April Abroad: How To Travel to an International Marathon

Photo credit: Brooke Manning White

Photo credit: Brooke Manning White

April is a big month for marathons. The Boston Marathon and the London Marathon — two of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors — are both in April, and hundreds of other local and international marathons also kick off the season.

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We’re thrilled to officially start FIT’s 2019 racing season this month as well! An awesome group of runners will join us for the London Marathon! For a handful of them, this will be their first international race, and while marathon training and racing is a huge commitment on its own, traveling to an international race adds another layer (or two or three!) to the adventure.

With decades of experience traveling internationally, for marathons and pleasure, we consider ourselves experts when it comes to packing and travel tips for runners. FIT founder Kelly McLay has traveled 50+ times to international races—from London to Berlin to Ireland and lots of place in between! We put together our top 13 travel tips for runners and a handy printable packing checklist for anyone looking for a little extra help and organization (and stay tuned for part 2 — coming up next month, we’ll cover tips for travel with kids)...

1) Wear your race day sneakers on the plane and pack your running outfit in your carry-on.

The most important things you need for your marathon abroad are the items you’ll wear on race day, and international stores do not always carry the brands and sizes you wear. Always bring your marathon day essentials with you on the plane. Remember: Nothing new on race day — let’s save the chaffing!

2) Try wearing compression socks or tights on the plane. And wear them after your marathon to speed up recovery, especially if you’ll be sightseeing and on your feet the days following the race.

Hot pink compression socks for the win!

Hot pink compression socks for the win!

Compression socks can be uncomfortable to keep on for longer flights as they can feel too tight, but they’re beneficial to blood circulation. Kelly suggests keeping them on as long as you can handle them — anything is better than nothing.

Post marathon, compression clothing can help reduce muscle soreness and stabilize sore tendons and ligaments.


3) Bring powder liquid mixes.

Since it’s not guaranteed that the race will have your choice of electrolytes before or on the race course, remember to pack your own. The FIT team loves Nuun tablets and Ultima packets. These options offer individual powder form supplements, since liquids are hard to bring onboard planes. Easy to pack, great electrolytes!

Also, remember to try and sample the race drink (the drink that will be provided on the course) during your training runs if you can get some samples.

4) Stay hydrated.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated while traveling, especially if you’re running a marathon within the next few days! It’s particularly easy to get dehydrated on a plane because the air you breathe in the plane cabin actually comes from outside. And the air at that altitude has very little moisture. Dehydration can lead to a feeling of fatigue, which is bad news for marathoners. Carry a water bottle with you and drink up!

FIT Founder Kelly sitting in a window sit and getting some much-needed fluids during a flight between continents at the 2018 World Marathon Challenge.

FIT Founder Kelly sitting in a window sit and getting some much-needed fluids during a flight between continents at the 2018 World Marathon Challenge.

5) Book the window seat!

“I always take the window on a long haul. It can be hard to wake the person in the aisle seat when you need to depart the row, but the extra one inch and the ability to fully put your weight on the wall is priceless.” -Kelly, FIT Founder

At the embarrassment of Kelly's husband, she owns a long travel pillow that joins her on long hauls. It makes for a very nice cushion for the plane wall and armrest!

6) Check baggage weight restrictions on carry-ons.

We found out the hard way that international carriers are not as lenient as US carriers when it comes to baggage weight restrictions. So, double (triple!) check weight restrictions. You might also consider buying a luggage scale or borrowing one from a friend.

7) Notify your bank and credit card providers of your international travel.

Many banks and credit card providers will freeze your account if a transaction occurs that’s outside your typical spending, and a transaction overseas could trigger this action. Give your bank a heads up that you’ll be traveling out of the country.

8) Set up an international phone package or get a SIM card.

When traveling internationally, remember to activate an international phone package through your cellular service or get a SIM card when you arrive at your destination. Some phone carriers have plans with unlimited calls and data for $10/per day. Pick the plan that works for you, and don’t get caught with a big phone bill when you get back from your trip.

9) Are your shots up to date? And your visa?

Be sure to know exactly what you need to enter the country. Some countries require very specific vaccine records for entrance. And as a heads up: in 2021, Americans will more than likely need an E-transit visa to enter Europe.

FIT Founder Kelly wears her favorite   Balega   running socks while traveling, too! “I took a super last minute trip to Australia. I booked my flight on Friday, left Tuesday, arrived Thursday, and I was home within the week. I just used a backpack. The adventure is the spontaneity, at times, so sometimes just go!”

FIT Founder Kelly wears her favorite Balega running socks while traveling, too! “I took a super last minute trip to Australia. I booked my flight on Friday, left Tuesday, arrived Thursday, and I was home within the week. I just used a backpack. The adventure is the spontaneity, at times, so sometimes just go!”

10) Check expiration dates on your passport!

Always make sure your passport is up to date, and we recommend that it has at least six months before it expires—and, in most cases, the government also requires this. Also, make a copy (or two) of your passport page and keep it separate from your passport. That way, if you lose your passport, you have the copy as a backup.

11) We recommend buying travel insurance.

You never know what could come up, and travel insurance can be a huge help in many cases. For example, if a runner has to cancel their trip, travel insurance can help protect their investment. Read more about FIT’s preferred travel insurance provider here.

12) Time zones…just do your best! And try to give yourself enough time to adjust before the race.  

Some travelers adjust easily to switching time zones and others get totally wiped out. We suggest that you rest if you need to rest – especially on the first day you’re in the country. But, on the second day, make sure you wake up on the time zone you are in to try and adjust to the new schedule. It’s also okay to sleep “late” by an hour relative to your normal schedule (i.e., if you usually get up at 6 AM, you can sleep in until 7 AM, if you need to).

13) Add buffer time in your itinerary.

Try to avoid preplanning every second of a trip. It’s fun to immerse in local culture. Give yourself an afternoon to do ‘normal’ everyday activities, like visiting the local grocery store where you can get a dynamic view of some new and neat food items or people watch at a local café.

One of April’s biggest marathons is the historic Boston Marathon.

One of April’s biggest marathons is the historic Boston Marathon.

Have you traveled internationally for a race or otherwise? What would you add to our list? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comment section below.

Check out & download our helpful Marathon Travel Packing Checklist here.