Looking for a different kind of vacation? Is a vacation not a vacation unless it involves your running shoes? It might be time then to try a “runcation”! Runcations, destination races, running holidays, vacation running, runcation travel – all these terms mean the same thing – use your running goals as a bridge and the means to explore new destinations, with your own two feet! There is no more unique and intimate way to experience a new place, than by running it! Running is the vessel that gets you there, and afterwards, you can continue to explore your new destination!
One of the biggest thrills of planning a runcation, is discovering just how many iconic sights and landmarks are home to long distance running events! Want to see the Golden Gate Bridge? Run it! Want to tackle the Great Wall of China? Run it! Want to run across enormous expanses of ice in Greenland or Antarctica? Run it! Want to race through Machu Picchu? Run it! Want to run in some of the coolest National Parks in the country, like Yellowstone or Grand Teton? Run it! This is just a taste of what is in store when you embark on a runcation! Here’s a few more epic potential runcation destinations from across the globe!
- The Iceland Volcano Marathon – Iceland
- The Big Five Marathon – South Africa
- The Grand to Grand Ultra – Grand Canyon, Arizona
- The Antarctic Ice Marathon – Antarctica
- Everest Marathon – Nepal
- Petra Desert Marathon – Jordan
- Pikes Peak Marathon – Colorado
- Australian Outback Marathon – Australia
- Spartathlon Ultra Marathon – Greece
***Learn more about these runcation races and 21 of the world’s most extreme adventure running holidays!
Of course, runcations don’t have to be remote and exotic all the time, they can be in your own home state, or simply a neighboring state or country that you have always wanted to visit! When this native Texan wanted to experience the quaint hilly neighborhood streets of San Francisco, I ran them! When I wanted to take in the whimsy of Disneyland, I ran it! When I wanted to visit the Hill Country of my own home state of Texas, I ran it! Runcations can be the perfect inspiration to plan a trip and visit that place you have always wanted to visit, in a completely unique and unforgettable way!
Every runner should have their own running goals, and be keenly aware of what motivates them personally! If you haven’t experienced a runcation race yet, that might be just what you need in your own running journey!
The term runcation is an integral part of my writing and my personal lifestyle, but there are a plethora of active travel “cations” one could formulate around a goal. Short distance hiking, long distance hiking, mountain climbing, triathlons, cycling races, trail running races, backpacking, kayaking, etc. You can easily formulate a vacation around any of these outdoor adventures, like a “hikecation”, or “cyclecation”. The focus of this article is to hone in on the 3 key components to planning your own runcation destination race vacation, though most of what I am writing here will also be applicable to any of these aforementioned active travel events.
Ready to start planning your next runcation?!
Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!
Table of Contents
3 Steps to Planning a Runcation
There are 3 THINGS to consider when planning a runcation:
- Selecting the destination race for your running holidays
- Logistics of your chosen runcation
- Planning your non-racing down time at that vacation running destination
#1: Selecting the Destination Race for Your Running Holidays
So there are 2 ways to begin selecting a runcation.
Option #1). Decide on a particular race type, and narrow down your destinations. Perhaps you would like a city road race, like many of the Rock and Roll races, or perhaps a National Park race, like the Vacation Races series, with challenging hills on rural back roads and park trails? Knowing the difference between road and trail running can help you narrow down this decision. You can also check out this list of the best National Park Marathons and Half Marathons to inspire you!!
- If you prefer road running races, be sure to have all the right road running gear!
- If you prefer trail running races, be sure to have all the right trail running gear!
Or maybe more exotic or adventurous running holidays call to you, like racing through African grasslands on the Big Five Marathon, running across Greenland’s ice sheet on the Polar Circle Marathon, or tackling China’s most famous landmark on the Great Wall of China Marathon, like many of the races you can find through Albatros Adventure Marathons!
Option #2). You can reverse-engineer the process and pick a destination you would like to visit, and then check online racing calendars like this one to see what events will be happening in that area. I usually choose the latter method, though there are always some factors to consider. For example, I had always wanted to visit Texas Hill Country for a runcation. Upon checking some online race calendars I found both the Outlaw Half Marathon in Luckenbach, TX and the Spicewood Vineyards Half Marathon in Spicewood, TX! Both turned out to be a perfect fit, so I completed both, and had plenty to enjoy in those destinations once the runs were completed!
#2: Race Logistics to Consider for Your Destination Race
Regardless of how you go about selecting your runcation, there are always some logistics to consider to help you solidify your choice of running holidays.
