Running is one of simplest sports you can do. You grab a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, lace up your trainers, and head for the trails. Even the rules are simple: run hard, be kind, and pass on the left.
Last year, as athletes waited in the pre-dawn darkness for the shuttle bus to take them to the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, several runners from Florida, California, Brazil, and Argentina huddled around a cell phone with a translation app open. What is your name? Where are you from? Why are you here? were some of the questions typed in, followed by nods and big smiles. After the race, these runners crossed paths again and exchanged congratulations in Spanish, Portuguese, and English as well as high fives and shakas.
More and more, runners are planning vacations around races both as a way to immerse themselves in the local culture as well as an excuse to discover a new country (and new trails).
Johann Murray, of Nashville, Tennessee, recently traveled to South Africa, where he was born, to race in the XTERRA South Africa 12.5K trail run.
“I was born in Stellenbosch and my family left in 1977 when I was 14 and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I looked for races in the Western Cape and XTERRA Grabouw seemed the perfect fit for taking a vacation and exploring the interior of the country.”
Murray, who didn’t start running until he was 45, was inspired by a co-worker.
“I had always been active, fit, and healthy but never ran before,” he said. “I started running on the streets in my neighborhood until I worked up to 20 miles a week. I entered some 5K and 10K races until I came across a trail race. That changed my life – I had discovered trail running!”
Murray has traveled to trail runs in Tennessee as well as to the Grand Canyon, but XTERRA South Africa is the furthest he has traveled to run. While he was there, he visited the Stellenbosch wineries, hiked Table Mountain, visited Robben Island, and drove over the Swartberg and Prins Alfred Passes.
“I spent most of my time in Vleesbaai near Mossel Bay fishing, hiking, and relaxing. The race was wonderful and a great way to discover the local atmosphere and enjoy the beautiful scenery.”
Also in the southern hemisphere, Annika Wreder made the trip from Sydney, Australia, to Sarasota, Florida to visit her parents.
“I’ve been living in Sydney for the past year and my parents recently moved to Sarasota, so I wanted to visit,” said Wreder, who won the women’s 15K at XTERRA Trout Creek on March 25th. “I’m on a marathon training program and needed to do a 9-mile run on Sunday. XTERRA Trout Creek fit in perfectly!”
Before the race, Wreder debated with her father whether she should run her 9-minute per mile training pace or if she was going to run competitively.
“I saw that the winning pace the previous year was about 7:50 pace and I thought maybe I could do that. As soon as the gun went off, my competitive drive kicked in and I started chasing the women in front of me. It was so much fun to compete again!”
Wreder wasn’t the only one at XTERRA Trout Creek from outside of the country. Mo Chediac traveled all the way from the cold island of Nova Scotia, Canada to warm up with some Florida races.
“We have come to Florida for the past three years to race,” said Chediac. who won the XTERRA Trout Creek 5K. “I primarily do obstacle course races but love trail running. This was my first XTERRA and I have to say I absolutely loved it, as did my wife. The site itself was breathtaking and the design of the course was fantastic and very well thought out. I was impressed with the mixture of flat runs on the initial trail as well as mixed runs through the woods. At the end I was surprised to see so much food and refreshments. We will be back next year for sure.”
Because running is so simple, there isn’t much that is different when running a race in a different country, especially if you register ahead of time. But Murray has a few tips that can save time and aggravation.
“Races are races,” said Murray. “They aren’t much different in another country. But, make sure you have clear directions to the race site, because the roads might not be marked as you expect.”
It’s also a good idea to bring your own water and any snacks in case the race has food you aren’t used to. Other than that, your typical pre-race plan should serve you well. Double-knot your laces, wish your competitors well, and enjoy the journey.
Photo courtesy Tobias Ginsberg