The Perfect Destination
by Fatima Ahmad
Experienced runners know how to choose a marathon in which to run well. We scour guides and canvass race veterans for details about the course, aid stations, accuracy of splits, start-line organization, field size, and competitive level, weather history, and more. When it comes to choosing a race that will give us, and, more importantly, our partner, spouse or families, a truly enjoyable vacation while we get in our marathon, we tend to be either ignorant or pig-headed. Maui opened my eyes to how a marathon could be both a great vacation for me as a runner and for my wife and me as a couple. Following are some of the elements I’ll look for the next time I want to combine the two.
1) Location. It should be a destination you would go to even if there was no marathon there. Ask your spouse or family if they’d like to take their vacation in the location, without mentioning the race, and if the answer is “Why?” you probably need to find another race. Ideally it is a place, like Maui, where visitors are expected, welcomed, and well cared for.
2) Location. The trip should be long enough, or a big enough deal, to justify spending at least an extra day or two there, making the ratio of R&R&R (Running, Resting and Relaxing) a little more proportional than most weekend races, where running, and the events around running, take up the vast majority of the time.
3) Location. Find a race where the field size to visitor infrastructure is appropriate. This will be different for every location, but it should be big enough that the local population knows about the race and accommodates it (it isn’t just you and the homeless people walking around downtown on Sunday morning), but not so big that the transportation and facilities are overwhelmed and it is impossible to ever get away from the race, the runners, and the attendant crowds.
4) Convenience. Ensure that all the elements of the race are close to your hotel and other vacation activities. Too many marathon weekends are spent shuttling back and forth across cities or counties to the expo, pasta dinner, start, and finish. In Maui, everything, including the finish line, was at the host hotel, which was a resort on the beach, adjacent to a key tourist town.
5) Time. A hotel at the finish is especially nice for your family if the race starts early. You can get up before they wake, they can get up at their leisure, eat, take a walk or lay on the beach, and meet you at the finish rested, relaxed and happy to see you. You then, with your marathon done, have nearly a full day to relax and focus on other activities with them.
6) Attention to details. Find a place where the other events that you will want to attend, like the pasta party or awards ceremony, are worthwhile on their own, and cater to all in the group, not just the runner. Maui’s pasta party was on a balcony overlooking the ocean at sunset, with tablecloths, live music, and a diverse buffet of food that was not only good for runners, but just good.
7) A race for everyone. Great destination races have accompanying events to allow others to participate in the active vacation. Ideally these events are scheduled so that family members can support each other, or share childcare, and they have their own identities, such as their own name and T-shirts, so the “other” participants don’t feel like also-rans. Maui has the Maui Tacos 5K and a series of road miles the day before the marathon, and is adding a half marathon in 2004.
8) A built-in excuse. I believe you should try to run your best in any race, but giving your best is different than the myopic, monomaniacal focus that accompanies an attempt at your all-time best. If you know the race is going to be too hot or too hilly for a PR, you’ll be more patient with less-than-perfect pre-race travel itineraries, meals, sleep, or time on your feet—and you’re more likely to enjoy the days after the marathon, too.
9) Faultless organization. You don’t want to spend your vacation waiting in long lines for your number, standing in front of the hotel for a bus that doesn’t show, fighting with a hotel receptionist over a race discount, etc. Find a race that has an impeccable reputation for doing things right.
10) A scenic, creative, well-thought-out course. OK, this last one is just for you, the runner. For a PR course, all I ask for is an open road and few distractions. But if I’m going to travel to a great place, I want a course that highlights it. I want a tour of the best the place has to offer, not just an arbitrary 26.2 miles marked off on a highway. Maui’s diverse course does this well, showing off what Cummins E. Speakman, Jr., in The History of Maui, the Magic Isle, identifies as Maui’s advantages: “small-town charm combined with increased sophistication and the great variety of terrain and climate within a few short miles.”