Although most people try to plan workouts into a trip, some tourists plan trips around their workouts. These competitors learn that athletic excursions can expose new ways to exercise—and new ways to travel. Whether it’s a weekend stop to participate in a race or a two-month vacation to bike across countries, destination athletes are finding ways to make exercise their motivation to travel and travel their motivation to exercise.
Running: Napa Valley Venture
The light reflecting off water, the crisp ocean breeze, and the steady drum of feet hitting pavement. The Golden Gate Bridge has about 10 million annual visitors, but McKenzie Ashman is experiencing it in a less conventional way—she’s running it. Although Ashman made sure to stop by Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, it was the 106-mile relay from the Golden Gate Bridge to Napa Valley that attracted her to the area.
Running can be an easy excuse to travel because race series bring runners together from all corners of the world. Ashman stumbled upon the Napa Valley Ragnar Relay when a friend was looking for some extra runners for the race. Despite being a few weeks into her college semester and living states away from the race’s location, Ashman and her friends committed to participate in the relay. The lure of a weekend trip to the Bay Area called her away from the streets she knew so well in her college town.
Ashman admits that the decision to make a trip across states during a busy semester was unusual, but the commitment to the race helped her dedicate the time, money, and energy she would have to spend. “I wouldn’t have gone to San Francisco on a roundabout trip otherwise,” she says. “I couldn’t find a reason to spend the money. But saying I was running and training was a good enough reason for me.”
Making memories with people from the excursion made the trip especially worthwhile for Ashman. She found that relay running with new friends allowed her opportunities to make connections that can be difficult to find in everyday life.
“The team motivated me to work a little harder. What I did affected them too,” she says. “The location mattered, but I felt a responsibility to the people who were going with me, and I don’t think I would have felt that responsibility in my own backyard. I opened up to people who I’m really not sure I would have otherwise.”
Races of various distances can be found all over the world for runners of all skill levels. The Ragnar Relay series offers relays and trail relays across the United States, while the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series offers half- and full-marathons all around the country as well as in other parts of the world, such as Madrid, Dublin, and Oslo. So invite some friends, sign up for a race, start training, and get ready to travel.
Triathlon: Interstate Iron Man
Triathlons are one of the more daunting athletic challenges, but they take place in a variety of locations and at various distances, making them a great choice for any ambitious athlete.
Meghan Henry, a serious triathlete and Iron Man competitor, has traveled to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Louisville, Kentucky; Lake Placid, New York; and Kona, Hawaii—swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles in each location.
While Henry has always been athletic, joining the world of triathlons was an accident. When she went to college, she ran and swam simply to stay in shape. Eventually she met the president of her college’s triathlon club. He persuaded her to attend a couple workouts. A month later she competed in her first triathlon, placing first, and she has been addicted ever since.
Henry says she blindly signed up for her first Iron Man in Coeur d’Alene. She had a fractured tibia on race day. Her training had come from a book, and she had an overall sense of being unprepared. As a result, the race did not go the way Henry anticipated.
“The cannon went off at 6:30
sharp, and the 2,500+ athletes, including myself, dove into the clear waters for the 2.4-mile swim,” Henry says. The swim was “uneventful,” but it was followed by “a horrific bike ride.” “I had no idea that there were actual mountain passes that we had to go up,” Henry explains. “This shows just how naïve I was going into this race.”
She then began the marathon portion of the race. At mile 25, her body felt numb and her vision was blurry. She soon fell into unconsciousness. When she woke up, she refused aid from the EMTs, because accepting aid would disqualify her from the race. The EMTs contacted her father. But Meghan Henry had made her mother promise that she would not let her quit, no matter the consequences. She finished the race and was rushed to the emergency room with a temperature of 93.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I did not foresee myself passing out at mile 25. So what did I do to rectify this feeling of inadequacy? Well, there was only one solution: to sign up for Iron Man Louisville in four weeks to compete with my newly earned ‘Iron Mind,’” she explains. “Because of my determination to finish, I would not give up—instead of saying I can’t, I changed my mindset to I can and I will.”
Now Meghan Henry travels all across the United States to compete in these races, and she feels there are benefits from getting outside of her geographic comfort zone.
“The advantage of racing away from home is, primarily, the touristic experience. Being able to experience a new town is definitely worth the traveling expenses,” she explains. “Being able to associate with people from the area is also an advantage of traveling. The people are very welcoming, providing the town itself with the ultimate friendly ambiance.”
