For many people, an overseas marathon is the natural progression after completing their first domestic marathon. It is a natural reaction, particularly for those with a keen interest in travel, to run a major marathon and then look at a challenge further afield.
These days it is just about possible to run a marathon anywhere in the world and on every one of the seven continents. There has been a huge growth in the number of destinations offering events, from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and thousands in-between. Wherever you want to run, there will probably be a race of some sort held at some point during the year. The big question is: do you make all the arrangements for your dream trip yourself or rely on the support of a specialist tour operator?
The big question is: do you make all the arrangements for your dream trip yourself or rely on the support of a specialist tour operator?
Many runners first overseas marathon is in New York, an event dominated by the packages offered through the various charities. Each year, they recruit around a thousand runners between them, for what is one of the world’s most spectacular marathons.
Although the charities recruit the runners on a number of different packages, the trips are actually operated by running tour companies who have access to places allocated to them by the race organisers.
While it is possible to get a place direct, a minority of runners choose this approach, with by far the majority going for the tour option. Other big US marathons, such as Chicago, are also working with charities to offer packages, a concept that is becoming increasingly popular, both in the US and in Europe.
One of the big questions for charities and tour operators to answer is why a runner would take a place through a charity when they can get a place in the race direct. This option is popular for New York, because it’s not so easy to get your own place, but in an event like the Paris Marathon, getting your own place is easy. So why choose a running tour specialist and what do they offer?
In this era of discount airlines, the promise of a cheaper fare is not always as reliable as it would have done a few years ago, but there are still some bargains. Although maybe not as applicable for some European destinations, the buying power of a big operator can secure you a better deal. Perhaps, as importantly, they can get you a flight from an airport to suit you and a time of day to suit you.
Bear in mind, though, that while the budget airlines may in some cases be cheaper, the departure airport may be a long drive from your home and the flight might not be at the most convenient time.
This is particularly important if you’re looking at one of the big city centre events. It is easy to get caught out if you’re planning your own trip, especially if you leave it late and end up staying well out of the city centre. Being faced with a long trip each day is not a problem if you’re heading in for some sightseeing, but most definitely can be a problem on race morning, especially if you have a 6am start!
If you do decide to organize your own trip, then book accommodation early. If not, then this can be a major advantage in going with a tour operator. They should have access to the most central hotels.
One of the biggest benefits of traveling with a tour operator is the guarantee of a race entry. This is especially important where entries close early but it is also an issue in countries where language barriers can make communication difficult. It is much easier now with online entry available, but with smaller races in more remote destinations, this is often not an option. A tour operator does all this for you.
Many people traveling overseas like the security of being accompanied by someone who knows the area and can advise on race procedure. Tour companies provide this support on all their organised trips, and for many runners it is this alone that makes a running tour the obvious choice. Many of these support managers have done these trips numerous times and know the local area and the course intimately.
A social environment
Travelling to an overseas race on your own can be a lonely experience with few opportunities to meet up with fellow runners before race day. Travelling as part of a group, however, can be a totally different experience, with like-minded people ready to share their stories of running all over the world. Whether for moral support leading up to the race or a few nights out in town, you are likely to make some good friends on these trips.
Looking on the downside, what if something goes wrong? You miss your flight, the hotel is overbooked and you get 'bounced' (that can happen on the plane as well), the race organiser says he never got your entry (despite it appearing on the internet), or you simply lose your money. All these problems have been faced a million times by your tour operator, and resolved. Tour operators don’t have problems, they have issues and you pay to have them dealt with. You are more likely to encounter problems traveling alone without the security that the tour provides.
If you don’t want to go on a full running tour there is another option; the bespoke package. This is where a tour company will tailor a package to a race of your choice especially for you, but with no accompanying tour manager. For those with limited time to arrange a trip and who prefer to travel independently, this is the perfect option.
However you choose to do it, whether as part of an organised tour or on your own, you should not miss an opportunity to head overseas for an event. Whatever distance you’re comfortable with, the combination of travel and running is one that will guarantee a memorable break and more than likely leave you wanting more.
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