Have you ever discovered an Obstacle Course Race that you NEEDED to run only to find that it wasn't offered in your region? Ever wanted to travel to the other side of the country, or even a different country, just to try a different venue? Have you ever found yourself googling races close to a planned vacation destination? If you answered YES to any of these questions, then this post is for you. With the 2019 race season on the horizon, the time to start planning for a destination race is now! Here are some ideas on how to plan a “Race-Cation” like a pro.
PLAN YOUR RACE SEASON
First things first, Know thy race schedule. This should be an OCR runner's #1 commandment. The earlier you decide which races you want to tackle this year, the cheaper it can be with the right preparation. Many Mud Run Guide writers and readers alike, utilize detailed spreadsheets in order to better track upcoming races. Every version of this that I have seen has been different and tailored to the individuals specific needs and style (like my misspelling of ‘Calendar' in the heading) but the main information is almost always the same. Knowing which races you've already signed up for or are fast approaching just makes life easier.
Next up you need to know what the impetus of your trip is going to be. Is the driving force of your excursion the race itself, or will the race simply be an added bonus to your vacation? Here are some instances of each to better help you plan.
1. Planning a Vacation Around a Race
This might be the easiest way to plan. You already know the when and the where. Now you can have a blast in places that you wouldn't have normally ever ended up if it weren't for a race. Also, if you thoroughly research the surrounding area beforehand, you could end up with a once in a lifetime experience that you will cherish.
I never thought that I would end up in Cumberland, Ohio. Thanks to a “Spartan Trifecta Weekend” back in 2014 I look back on my Safari tour through “The Wilds” with great fondness. My girlfriend at the time (now wife) and I have tons of photos and still talk about the time we saw whatever the hell a sichuan takin is (google it, it's awesome and The Wilds has one).
2.Planning a Race Around a Vacation
Are you planning a trip to Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., or even Fenway Park? You bet there are races at/near these locations. If you are making plans to visit far away friends and family, see if their locale is near an OCR venue. Sometimes multiple events are held at the same location. This can give you a bit more flexibility with the time of year to visit.
2a.Planning a Race Around an Event
Already receive a “Save the Date” card for a destination wedding? Is there a way to squeeze in a race during your trip? This one can be tricky because there are so many factors, but it can be done. Most recently I planned a race around an event when my wife was invited to a bridal shower last April on Long Island. I checked the race calendar (know thy race schedule) and coincidentally, it was the same weekend as the Spartan New Jersey Beast. I probably wouldn't have run that race if we weren't already going to be in the Tri-State area.
THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
If there was ever a drawback to the OCR lifestyle, it's that race registrations are EXPENSIVE! The longer the distance and/or duration of the event, the more expensive it can become. Don't forget about this cost when figuring out your travel budget. With some events costing upwards of $300, here is an opportunity to save some scratch.
- Season Passes: If you plan on racing multiple times in a single year with the same race company you definitely should look into getting a season pass. Most of the bigger race companies, and even a few of the mid-sized ones, offer them now. Spartan, Tough Mudder and BoneFrog all have some variation on a season pass to suit your needs. These will pay for themselves over the year. This also gives you the flexibility to sign up and hold your spot for races that you're not quite sure if you will be able to attend. For the low additional cost of an insurance fee (usually around $12) you will not have to worry about your heat selling out.
- Early Bird Pricing: Many of the races open registration for next years event within a week after this years event has concluded. This is the cheapest “retail” time to sign up. Use this combined with the next tip for extra savings.
- Discount Codes: You can find discount codes from the Race Companie's email subscriptions, brand ambassadors, and of course Mud Run Guide! Compare our discounts with others out there and you will see that we offer some of the biggest savings out there.
- Groupon: If you are running in an open wave and are flexible with your starting time, Groupon has awesome deals! They sell the least coveted time slots at a discount to fill up the remaining heats. Same experience, sometimes less than half the price.
- Volunteer: Volunteering for an event can get you FREE entry into a heat either later in the day or to be used at a future date. Almost every race, no matter the size, utilizes volunteers to keep things running smoothly. It's a win/win for all parties– it costs the race company virtually nothing and for your time you get to run the course. I should note that running the same day as you volunteer can be pretty demanding.
- Sponsorship / Ambassadorship: If you are a strong competitor, or in some cases simply savvy enough to get a sponsorship with a decent company, they may want you to represent their brand at certain races and sometimes pay for you to compete. However, if you aren't that fast but are great at marketing yourself on social media, an ambassadorship might be your ticket to discounts and other perks.
- Win the damn thing!: Oh by the way, did you forget that it was a race? If you race in the Elite/Competitive heats, you may come out ahead of your cost of admission if you win. Maybe it's time to ramp up your training?
BUILD A RACE TEAM
After you have decided on your race, make sure your spread the word! Share your sign-up on social media and text your race buddies. Find out who else you know may be running that venue and create a team. Once you've begun building your team you can begin to network. Find out if anyone on your team knows friends or family out near the race location. Those connections may be able to offer up rides, rooms, or meals. Everything is better with friends including the potential to split costs. The more people you find (or convert), the less you may have to pay for certain incidentals such as hotel rooms and taxis. You may even hook up with someone that has access to a camper or mobile home.
Now you will need to figure out how you're getting to your destination. Here are some tips I have learned over the years that can cut costs substantially.
