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I Ran 3 Marathons In Other Countries And Here's What I Learned

BRB, running the world.

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Running a marathon overseas is a great way to get in shape and travel the world at the same time.

Caitlin Carlson

I would know. I've run three: the London marathon in 2013, the Berlin marathon in 2015, and the Tokyo marathon in 2016. They're all part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series comprised of six of the most famous marathons in the world: New York, London, Berlin, Chicago, Boston, and Tokyo.

While all three experiences were mostly incredible — running is such a great way to tour the world — I also ran into my fair share of difficulties along the way. Here are all of the lessons I learned, so you'll be more than prepared to run one should you decide to do it, too.

1. Choose your location wisely.

Flickr: loic80l

When deciding where to run, location is obviously key. You want your city of choice to be somewhere you actually want to visit, because that's part of the fun. But also, be sure to scope out the racecourse itself. Is it flat? Is it hilly? This matters — a lot. For more info, check out reviews from other runners on sites like Marathon Guide, the international "Race Finder" page at Runners World, or World Marathon Majors, for more info on Berlin, London, and Tokyo.

2. And pick a marathon-friendly Airbnb or hotel.

I stayed in an Airbnb in Tokyo, and it really helped soothe my nerves. Not only do you have a real fridge and microwave (perfect for race-day oatmeal), you also have the overall benefit of feeling more "at home" — something that helps with pre-race jitters. My host in Tokyo, Mac, even recommended a running route nearby for me to "shake out my legs," and left runner-friendly fuel like bananas and sports drinks in the apartment since he knew I was in town to run!

Hotels that are close to the marathon will often offer special services just for marathoners, too. Call them ahead of time to find out what they offer: Many will serve breakfast, coffee, etc. the morning of the race — and many offer buses to the starting line.


3. If you can, recruit friends to travel with you.

Caitlin Carlson

Exploring a new city with friends is already fun, but it's even more beneficial if you're running a marathon because you have someone to help you figure out the logistics of getting to the starting line, the expo, etc. While it's completely OK to go on your own (I figured out how to get to the Greenwich starting line in London all on my own), it's comforting to have a pal around to snap pics, and hang with you during the inevitably long wait at the start of the race.

I was lucky enough to have three friends along in Tokyo, one of whom came with me to the start, even though she wasn't running. However, I've learned that runners are typically very friendly, and if you arrive at the start alone, don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with a particularly friendly-looking fellow marathoner.

4. Get there three days before race day.

Tongro Image Stock / Getty Images

You'll need time to acclimate once you get over there, so don't just fly in the day before the race and expect to run your best. Get there at least three nights before race day (if not more) to let your body adjust to the time difference.


6. First things first, overpack.


Running a marathon overseas is pretty much the one time when you have permission to pack more than you'll need. If you're not sure what the weather is going to be like the morning of the race, bring layers on layers on layers, so you can DIY a climate-controlled race day outfit.

8. And bring multiple power converters, too, so your gear is always fully charged.

Kevin Smith / BuzzFeed

Bring a converter for each tech item that you'll be running with. If you'll be wearing a watch and a phone, bring two converters, not one — so you can charge everything at the same time the night before the race. After all, you do NOT want your phone to die DURING the race.

9. And don't forget compression gear for the plane ride home.

Ideally, you'll stay for a few days after the race to explore the city. But if you have to head home the next day (or you're traveling somewhere else), compression pants and socks are clutch — they can help with circulation so you won't get that swollen feeling post-flight.


10. Learn the metric system, so you don't have to do math during the race.

Many international marathons, like Berlin, don't have mile markers — they have kilometer markers. If you figure out how to do that before the race, you'll have less math to do in your head during the race itself.

11. Make reservations for your night-before-the-race and night-after-the-race meals.

This pre-race meal is especially important, so don't leave it to chance. Yelp the restaurants in the area, find one with good, solid pre-race food, and then make reservations — the night before a race is usually very busy. Planning your dinner ahead of time will also help soothe your nerves.

The night after the race is your time to go nuts — so book a table at the best place in town! Keep in mind that all of the other runners will be trying to do the same thing, so try to do this in advance.

12. Plan to sightsee a couple days before or after the race.

Flickr: paolomargari

To quote my lovely Berin hotel concierge, "You can't have a world-class marathon and a hop on hop off bus tour in the same weekend." And it's true! Streets will be blocked off in the days leading up to the race—so figure out your touristy plans accordingly.


14. Make sure you've dealt with your music situation before you start.

I'd planned to listen to the "workout" playlist on my Spotify, and then had to revert to "top hits" since I forgot I wouldn't have Wi-Fi. No big, but easy to avoid: You should either have international data enabled on your phone (this requires a phone call to your provider), or save your Spotify playlist to your phone when you have Wi-Fi — so you can listen offline.

15. Get to the expo as early as possible.

Flickr: acordova

Otherwise, they may not have your shirt size left! Also, the expo can get very stressful, just as it is in the U.S. It always seems like such a simple concept: Go to expo. Pick up bib. Leave. But it always turns into a three-hour ordeal, more so if you're in a country where you don't speak the language or know the transit system.

In Berlin, for example, the expo was in an old airport, and I had to walk what seemed like over a mile just to get from the entrance to the bib pick-up spot. Then, I wanted to get my picture in front of the "World Marathon Majors" Berlin poster that had a huge line. The end result: I got back to the hotel to get ready for dinner WAY later than I expected.


17. Make friends!

Caitlin Carlson

Everyone is so friendly during marathons. So chat with the people around you, at the starting line, when you're finished, and when you're back at the hotel — it's all like one big party.

18. But also, stand your ground.

Wavebreakmedia Ltd / Getty Images

I noticed that things got a bit more competitive in Berlin than they do in the U.S. I got elbowed and jabbed—many, many times. Stand your ground and don't let yourself get knocked around!

19. Consider following a pacer.

Flickr: easy-berlin

For those who don't know, a pacer is a runner who maintains a specific time, so you can follow along and run that same time, too. I ended up getting in with the 4:00 pace group and sticking to them for the whole race. It was my first time doing this — I'm usually more of a solo runner — but I was surprised by how much I loved it. Not only did I hit the 4:00 mark (fine, 4:00:07), I enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of the pack—even though there were many different languages being spoken.


20. Take it easy the day after the race.

Flickr: grassrootsgroundswell

This is not the time to do a bike tour, or spend the entire day wandering the city. Try one of those hop on/hop off bus tours, so you can still see stuff without completely hobbling around the city. (Keep in mind, though, some of the street closures may still be in effect.)

21. Keep drinking.

Water, that is. Between sitting on a plane to get there and actually running the marathon, staying hydrated is no easy feat—even tougher than it is when you're running a race stateside. Suck down as much H2O as humanly possible post-race. (That goes for pre-race too! And during. Just keep drinking, ok?)

22. Enjoy everything.

Take in as much local food and drinks as you possibly can, especially because it tastes so much better after you've run a bajillion miles. But don't worry if you also crave the comforts of home. For whatever reason, I craved a PSL from Starbucks after my Berlin marathon, and it was the most delicious thing in that moment ever.

23. In the end, just know that an international marathon is an amazing way to tour a new—or known & loved—city.

Caitlin Carlson

Many courses—at least the three that I've run—deliberately take you past the main tourist attractions as well as areas of the cities you may not have otherwise had a chance to see.

Sign up for a race next fall or spring as soon as registration opens so you have motivation to keep up your running routine and—perhaps more importantly—travel plans to make!