Even though Meghan Henry is a college student, she feels justified
in making travel arrangements for these experiences and for her health. “Using exercise as a means of traveling allows me to spend the necessary amount of money because I know that I am doing something beneficial for my body,” she explains. “Exercise allows me to keep a healthy lifestyle, which includes traveling to different places across the world.”
Since triathlons can be modified from standard Iron Man distances, runners of all levels can begin their triathlon career with a trip. These races can be found in just about any location. Three of the most popular options in the United States are the Nation’s Triathlon in DC; Escape from Alcatraz in San Francisco; and the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in Malibu. For something outside the United States, the Bali Triathlon in Jimbaran Bay might suit a more adventurous appetite.
Biking: Sightseeing and Cycling
Biking offers significant advantages to the destination athlete because cyclists can usually travel farther for longer periods of time and can even eliminate the need for a car. John Russell first started biking in 2007 as a simple way to fill his time as a high school student in Vancouver, Washington.
“I picked up my bike. Five miles became 15, and eventually I got to 100 miles in one day,” he says. “I began to wonder, How far could I go if I didn’t have to come home every night?”
So Russell tested his limits. During the summer between his junior and senior years of high school, he biked 1,000 miles around the state of Washington. When the next opportunity came, he took it: a trip from Washington State to San Francisco with about half a dozen high school friends. Slowly the group’s numbers dwindled to three, then two, until everyone except Russell had backed out.
“I thought, I don’t need all these friends to bike; I’ll just do it myself,” he says.
Being on his own meant Russell could push himself farther than originally planned. He made it to San Francisco with a week to spare and decided to keep biking. He biked down to Los Angeles, San Diego, and eventually Mexico. The trips grew to include a bike trip from Portland to New York and even a goal to bike 10,000 miles in one year, which Russell says he accomplished on a ride that culminated at the Canadian border at about 11 PM on New Year’s Eve.
“I couldn’t bring myself to miss that goal after all the work I’d put in,” he says. “For the rest of my life, if I don’t top that, I’ll be happy.”
While some find a connection in group travel, Russell doesn’t mind biking and traveling alone, which is how he biked across Europe during the summer of 2013. The freedom of riding solo gives him the chance to meet new friends, such as a grandmother at a state fair in Kansas who bought him dinner, or a group of Spaniards who had never met anyone like him.
Russell tells of a stop he made near Castellón de la Plana: “I stopped at this bar to get water and ice. I go in there, and there’s only one person who speaks English. They’re so excited because they’ve never had an American in their bar. You get a much better local flavor. People will actually stop and say, ‘Hey I want to ask you about your trip.’”
According to Russell, experiences like these are impossible for him to have anywhere besides on his bike, and biking has allowed him to do new things and grow in unique ways.
“There’s no way I would have done this if I hadn’t done it with biking,” Russell explains. “It’s the cheapest way to see these things you never would have seen. It’s the most freedom out of any form of travel. The fact that I turned my wheels across the United States and Europe—it’s a humbling experience.”
Biking across states or countries can be difficult when highways restrict bike traffic or when routes are difficult to find, but some races and bike tours can provide a place to jumpstart your biking travels. The Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic is the largest multi-day cycling event in the Northwest. And a tour with a company like Bike Tours Direct could help you travel from Florence to Rome on a seven-day cycling trek.
While beginning an exercise expedition can be a little daunting, inspiration can be found in ordinary people and everyday races. If you’re looking for a way to break into a new form of athleticism, travel can be a great motivator. By simply signing up for a race that you’re comfortable with, you can use this commitment as an excuse to travel—and earn some serious bragging rights while doing it.
Four Tips for Race Tripping
Racing accessories other than basic running clothes can get bulky and take space in your bags. Save room for these items by bringing versatile clothing and easily packable items. See page 88 for suggestions.
Athletes should anticipate some soreness and minor injuries after strenuous exercise. Don’t plan travel activities that you think you’ll be overly exhausted for or in too much pain to accomplish. If necessary, do your sightseeing in the days before your race.
Chances are your trip might be a short one if you’re only stopping in for the race. Choose a location with a few must-do items and commit to them. Having nothing to do besides race may underwhelm your travel plans.
If you have to skip your usual bed and breakfast brunch for your race, go out to a fancy local place to celebrate for lunch or dinner; you will have burned around 1,200 calories during the race. Make some time to do fun things as a reward after your hard work.
— Alison Moore
Photo courtesy of Ragnar Relay Series, Photo by Brendan Gray, Photo by Pascal Gertschen, Photo courtesy of Ragnar Relay Series