Surviving an Overseas Marathon

Greta Chris Jaden running 3 days before the marathon

Chris and Greta ran with their bub in Copenhagen to acclimatise for the Berlin Marathon.

Is running a marathon on your bucket list? How about running a marathon overseas?! There’s nothing like pounding the pavement – or cobblestones – while enjoying the adventure, history and culture of a new city!

Get Prepared

Sound like an awesome experience? It is, but you need to be prepared. Travelling overseas involves a LOT of flying hours, jet lag, orientation and self-control of diet and rest. A London, Boston or New York marathon means spending about 25 hours in the air and at airports, with minimum sleep, dehydration and compromised nutrition, plus cramped conditions that inhibit any physical movement. But it’s worth all that – and it’s a great way to reward yourself for all your running training.

In 2013, I travelled to Europe with my husband Chris and our 18-month-old son to take part in the Berlin Marathon. See my step-by-step diary of how I trained, what I did to prepare in the week and hours leading up to the race, my diet and strategy to make it through. And here are a few tips to make sure you survive your overseas marathon.

1. Entering the Race and Paying for the Trip:

Prepare to fork out for airfares, accommodation, transfers and taxis, food and drink, entry fees and running gear. The Euro will zap some of the Aussie out of the dollar but the pound will crush it, so ensure you budget for more than you think.

Unless you belong to a local running club, it pays to enter the race competition via a sports tour company. They have packages that include accommodation, entry and transfer to the start and they’re often the only way for the average punter to enjoy running. Berlin is open to everyone, but entries are usually filled early in the year so get in quick.

2. Beating Jet Lag:

Aim to arrive one day earlier for every one hour of time change at your destination. Depending on the time of year and what part of Australia you’re flying from, that’s around 10 days for New York or Boston, nine days for London and eight days for Berlin. And if you’re planning a bigger trip around your overseas marathon, you’ll ideally want to run the race early so you can get on with the rest of your holiday.

When travelling:

  • Try to secure exit row seats. It makes a lot of difference to moving around during the flight.
  • Do not drink any alcohol during the flight, but do drink plenty of water to make up for the dehydrating environment.
  • Of the 21 or so hours of flying time, spend at least a few hours on your feet stretching.
  • Be careful what you eat. Order what you know and take some healthy food options with you.
  • As soon as you land and arrive at the hotel, go for a walk or jog around the area.
  • Tune your body quickly. You might have a small nap, but otherwise try to stay awake until night-time and then turn in for your full sleep.

3. Coping With the Weather:

Climatic adaptation is one key to completing the run comfortably. With a local race at home, you know the weather and terrain and can adapt your running training and equipment to suit it. It’s harder to do that for an overseas marathon, but not impossible.

Perfect marathon conditions can be around 15 to 18 degrees Celsius with minimal wind. But wherever your marathon is, if there’s a chance of rain, freezing or hot conditions, try to acclimatise or train in similar conditions as much as possible while still at home – or do your best to prepare with warm clothing or hydration methods when you’re in the country you’ll be competing in.

The New York marathon takes place in chilly November, while both London and Berlin have recorded snow falls in their marathon months. My husband Chris almost froze during his London Marathon in 2004. After a very cold Tokyo Marathon in 2007 we visited the village of Nozawa Onsen for a few days, skiing and soaking in the hot spas.

Post Tokyo event soaking in hot spas at Nozawa Onsen

A hot foot spa helps relax tired feet and could improve your post-run recovery.

4. Getting to Know the Course:

Go over the course on foot or by bike and get to know it. One benefit of doing this is that you’ll be able to take in the route and its surroundings in a more leisurely fashion than when you’re actually competing, and you’ll get to visit parts of cities like New York, Boston or Tokyo that the average tourist is unlikely to venture into.

London and Berlin are completely flat, fast courses, although they pass over a few cobblestone sections. Both marathons have lots of tourist attractions and pass iconic structures such as Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace in London and the Brandenburg Gates, Checkpoint Charlie and Alexanderplatz in Berlin.

Brandenburg Gates before Berlin marathon start

Take your fun runs overseas to experience architecture and classic views like the Brandenburg Gates in Berlin.

The big marathons overseas really knock your socks off in terms of entertainment. The atmosphere for the Berlin Marathon was astounding, with a massive pre-race expo, a million spectators and lots of bands playing along the course.

5. Pre-Race Preparation:

Touchdown Berlin … now what to eat? Sausages and strudel are plentiful, but you must exercise self-control. Seek out the regular runner’s pre-race food such as rice, pasta, oats and bananas, have water and uncomplicated carbohydrates for four days before the run. It sounds boring, but you’ll be grateful for taking this approach. You also need to refrain from over-zealous exploring, so take bus tours to look around with your feet up.

Make sure you keep focused. You’ve trained and travelled for this, so don’t sabotage it in the last few days.

6. Finding Out More

Our very own 12WBT running specialist Ben St Lawrence travels Australia, the US and Europe racing more widely than anyone we know, and our 12WBT Members can gain insight and encouragement from both Ben and me in the Forums.

G Ben running

12WBT running experts Ben and Greta travel the world to compete in marathons – ask them about running via the 12WBT Forums.

The 12WBT Blog has some great posts to help with your running training, like how to buy running shoes and a music playlist that will keep your feet pounding the pavement in perfect rhythm! And you can sample a taster of our running programs  when you download the 12WBT running ebook.

Do YOU dream of running, just like Greta did in Berlin? Make it happen! Sign up to 12WBT, choose the best running program for you, and get set to realise your dreams.

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