How to Ace Packing for an International Race

Lately, several of my friends expressed their desire to follow my footsteps and race overseas. It’s not that hard! But it is a steep learning curve, so I wanted to share some of what I learned while it’s fresh in my mind. During 2016, I traveled to Europe four times, visiting seven countries including the Canary Islands and Catalonia in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, France, and Switzerland. I’ve been through at least fifteen different international airports. And I ran 5 international races totaling about 215 miles raced–soon to be about 285–including the Skyrunning World Series, the Skyrunning World Championships, and the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships. All this experience added up to one great lesson in how to travel internationally while leaving some stress at home. Here are some tips to help your travels sail smoothly:

  • make sure you have a valid passport and international driving permit. Late renewals of travel documents are expensive. Some countries require a Visa for travel, so check online. If you plan to drive or rent a car internationally, the IDP is required.  {tip: if you forget the IDP and your rental company refuses to rent a car to you, try another company. Some are more lenient than others. Be forewarned however that if you are pulled over without the IDP your car could be impounded at your expense. I paid $135 to have an IDP made and sent to Chamonix, but if you plan ahead you can have one made for $20 and the cost of a couple passport photos. Go to www.aaa.com for more details.}
  • check required and suggested gear. Most European races in mountainous terrain require survival gear including various layers of clothing, emergency blanket, whistle, headlamp with extra batteries and a collapsible cup in addition to the hydration pack. A pack with additional space like an Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta will be necessary to carry it all. Some races also require specialty equipment you may need to order. High Trail Vanoise–formerly Ice Trail Tarantaise–for example, requires traction devices for glacier travel. Usually, races require a working phone (see below under “call phone companies”). If you plan to use your smart phone, a waterproof, drop-proof case like a Lifeproof is essential. I watched a friend drop a brand new phone while changing his shoes, resulting in a epic shattered screen tape-job. Also, races like Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira require you to wade through water, or at Transvulcania, volunteers pour water over racers at every aid so best to be safe. {tip: Many race briefings are not translated into English so when in doubt carry what is listed in the rules to avoid penalties or disqualifications because race organizations do check your kit at random. Depending on where you are you may be able to buy most of what you need at the race expo. If you forget extra batteries you can borrow some from a TV remote control for the day!}
  • pack your entire kit first. To avoid last minute overnight shipping, be sure your full kit works and fits. If you’re super well-prepared you’ll do a couple test runs in it. Along with your required gear, you may consider bringing fuels for the race. Some races, like those in France, tend to have solid foods you may not be familiar with at a race like cheese and salami, but they may not have your typical gel at every aid station. In general I try not to rely on drop bags, but for the most part, the drops are just as reliable as in the US so don’t fret.  {tip: Carry your entire kit including your race shoes with you on the flight just in case. Luckily, I packed my kit when flying to the Canary Islands for Transvulcania in 2015, because my luggage was lost for nearly 4 days. Now I travel light and always just use a carry-on bag.}
  • pack the essentials. Many areas in Europe offer far less conveniences than America. Most mountain towns have a small pharmacy where essentials can be obtained, but I’ve also spent 15€ on one bottle of contact solution after a lengthy charades session. At least ensure prescription medications are refilled and in hand a couple days before the trip. I always bring some basic allergy meds and Pepto or similar for an upset stomach. Valleys in France and Spain have many grasses and flowering shrubs that can be irritating, and I once thought I would die of food poisoning in Madrid on my way back to America, so best to be ready. Also, bring at least a couple hundred dollars to exchange to foreign currency to avoid foreign transaction fees of usually about 5%. I also always carry a water bottle and healthy snacks like avocado because staying fueled and hydrated can be tricky in airports. {tip: I don’t carry a yoga mat or foam roller, but instead I use a towel or blanket and roll with a wine bottle–thanks to Mike Wolfe’s suggestion :). Also, in airports where water fountains are scarce and an Evian costs 5euro like Madrid, ask at a coffee shop for a refill. Most attendants are super nice and helpful. Also, I also have a PR for 3 egg McMuffins in 3 states in less than 24-hours–after Buff Epic 110km–so cheap food can be obtained if you are non-discriminating like me.}
  • call card and phone companies. Set up a foreign travel plan with card companies you plan to use so your card doesn’t get flagged and shut down. Also, if possible bring a card with a chip reader which are more frequently utilized in Europe. Your phone company may offer pay-per-day plans or an international travel plan, so call to find what is right for you. Most European races require a phone as part of the kit, so you’ll have to have one in working order. {tip: Many people get a cheap track phone for this purpose and throw it in a plastic bag for protection. They are generally lighter than a smartphone with waterproof case. Also, if you plan to rent a car, your credit card may offer rental insurance and theft coverage so you don’t have to buy it from the company. Your card company may suggest you travel with a written verification of this insurance which must be mailed prior to departure, so check before you leave. I wasted hundreds of dollars on car insurance this year prior to figuring this one out!}
  • make yourself comfortable. Prior to a race, your body is tuned to run, not sit for hours. Wear loose,comfy clothes with layers and quality compression socks like Feetures! Graduated Compression to keep swelling down in the ankles. International flights on Delta provide earplugs and an eye mask but United and others don’t, so bring your own. It’s best to try to get on your new time and sleep schedule immediately. (Most places in Europe are 6-9 hours ahead–later–than America). {tip: I use Hammer REM Caps–combination of melatonin and valerian root–religiously while traveling internationally to get on a foreign sleep schedule right away. I force myself to rest during European sleep hours, even if it’s only 2pm in Atlanta, and then I stay awake once I get to Europe. The first few days are rough but it’s worth it by race day.}

Hope this helps to see you on some international soil…Cheers!

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3 Comments

  1. In France, you need a medical certificate saying that you can compete. Needs to be worded like this “pas de contre indication a la pratique de la course en pied en competition”.
    They won’t give you your bib without this.

    Like

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