A lot of races, particularly park races, are in more isolated areas – are you comfortable camping before and after a race? Only you know how you need to treat your body leading up to a big event and recovering after. Maybe you will decide to stay in a hotel, but then you must consider the distance from your hotel to the race start. Races usually start very early in the morning, so you probably do not want to be more than an hour away from the race when you wake up. So once I narrow down my destination candidates, I check to make sure what lodging will work logistically, as well as considering other factors such as distance to drive or distance from an airport.
Also, in preparation for the third component of planning a runcation, what day of the week is your race? More often than not, organized races are held on either Saturday or Sunday. This can be an important factor for determining how you spend your down time. Do you need the Saturday before to mentally and physically prepare? Or do you want to race on Saturday right away, and then have more down time on Sunday to rest or further explore the area? These are all things to take into account when selecting your destination race. I personally prefer Saturday races, because I love having the Sunday after to check out what else is in the area. I reserve my strength and rest normally before a race, so my explorations usually have to wait until after I have completed my run.
Finally, consider your budget. Depending on your choice of runcation destination, be sure to factor in the cost of flights, rental cars, lodging, food, etc. You want to be well rested and well fed prior to a big race.
#3: When You’re Not Racing
Thirdly, what do you hope to see and do when you are not racing? Are there additional active travel opportunities to partake in in the area of your destination race? The race is definitely the highlight of any runcation, but I also like to pick my locations based on what else there is to do in the area. If you would like a getaway in the mountains, there are races for that. If you want to relax on the beach after, there are runs for that. Do you want to explore a big city, or stick to the small towns? Do you want to hike after and explore the area that way? There are options for all.
If it is a true runcation and you are traveling to get there, try and give yourself time to explore the area around your race. Most races occur on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so I usually try to arrive at my location by the night before. I think it makes the most sense to plan your extra free time towards the tail end of the trip, because the day before you are going to want to stay off your feet and rest them as much as possible. I have found that three nights and two days is my own optimal runcation time frame. One night to arrive and get settled, one day to race and recover, and one day following to explore (at a minimum, it is always great to have even more time)!
Ultimately what you hope to get out of your running holidays is up to you. There are benefits to competing in a big city race, one in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains, bordered by water, you name it. One of my favorite runcations happened in Anaheim, with high energy, plenty of spectators, Darth Vaders on every corner, and no shortage of high fives and cheering. The morale boost from a big city run can definitely be not only a huge adrenaline push to the finish, but an increased sense of camaraderie.
On the other hand, one of my other favorite local half marathons was the Outlaw Half Marathon in tiny Luckenbach, Texas. The entire race was run through open fields still glistening from untouched morning dew, where there only other spectators were the deer grazing as we passed by. I ran past the skeleton of some past deceased large mammal on this trail…an actual skeleton! But that race left me with a quiet peacefulness and the chance to really get in touch with my inner thoughts for a couple hours.
Take into consideration logistics such as elevation gain, degree of “hilliness”, etc., as these details may not seem like much on paper, but they should be considered especially for someone in training. I will never forgot how taxing it was to traverse hill after hill after agonizing hill in the final, never-ending miles of the San Francisco Half Marathon (my first half marathon)! But I had no one to blame but myself for not doing my due diligence in realizing the degree to which I would have to cope with elevation changes.
Training for a Destination Race Runcation
As far as conquering the logistics of training for a runcation, here is my complete 16 week half marathon training program that I personally have used for completed races in the double digits. Seasons are everything for me. I cannot run inside due to boredom, so all of my training occurs outside. And I live in Texas. Running outside and Texas summers do not mix, therefore, I rarely run long mileages between the months of June and August. That being said, I have to automatically discount any races that might fall in the early months of autumn, because that means I would have to train and complete the hardest part of my 16 week course in the summer.
- ***Download your own 16 Week Half Marathon Training Calendar for Beginners HERE!
- ***Download your own 16 Week Marathon Training Calendar for Beginners HERE!
For a brand new beginner, I would recommend at least four months to train for a half marathon or marathon, so keep the seasons in mind when you are picking your race and determine if you will be able to train in the seasons leading up to your race. For myself personally, even at an experienced level, I still choose to give myself four months to train. My optimal time frames for races are usually between December and June. I have had to turn down some amazing races due to the fact that they happen in August or September, but I have to be honest with myself.
Recommendations for Running Your Runcation
The most important piece of equipment for any training regimen and running holidays is a good pair of shoes. My go to for all my road half marathons and marathons have been my Brooks Glycerins. In turn, I run all my trail races with these unbeatable HOKA One One Speedgoats, because they are unmatched in cushioning, support, and grip. I would highly recommend that if you plan to run regularly and consistently, that you invest in a good, albeit expensive, pair of shoes. It will be worth it. Go to a specialty running store and have a professional analyze your gait and recommend a pair of shoes that fit your needs. And try to replace those shoes around every five hundred miles, before you begin to notice a decrease in your comfort.
