The communications executive, who relocated to Belgium from Chicago during the pandemic, met up with friends in Valencia, Spain to run the marathon last year and plans to run the Marathon du Médoc in September. While in Japan, Butterfield flew to Seoul to run the marathon and spend a long weekend in South Korea.
Runners who love to travel — and travelers who love to run — have had their passports stamped and bucket lists checked from race to race. For many, the finish race serves as a spur to travel to a new place and stick to a training schedule.
The first time I set foot in Vermont was ostensibly to referee the 2012 Mad Half, but while I sort of finished third in my age group (I owe the small field to credit), I didn’t care that much about my performance at the 13.1 Miles as I did about visiting the Green Mountain State.
Although I have yet to race internationally, I’ve been running halfway through Vermont Marathons in Duluth, Minnesota; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; and Corning, NY, along with around 50 half marathons across the country. For me, post-race indulgence – local beer is almost always on the menu – and bragging about it (it’s kind of cool to run a marathon outside of your hometown after all) was part of my charm, especially when the BQ (Boston Qualifier ) I kept chasing myself away.
Alisa Cohen, founder of Luxe Traveler Club, a boutique travel agency, said most of her marathon-travelling clients are novices who enjoy the sporty component of such a vacation. Planning a trip around a target race “adds to all the excitement of marathon training” and is a great way to see a city and plan a trip around it, Cohen said, noting that Paris has become a popular one in this regard has become a travel destination.
Spencer Farrar’s first international race in Scotland in 2006 hooked him on racing travel. (“I had a little interest in bagpipes at the time.”) “A lot of my races are quite honestly determined by location,” said Farrar, who works for a private equity firm and splits his time between Hawaii and New York City. He said that the majority of his travels are increasingly related to running.
Farrar’s favorite racing destination is South Africa, where he has run the Comrades Marathon (an ultra) nine times and will run his tenth later this summer. The itinerary changes with each visit, although Farrar said he plans to stay back in Cape Town, one of his favorite cities, which he describes as “foodie paradise,” before venturing into wine country.
Two of New York City attorney Ruth Gursky’s most memorable travel experiences took place in Sydney and Amsterdam, respectively. As a participant in the Gay Games, a sporting and cultural event promoting equality, Gursky made these events part of a larger plan to discover different cities. “It’s fun to meet other athletes from other countries and to visit new countries. Otherwise I would never have come to Sydney. It’s a long journey,” Gursky said.
David Killian, site selection officer for the Federation of Gay Games, said a lot goes into choosing the location of the Games. As well as the city’s generous support and being able to host the Games, Killian said “having the right destination is an important part of it.” Satisfied attendees, Killian said, “It was quite difficult to get people from all over the world excited to go to a small town.”
Doug Thurston, race director of the Big Sur International Marathon, which attracts runners from more than two dozen countries and all 50 states, said, “Building running into some sort of part of your vacation experience is more popular than ever.” Citing the growth of marathons in Southeast Asia, Thurston said, “Now you can create an international destination list with nothing but cities and marathons in all those cities.”
Most established big city marathons – New York, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Berlin, Tokyo, London – take participants on a 26.2-mile tour of city streets. Local restaurants often gather behind the runners and offer special meals before or after the race, and the communities usually support them, coming out to cheer and holding signs with phrases like “Smile. You paid for it” and “That’s a lot of work for a free banana,” designed to make runners smile through the miles and often the pain.
But it’s not just the world’s biggest cities that runners flock to. Some of Big Sur’s competitors and their accompanying families consider the race, which takes place every April on Highway 1, as their California vacation and inject “millions and millions of dollars into tourism,” Thurston said. Houston First executive director Michael Heckman echoes this view when discussing the Chevron Houston Marathon: “Signature events like these offer tremendous value to the city and the local economy – particularly to nearby hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues along the way Share track and even for car drivers.”
One of Alaska’s signature events, the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon, prompted Sally Pont to sign up and start training again. The DC-based college advisor’s first 26.2 miles was the Philadelphia marathon in the early hours of the morning. Pont, who attended Penn State Graduate School about three hours away, said the race was “not an excursion per se, but the experience of driving across town and then ending at the museum made me realize what the marathon was like about so much more than running.”
“If I did another marathon, I would do something cool,” Pont said of the 2003 marathon in Anchorage, where she added a few extra days to enjoy a blues festival in Denali National Park and a seaplane trip to one Glacier.
Madeleine Fontillas Ronk, a sea glass artist who lives with her family in the Los Angeles area, also jumped at the opportunity to travel to Cuba in 2017 to compete in the Havana Triathlon. “We just thought we should do it now, because who knows?” said Fontillas Ronk, noting that given Cuba’s tight travel restrictions, a travel agent was used to make all the arrangements. While Fontillas Ronk and her daughter focused on pre-race activities and the race itself, Fontillas Ronk’s husband accompanied other runners’ family members on a tour of museums and art galleries.
Cuba isn’t the only destination where utilizing the expertise of a trip planner can help take the stress out of planning the distance on foreign soil. Since 1979, Marathon Tours & Travel has partnered with races around the world, assisting runners with land-based logistics, including race registration.
“It’s really grown into this great group of motivated individuals who obviously have a passion not only for running but also for traveling and visiting different destinations around the world,” said Karen Hoch, who has been at the team is.
Butterfield calls the race the appetizer of the journey. “Obviously you can’t explore every corner and neighborhood of a city, but the race gives you a map of the city,” she said. The course itself gives the experienced runner an idea of what she wants to explore in the days after the race. Running, Butterfield said, is “what whets the appetite.”
Lastoe is a Brooklyn-based writer. your site is staceylastoe.com. Find her on Twitter: @stacespeaks.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.