’re surrounded by friends everywhere you go. Tip: If you can, stay in an official race hotel. These hotels tend to be close to the expo and the course, and they’ll be packed with other runners.


  • The price tag. Registration fees for popular destination races tend to be steep. Add that to plane tickets, hotel accommodations, meals eaten out, and possibly a rental car and it really adds up. Tip: Look for group travel packages. Local running clubs, charity running organizations, or the race itself may offer discounts if you book your flight and hotel through them. Or buddy up – share a hotel room with friends to cut costs.
  • Logistics. Not only will you miss sleeping in your cozy bed the night before, but you’ll also miss out on other comforts of home – like your kitchen! Finding meals when traveling that sit well in your stomach is one of the biggest stressors for runners. Tip: Eat at a chain restaurant the night before the race. That way you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. Pack your breakfast and racing fuel with you in case you can’t find anything suitable once you arrive.
  • In the event of canceling.  Most races require you to register weeks or months ahead of time. If you’re doing a big marathon — like New York — you may even have to enter a lottery to get in. So, this means you have to commit to your race close to a year in advance. A lot can happen in a year. Injuries, illness, or pregnancy may cause you to miss your race. If the race is local, you only lose your registration fee. But with destination races, you may also have plane tickets and hotel reservations that are non-refundable. Tip: Most major hotel chains allow you to cancel reservations without a penalty up to a few days before your trip. Just read the fine print and don’t pay in full beforehand.

What are your thoughts on destination races?

 Written by Jen Matz.

Related: The benefits of racing close to home