How to Prepare for an International Marathon

The Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Marathon.

So, you finally signed up for an international race. You may be feeling a wide array of emotions: excited, anxious, hungry—the list goes on.

And although you may have traveled domestically to run, international travel is an entirely different playing field. Between jet lag and packing, there’s more to consider. Additionally, you’ll need even more rest during the taper period to account for major time changes (consider this permission to decline any social gatherings you don’t want to go to).

Having just traveled to run the Berlin marathon, I have some tried and true tips for making your first international race a successful one.

Book Everything in Advance

Once you receive that glorious confirmation email stating your spot in the race, book your flights and hotel stay immediately. Not only will you save money by monitoring flight prices 10-11 months out, but it will give you peace of mind and allow you to concentrate on training.

Avoid booking an Airbnb as the host can cancel at the last minute. Ideally, your hotel should be near the start or finish line, or close to public transit since streets may be shut down and inaccessible for Uber and Lyft. Be sure that the hotel has a refundable option in case you need to defer (push your entry back a year).

Make Dinner Reservations the Night Before

Chances are if you’re running an international race, there will be thousands of other runners in the same city on the hunt to carb load. Beat the crowds and eliminate the chance of eating a super late dinner by securing a reservation the night before your race.

Stick with foods you normally eat before long runs. When I ran the Berlin marathon, we researched restaurants in the area and reserved a spot at an Italian place. As I usually eat pasta and protein before long runs, this was a good choice. Plus, it was delicious!

Create a Packing List

A laydown shot of essential items such as gels, sunglasses, socks and visibility gear.

Jot down everything you use for your long training runs, from your favorite pair of socks to your tried-and-true energy gels. After looking over your list, add in the essential items you’ll need for the race itself, like a race belt or extra safety pins for your bib. Having this list will help you feel prepared and give you ample time to stock up on items you may be running low on, like anti-chafing products.

Pack Food and Nutrition You’ve Been Training With

Don’t assume that the local grocery store or expo will have the same food and gels you use for training. The golden rule of marathons is “nothing new on race day,”, and the last thing you need is a stomach issue. Reusable plastic bags are great for ensuring your gels stay compact and safe for travel. I was able to pack dry oatmeal for my race day breakfast and use a separate bag to bring my gels.

Place Race Necessities in a Carry-On

Do NOT pack your race items in a checked bag. If the airport loses your luggage, you will be left scrambling around at the last minute for shoes, nutrition, running clothes and more.

Double check that everything is packed in a carry-on or a personal item, such as a backpack. Another rule of thumb is to pack two of everything just in case something happens to your planned race outfit – for example, your socks get a hole in them or your shorts rip. Ideally, your extra clothes are those that you’ve run a few long runs in as well. If you have room, pack different clothes for various weather conditions, such as throwaway gear in case it gets cold.

Get Proper Rest During the Flight

If you’re taking a red eye flight to your destination, getting some sleep may assist with jet lag. You can also keep some electrolyte tabs and a refillable water bottle in your backpack or personal item. Nuun is a great option as the tubes are travel friendly and there is a wide variety of flavors.

For long layovers, see if there is a lounge option at the airport you are staying at. For a small fee, some lounges will have breakfast, snacks, showers, and couches excluded from the general seating areas. Some hotels nearby may offer day passes as well.

Beat Jet Lag

Natalya smiles at the entrance to the Berlin Marathon expo.

When I traveled to Germany for the Berlin marathon, the jet lag was practically nonexistent. I credit this to the fact that we took a red eye and did not stop at the hotel right when we landed to nap. Instead, we arrived at the expo an hour before closing, dropped our luggage off at the hotel and went right to dinner. It may sound exhausting but we slept soundly through the night because we had been constantly moving throughout the day. You can check beforehand to find out if the race expo will hold your luggage.

We also arrived a few days prior to the race to adjust to the local time and get on a regular routine. This helped me feel well rested when I woke up on race day as opposed to feeling sluggish.

Go Sightseeing, But Don’t Overdo It

It’s difficult to travel somewhere new and stay cooped up in a hotel, especially if you don’t know when you’ll be back to visit. There’s nothing wrong with doing a little exploring and it may help stretch out your legs from a long flight.

However, you don’t want to wake up sore or achy on race day thanks to traveler’s FOMO. Map out what you want to see and the most efficient way to see everything, whether that be walking to sites within a short distance of each other or doing a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. The further out from race day you can sightsee, the better.

Recovery Time

Natalya Jones smiles after finishing the Berlin Marathon.

You completed the race—congratulations! Now for the fun part: recovery.

This is the time to do all the sightseeing you missed out on. Walking is a great way to recuperate from a marathon by improving blood circulation and loosening sore muscles.

Indulge in all the food you want, and if you are traveling to another destination after, splurge on extra leg room for yourself. After all, you deserve it.

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