Doing a race locally is one thing but packing up everything you need to race and travelling across the continent is a whole new ball game.
The first step to picking a race is figuring out what you want. Is it the destination that matters or the weekend that matters? If you don't have a specific race picked out then there's an amazing resource available to you. Trimapper is a tool that allows you to select a number of criteria when selecting a race. For example, you can tell it you'd like to do an olympic distance (international distance) race in California in June of 2014. It will come back to you with all of the races that match your criteria. Trimapper will give you a link to the races' websites to do more research and register for the race. Active.com takes it one step further, they show all sorts of available sporting events and even training camps and other activities.
If you want to read some other athletes' race reports` Beginner Triathlete has an entire section dedicated just to race reports. You can gain a lot of insight into how a race is run based on athletes' reports. I would read a number of them and you will generally get a very good idea of the race. How hard is the course? Is there enough water and food? Is there a good after party? (this one is critical) If you have time I would research a number of things before you sign up. UNLESS it's a race that fills up in a hurry. If it's a very popular race that you want to do, sign up immediately and figure the rest out later.
FYI, some races fill up a year in advance and others have a lottery to enter. Going to the race the year prior and volunteering is a great way to get an advanced line to register at a lot of races. Also, by volunteering you get to help out and pay it ahead to the people that will be helping you on race day, and you get a great, up close, feel for the race.
|Me (Centre) with my friends Simon Fedun (L) and Kris Fedun (R) at the 2011 Ironman Canada registering for 2012. 3 big handsome fellas. We directed traffic at a major intersection.|
|Kim, Kelland and me in Vegas. Worst decision of the trip was that beard. What the hell was I thinking?|
|Finishing Vegas. It's as hot as it looks.|
Travel race 2 was in Oceanside, CA. (Ironman 70.3) This was also with my wife and young son. This beautiful town is about half way between Anaheim and San Diego. The destination and time of year were major factors in my selection of this race. During the race we elected to rent an apartment off of Vacation Rentals By Owner about a mile from the race site. This was a great experience. Having a kitchen allowed us to cook our own food, the separate bedrooms allowed me to get a nice sleep before my race and the private pool was great in the heat. Honestly, not a lot of downside in this example other than the fact that you have to make your own bed. I know, first world problems.
|Ironman 70.3 California March, 2010|
Travel race 3 was in Penticton, BC for Ironman Canada 2010. My wife and young son and our nephew were on this trip. This was my first Ironman so I was unfamiliar with how involved it is to do an Ironman. Two days before you have to be on site to register, collect your goody bags and attend the athlete dinner. The day before you have to check in your bike and your gear bags. Then on race day, you have to race (duh). Each of these activities requires you to get to the race site, usually located in a hotel's convention centre or a city park. If you stay within walking distance you will pay more per night but not have the hassle of trying to locate parking every time you want to do anything involving the race. At this particular race we stayed about 3 miles from the race site at the Best Western and this had its ups and downs. On the plus side we paid considerably less than the hotels near the race site. Another positive of this hotel was that it was located on the bike course and very close to the run course so my wife was able to hang out in the air conditioning and come out only to see me whiz by and then retreat back to the air conditioning. The down side was that for the finish my family (my parents also joined us) had to find a place to park and work their way through the crowds to see me. After this race I sat down and actually needed a wheel chair to get to the vehicle so it was quite a bit of work for my family to get me home. Had we stayed on site it would have been MUCH easier.
|Ironman Canada August, 2010|
Travel race 4 was in San Francisco, CA. (Escape from Alcatraz) I went alone to San Francisco for this race. In this instance I chose to stay close to the race. This was a mistake in this particular instance. I didn't realize that this area was going to be so sketchy or the hotel so yucky. I was in town for four days but the bulk of what I wanted to do was in the wharf area. If I had to do it over again I would stay closer to the "action" and suffer a little on race day.
|Swimming from Alcatraz to shore sounded way smarter before I saw the distance|
Travel race 5 was in Penticton, BC for Ironman Canada 2012. My wife is a very brave lady and we now had three children. Busy couple of years. After staying off site last time I raced here we elected to stay about a half-mile from transition. We paid considerably more but were at the beach and I walked to everything I needed to do related to the race. Unless it was a ridiculous amount of money I would recommend staying near transition at Ironman races.
|Post race and feeling fantastic.|
Travel race 6: Los Cabos, Mexico. All inclusive resort. All alone. My wife did not want to bring the kidlets to the race and also couldn't part with them so I ventured out alone. I learned some very valuable lessons at this race that I'll share in the race prep section of this series. In this instance I stayed at the host hotel and it was great. The meetings and package pickup were IN my hotel. Super convenient.
|Finishing at Los Cabos. This was HARD and I was beaten.|
Travel race 7: Coeur d'Alene, ID Not exactly a Mexican all inclusive but the Super 8 in Coeur d'Alene was surprisingly nice. Also traveled alone to this race and stayed off site. This is really worth considering if you're doing this race. The Coeur d'Alene lakeside resort prices border on gouging for this race and with the amount of parking available around the race site it is easy to park close by. However, if you can afford big bucks the resort would be a nice choice.
|Much happier with this finish than Mexico.|
From my experience, if you are travelling for an Ironman I would stay as close to the race activities as possible. You will constantly be heading down to the race activities to register, shop, attend dinner and race. Also, after the race, the closer you are to transition the easier it will be to get to that inviting bed. I think a lot of people underestimate just how wrecked they are going to be after Ironman. This race will punish you but it's so worth it. Remember that many of the places that host Ironman don't have a lot of big events so Ironman is a great reason for them to raise their prices. Plan plan plan and book your accommodations as early as possible. Vacation Rentals are private properties that the owners rent out and can be an awesome option especially if you want to prepare your own meals.
If you're going for a shorter distance race, staying close to the site isn't as crucial but still worth considering. Do your research in this instance. As I said with "Escape from Alcatraz," the bulk of the things I wanted to see were near the wharf and downtown but the race site is away from both of these. I stayed near the race site and the hotels in this area were less desirable. Also, because there is not a great deal of pre-race activities you won't constantly be going to the race site to turn in bikes or bags or other things. If the main reason for your trip is the destination and the race is just for "fun" then stay near the action and suffer a bit on race day.
|Transition bags laid out in number order the day before the race.|
ACTIVITIES: If you're going alone this may not be as big of a deal as you can completely immerse yourself in the race and not worry about neglecting family. However, if you're turning this into a race-cation you had better make sure that there's things for everyone else to enjoy or this may be your last race in a cool place. I haven't competed in a Challenge brand race but apparently they put on quite a few activities to keep the fans entertained. Ironman usually has the Ironkids fun run a couple of days prior and they get medals and race numbers and LOVE it.
Read my article about doing Ironman with a family for more insight to this area.
|Kelland finishing the Ironkids fun run|
|Post race drinks and snorkeling tour in Los Cabos|
As you can see I have a reasonable amount of experience. I've rented an apartment, stayed in hotels both at the race site and off, traveled with kids and alone, flown and driven. I've learned a few things along the way and hopefully you can save yourself a couple of the mistakes I've made. Keep reading next week!