This is a no brainer. It may take longer than flying, but having a car is so convenient. Being able to access any destination or landmark as well as store bags and coolers is just great. Couple all of that with carpooling your race team and having them chip in for gas and tolls is the epitome of budget travel. And if one of your crew doesn't have a ride big enough for your squad and gear, then renting is always an option. But if you decide to rent here are a few tips to not get ripped off.
- Avoid renting at the airport. Rates are higher there than at the other regional stores by as much as $30 per day! This may be less convenient but depending on how many days you need the rental may be well worth the hassle.
- Decline the GPS. With smartphone apps like Waze and Google Maps, this addition is just a luxury you don't need. Plus rental GPS are pricey. At a cost of $5.95-$15.95 per day, this is money that can be better spent elsewhere.
- Do not prepay for gas. Fuel prices change daily and vary from station to station. On your way to return the car, find a cheap off-brand station and save your receipt. This will avoid any potential penalties.
- Refuse the toll transponder. All of these gadgets start to add up. This is another $5 per day add on that is convenient but unnecessary. Just pay your tolls as you go.
Flying may be your best or only logical means of transportation when traveling to destinations far away or that can be inconvenient when driving. When booking a flight refer to this guide.
- Purchase tickets directly through the airline's website. In my experience, travel sites like Kayak, and Expedia only save you money when you bundle air, hotel, and other expenses. When only needing a flight, these sites actually cost more after they tack on their fees at the end. When possible buy direct and save yourself a potential headache later.
- Pick an airline and stick with it. This is directed more towards frequent flyers. You may even want to consider signing up for that airlines credit card with reward points. Your reward miles add up quickly and they entitle you to lots of free perks and even better customer service. Also, use your points/miles frequently as opposed to stockpiling them for one big trip that you never take.
- Don't book your flight too early or late! Domestic flights should be booked no earlier than 1-2 months before the travel day. Airlines base their rates on supply and demand. This 2 month window weeds out the expensive early booking period as well as the last minute frantic emergency flyer prices. 4-6 months is the sweet spot for booking international flights.
- Save money by flying into an alternate airport. Taking things like venue distance into account it is wise to compare prices from equidistant airports instead of just booking into the hosting race cities airport. Here is an example: If you plan on running the Spartan “Stadion” Race at AT&T Park in San Francisco, I find that it is sometimes $50 cheaper to fly into Oakland than San Francisco from Boston, depending on the time of year. It is also worth noting that Oakland International Airport is only about 1 or 2 miles further from the stadium than San Francisco International Airport. Use this information to your advantage.
- Avoid flying on weekends. I've found that Tuesdays are typically the most inexpensive days to fly. That isn't always feasible, but if you fly home on a Monday morning as opposed to Sunday you can save a bundle of cash. Don't forget to take into account the extra night's hotel stay you may need to pay for when budgeting.
- Pack light. The great thing about race attire is that it folds up into almost nothing (especially if you are one of those shirtless racers). I never check a bag if I don't have to, but if you plan on staying longer than a weekend this may not be an option for you. Remember the second bullet point, as most good reward programs allow for at least one FREE bag check. Also, many airlines will allow you to board with one “carry on” sized bag as well as a purse OR backpack! Utilize this guideline. If the overhead storage compartments fill up before you board, they will check that bag for FREE.
When flying to your destination keep in mind that you may need another form of transportation upon arrival. If you do not have friends or family picking you up and chauffeuring you around, then a rental car, Uber or Lyft, taxi, bus, or even train may be needed to get around.
WHERE TO STAY
You have so many options on where to stay that it can get overwhelming trying to decide. Your “Race Priority” can sometimes help you make this decision. If you plan on visiting family, friends, or an old college roommate during your Race-cation see if you can stay with them first. Never pass up a potentially free night stay when trying to cut costs. Here are some other options.
- Try an AirB&B. These are becoming increasingly popular due to their low prices and the potential amount of amenities they can offer. I can't tell you how great it is to have a kitchen on race weekends when you are trying to stick to a race diet. Some AirB&B's also have hot tubs for post race relaxation.
- Finding a hotel. Finding an inexpensive hotel during a race weekend gets increasingly harder the closer you get to the event. You definitely need to book early. I will often use google maps for help here. Do a hotel search 25 miles around the area of the race location. You can even enter in the nights you are looking to stay. Google will show all the available hotels and their rates. Once you decide on a hotel, you can shop online and see if the hotel offers any discounts.
- Camping can be an option. This is probably only a good idea if you drive. It's not advised to pack tents and sleeping bags on a flight. I personally have not camped before a race, but I have heard of others who have. I'm sure it's a great bonding experience if done with friends.
- Hostels are really inexpensive. People use these all over the world. They are great but you are typically limited to major cities for these.
I don't necessarily recommend it in this day and age, but I see racers in Facebook groups looking to split rooms with fellow runners all the time. A nice thing about our community is that it attracts likeminded individuals. We all for the most part try to help each other out whether it be on the course or off. But I cannot stress more, if you go this route please be cautious. Try not to put yourself in a situation where you are sharing a room in a foreign place with someone you don't really know. Reach out to people that can be vouched for by friends, relatives, or coworkers before asking for help from strangers.
Did we miss anything? Do you have any personal tips on how to save money when traveling for a race? Share them with the community in the comments below.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Mud Run Guide LLC, or their staff. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.