Have Sneakers, Will Travel: Why Destination Running Is the New Vacation

shutterstock_192855317 (2)

By Samantha Facciolo

You may have heard that, in late January, 15 runners competed in the World Marathon Challenge, an endurance test to complete seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. These (crazy? committed?) individuals logged over 23,000 flight miles to run 183 miles in temperatures that ranged from Antarctic cold to Australian heat. While these runners are unique in their extreme dedication and skill, running as a reason to travel is not. From Disney to Dublin, runners are trading the vacation-standard pina colada for Gatorade, lacing up their sneakers, and hitting the pavement. Travel running offers a variety of benefits: the chance to explore a new destination on foot, motivation to stick with a training plan, and opportunities to spend time with friends old and new. With races spanning the gamut from 5Ks to ultra-marathons and taking place on every continent (yes, there is a marathon at the South Pole), there’s something for every type of runner.

Interested in running in the Most Magical Place on Earth? You’re not alone. Thousands of people sign up each year to compete in more than a dozen races organized at Disney’s theme parks. Disa Saugstad, a four-time marathoner and a perennial charity runner for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, has participated in multiple races with RunDisney. She was already a Magic Kingdom lover when she signed up, but she says the race experience “was a whole different world with the parks, the scenery and all the characters.” She adds, “You don’t do Disney for time. You do it for the experience.”

Experience is something Eric Zawada, a self-described social runner who has finished four Boston Marathons, would advocate for, too. He cites visiting out-of-town friends and seeing new cities as reasons why he chooses travel races. His advice for fellow travel runners? Have fun and make the trip a memorable one. “I like to make a weekend of it,” he explains, “so throwing in new experiences in a new city makes running 26.2 miles way more appealing.” Runners have a variety of destinations and distances to choose from and plenty of online sites like Race Finder, and Running in the USA offers a list of annual races.

Erica Appleman has run several destination races, and she has many more on her running bucket list. Her top choice? “My true dream destination is the Antarctica marathon trip,” she says. “The opportunity to explore such an incredible place with runners from all over the world sounds like an amazing experience.”

Race the Rhode, a Rhode Island-based road race company, understands the importance of attracting runners not just to a race, but to a destination. Race director Susan Rancourt explains, “We recognize that in order to attract runners from out of town, we have to make a race desirable for those traveling.” Considerations can include easily accessible hotels, clearly drawn maps and a list of local restaurants and points of interest. Company founder Karen Zyons adds that when they design a course, they take in both local landmarks and the natural landscape. Race the Rhode courses pass farms, marinas, beaches and historic New England homes–sites runners from L.A. or New York City might not see otherwise.

If you’re interested in checking out a travel race of your own, here are some runner-approved recommendations:

  • Know the course and train accordingly. Consider terrain, location and climate and do your best to simulate these conditions, even if it’s wearing an extra layer of clothes and hitting the incline button on your treadmill.
  • Make a race-day packing list and, if you’re flying, bring your race bag as a carry-on. Pack everything you’ll need inside: shoes, clothing, nutrition, hydration and your lucky race-day charm.
  • Consider arriving at your destination a few days early to acclimate to the weather and time difference and to make sure you can check out the cool race expo.
  • Try to plan for some fun sight-seeing after your trip–you’ve earned a reward.


Samantha Facciolo is pursuing an M.F.A. in fiction at Emerson College. She teaches in the college’s high school outreach program, emersonWRITES, and is an editorial assistant at Redivider. She has traveled and worked in parts of South America, Europe and the Middle East and loves experiencing different cultures and areas of the world. Follow her @seesamwrite.

Emerson logo top

Emerson College Language




Photo of marathon athletes by Shutterstock

seven mile miracle oahu
The Culture-ist