Do some research on different running styles and gaits, and then get familiar with your own. For example, years ago as a newbie runner, I was suffering from knee pain early on until I watched a video in which one runner recommended not letting your feet land too far out in front of you. I realized I was doing this, and when I became aware and adjusted my landing, my knee pain went away.
***Want a runcation training plan specifically targeted towards trail running?
Some other runcation items I have appreciated over the years are a good wind resistant headband like this Gore Windstopper band for those cold and windy days, breathable, wicking clothing items, like these IceBreaker Merino tank and IceBreaker Merino running shorts, and a superb pair of anti blister performance socks, like these Hilly Twin Skin sock! I used to suffer from bad blisters on long distance runs, and hikes, until I discovered these amazing socks! The “twin skin” helps to minimize the friction that can cause blisters, and nothing will derail a run quicker than blisters! I have been blister free since switching to Twin Skins! Finally, a lightweight, fully waterproof and windproof outer shell is a huge bonus for me. The best outer shell out there for runners is the Outdoor Research Helium II jacket.
One of my favorite running holidays at Vancouver’s shoreline views!
Once you get to know your body as you run, allow it to call the shots. Regardless of what resources you use to plan your training regimen ( I strongly recommend my 16 week half marathon training plan that correlates directly to this article but goes into MUCH more detail), what I have found is that there are a great skeletons from which to start with, but allow your own experiences to fill in the muscles.
My first few runs training for my first half marathon, I felt I had to stick to the regimen exactly. I choose a training program and was running three times during the week with one long weekend run religiously. Some days I felt the twinges of pain, but pushed through because I was afraid to break from the program. I have learned what works for me (more days of rest between runs) and how often I really need to run each week to see results (no more than three times per week). It is ok to figure out what will work for you.
Twelve weeks is generally considered the minimum amount of time to prepare for a half marathon, so when I recommend four months to train, that is because I believe in building in bubble space. Spread your long runs out more, take a day off if your body needs it, do two runs this week instead of three. I learned the hard way that you can feel under trained on the morning of race day and still find it in you to push yourself further, but you can not overcome being injured. Be more afraid of injury than of “under-doing” it.
What does my actual training look like on a weekly basis then? Warning – once you commit to a training program it becomes a little like your religion, and you will find yourself planning your outings, your meals, and your errands around when you need to run! So, that being said, I begin training four months (16 weeks) out, knowing I’ll need the bubble space at times. I start out on week 1 with two 2 mile runs and a long run of three miles. Each week I increase in increments. If you’d like to know what the other fifteen weeks look like, check out my step by step guide to training for that first big running race!
I run no more than three times a week. Two short runs and one long run each week. I do not run back to back days ever. Generally, I actually try to give myself at least two days off in between each run. Sometimes it is three days, and sometimes it takes me more than a week to get through my three run cycle. Twice a week I try to do some form of cross training, strength training, cycling, yoga, or Pilates. You have to take care of the whole body, not just the legs! Cross training days are specifically and intentionally built in to my 16 week half marathon training schedule.
Eating healthy IS important, drinking water is a must, and I personally have no shame in the amount of carb loading I do, as long as they are healthy and helpful carbs! Figure out what foods work for you. Figure out if you run better on a full stomach or an empty stomach (full stomach all the way for me!). Whatever works for you leading up to the race, is what will work for you on race day. Here’s a whole bunch of resources for fueling up for your races:
- Do I Need to Fuel During a Half Marathon?
- What to Eat the Night Before a Long Run
- Why Peanut Butter is the Best for Runners
- Best Runner’s Foods and Diet
***Get helpful training trackers for all your running holidays HERE, including daily and weekly hydration trackers, meal planning printables, training calendars, and more!
A Few of My Favorite Runcations
So can I recommend a few of my favorite previous running holidays and vacation runs?
Best Big City/High Energy Race – Rock N Roll Dallas Half (not currently running)
Best Nerd Race – Star Wars Half Marathon
Most (deceptively) Challenging – San Francisco Half Marathon
Best Local Hometown race – Outlaw Half Marathon in Luckenbach, Texas
Best Waterfront Views – BMO Vancouver
Best National Park race – Grand Teton Half Marathon
Most Challenging race – Great Wall Marathon
Most Remote Middle of Nowhere race– Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland
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