The best thing about traveling somewhere neat for a marathon is that you’re traveling somewhere neat. The bad part is that you have to run a marathon while you’re there. Even if you like marathons, this is a heck of a way to wrangle a trip to Duluth.
Whether your torture of choice is a marathon, a bike ride or race, or a triathlon, you have many great options and cool destinations to consider this summer – and we’ll get to those in a minute. First, a couple of travel tips that will make these events more enjoyable, if not necessarily less excruciating.
If you’re flying to your bike race or tri, you’re going to need a bike flight case that provides sufficient protection without weighing a ton and totally blowing your luggage (and travel) budget. We like the Evoc Bike Travel Bag ($485). Its hybrid construction keeps it lightweight, its design makes it easy to wheel around an airport, and it’s tough enough to handle any cross-country luggage-hold adventure.
As you’re planning your trip, remember to schedule most of your sightseeing and other activities before the event. You can’t be sure that afterwards you’ll be mobile – or even able to sit upright and talk coherently. So do the trek up Nob Hill before the race.
Along those lines, if you need to squeeze in a training run before your actual event, call or email your hotel before you leave and ask them to recommend routes and/or groups. Some hotels have their own groups; others know of groups in the vicinity.
Finally, pack your most important gear for the event – shoes, shorts, goggles, and your race top – in your carry-on. This stuff is meant to be lightweight and minimal, so it won’t take up much space. And it sure beats scouring an unfamiliar town the day before a race trying to find suitable replacements.
Bearing those recommendations in mind, here are some of our favorite destinations that happen to have great rides and races associated with them, and some great rides and races associated with destinations you might have to ease into a bit. Either way, the combination is worth experiencing.
Pikes Peak Marathon, Aug. 15-16, Manitou Springs, Colo. Let’s get one thing straight: This is not the marathon to run if you’ve never run a marathon before. An athletic event doesn’t call itself “America’s Ultimate Challenge” unless it’s serious … or a summer-replacement series on Fox. America’s third-oldest marathon, the Pike’s Peak run started in 1956 as a challenge between smokers and non-smokers (!). Smart money was on the non-smokers unless the smokers were driving Studebakers, since this race starts at altitude and goes up to altitude – 14,000 feet worth. This year’s edition is full up, and it’s just as well. It’s probably best to watch first.
Saint George Marathon, Oct. 3, St. George, Utah: If the Twin Cities aren’t your speed (so to speak) and you have a qualifying time, the St. George is your race. This acclaimed race – it’s been named one of the 10 Most Scenic and Fastest Marathons, one of the America’s Top 20 Marathons, and one of the four Marathons to Build a Vacation Around – has one very big thing going for it, besides its western-movie-set scenery: it’s mostly downhill. As for the building-the-vacation-around-it thing, St. George is close to both the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. But remember: Hit the parks before the race – unless you want to look at them from the car.
Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, Oct. 4, Minneapolis: There are lots of great urban marathons around the country – Chicago, New York, Portland, et al. This is the prettiest. The flattish route winds through the Twin Cities’ myriad of lakes and parks at the peak of autumn colors, on a day that’s virtually guaranteed to be temperate. Sound good? Throw in lots of en-route entertainment and 300,000 spectators, and the fact that this race doesn’t require a qualifying time, and this is a marathon everyone can enjoy.
RAGBRAI, July 19-25, Sioux City to Davenport, Iowa: Not a race but a six-day ride across Iowa from west to east, RAGBRAI (the acronym stands for “Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa”) takes you through the surprisingly lush rolling hills and farm fields of rural Iowa. The daily mileage is a highly doable 60-70 miles, there’s camping along the way and a great support system, and the people – riders and townies alike – are never less than memorable.
Mount Washington Hill Climb, Aug. 15, Mount Washington, N.H.: Think of this ride as the LOTOJA (see below) minus all the downhills. And the flats. And the gentle uphills. The Mt. Washington Climb is just that – a 7.6-mile climb up the tallest hill in the eastern U.S. If that doesn’t sound cruel enough, here’s the clincher: The worst part is the last 50 yards, which features a 22 percent grade. Fortunately, the torture is relatively swift; the average winning time is less than an hour.
Hotter ‘n’ Hell Hundred, Aug. 29, Wichita Falls, Texas: Calling this the premier road-bike event in the southern U.S. isn’t saying much, as the southern tier is lacking in premier road-bike events. Still, there’s a cachet to this event that transcends its semi-scruffy North Texas setting, and it gets extra marks for honesty. The year we rode it the air temperature was 110, and there was a brisk-but-not-refreshing headwind buffeting us the last half of the ride. But the Dr. Pepper and barbecue at the end makes it all worthwhile – plus it teams well with an IV bag.
LOTOJA Classic, Sept. 12, Logan, Utah, to Jackson Hole, Wyo.: The bad news is that the ride is 206 miles, and you’re expected to do it in a day. (The best time: around nine hours.) The very good news is that the scenery is world-class, everyone’s there to have fun, sag and support are great, and the experience is unforgettable. Events like this are why you put in the miles.
Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove, July 25, Cottage Grove Lake, Ore.: A tri that’s great for the casual triathlete (assuming there is such a thing), the Prima features two courses – a shorter sprint course and a longer Olympic course – close-by camping, boating, and fishing, 17 miles of bike trails for your pre-race workouts, and a organic post-race feast served up by local café Laughing Planet. On every level the Prima is a tri you’ll enjoy – and if that’s not supposed to happen at a triathlon, so be it.
Sandman Triathlon, Aug. 2, Aptos, Calif.: If you’re going to push your body ’til it screams, you might as well have some scenery — right? This tri delivers on that count. The Sandman starts at Seacliff State Beach with a three-quarter-mile out-and-back swim, followed by a 13-mile ride through the scenic northern California hills and a calf-busting four-mile beach run. If you think the purpose of triathlons is to take three athletic endeavors you enjoy and create a fourth you loathe, this is the event that’ll change your mind.
Editor’s Note: Don’t let flight mishaps blow your race out of the water. Protect your trip with AirCare and ExactCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Get them here.