Racing abroad

One of the most appealing parts of racing is using it as an excuse to travel to faraway places. OCRWC is now venturing out of the country and Spartan has branched it’s brand all over the world. Keeping your racing destination confined to the U.S. is no longer an option. Traveling to countries you only thought you’d visit in retirement or never thought you’d visit will become reality for many racers in 2016. Which country will you visit and what race will you choose? Stefani Bishop and Manuel Di Geronimo are international obstacle racers who have experienced races all over the world. Here are their tips and tricks to help you take your racing abroad.

Stefanie is a Triathlete and Obstacle Racer. Her first race abroad was the 2014 International Triathlon Long Course World Championship in Weihai, China. This trip enabled her to represent the USA on the world stage. She finds racing abroad a “unique way to travel, a great way to experience sports from another nation’s perspective” and to see how she measures up internationally.

WOR: How do you decide on a race when you are thinking about jetting out of the country?

Stefanie: There a couple factors I take into consideration: Is it legendary? (i.e. Tough Guy) Is it something different than what is offered stateside? Is it hosted in a location I want to explore?

WOR: What are some cost effective methods you have employed to save some funds?

Stef: Do your research before you pull any triggers.

  • Flights If you are saving up for a flight, do your due diligence, set price alerts and check various websites or twitter.
  • Buddy up – If you are traveling to a race solo, check if there’s a FB group for the race and ask if anybody wants to split costs, whether it be hotel, airport and race transfers etc.  If there’s no FB group, don’t hesitate to email somebody at the race – usually there will be a contact listed on their website. They may also have information regarding partner hotels and transportation that you may not have been aware of.
  • Food – If you have access to a kitchen, use it! You save and stay on track with proper nutrition pre-race.

WOR: What are some do’s and do not’s?

Stef:

  • Bring what food you want leading up to and for race day.  Never rely on the city and your hotel to have what you want, even when traveling to Europe. Justin’s nut butter packets are my go-to when I travel. If you want to try something new, wait until after the race.
  • Water – I always carry water purification tablets with me. You never know when you will need to use it.
  • Packing – Race gear is ALWAYS in my carry-on. If your luggage doesn’t make it, at least you don’t have to stress out about finding new gear.
  • Time adjustment – I usually try to do it at least a week out. You should not only adjust when you sleep to help prevent jet lag, but also adjust when you train, so it’s close to the same time as your race. I find that races in Europe tend to start later than they do in the U.S., so I’ll practice what and when I need to eat to accommodate that difference.

WOR: What is your favorite obstacle race abroad?

Stef: Tough Guy, no question. In all of the races I’ve done across every sport, it stands alone. If you ask me again next year, I have a feeling that the Fuego y Agua Survival Run will top my list, if not, than one of the 4-5 day long adventure races I’m gearing up to do.

Manuel Di Geronimo is an avid obstacle racer from Italy. It seems like he is in a new country every week doing a new Spartan Race. He is an SGX Coach and can make a Dry Robe look good. (Shhhh…..Don’t tell his girlfriend I said that.)

WOR: When was your first obstacle race?

Manuel: 2014 Spartan Sprint in Rome and I had no idea what is was about.

WOR: What races have you competed in, here, in the U.S.?

Manuel: The Super and Sprint in Chicago and the Sprint twice in Boston.

WOR: Why did you decide to start racing in the U.S.?

Manuel: I saw a lot of videos, was curious and they seemed better than Europe, so something to ry.

WOR: What is the major difference between U.S. and European races?

Manuel: A huge difference are the weights. In the U.S. you need to be stronger and in Europe you win if you run faster. When I went to Chicago I heard all the racers complaining about their calves and legs. Me, it was my shoulder.

WOR: The other day when we chatted you mentioned that they Beasts were tougher than the U.S. Spartan Beasts. How so?

Manuel: I have yet to do a Beast in the U.S. but the Spartan European Championship was 31km.

WOR: How many countries have you raced in?

Manuel: Italy, Spain, Austria, Poland, U.S., Germany, U.K.

WOR: Tell me a little bit about the differences between those countries.

Manuel: In France, the people are really thin people, so the weights are so light, but they are really fast runners. There is the one where you pull?

WOR: Herc Hoist

Miguel: Yes, you go to France and it’s like nothing. I think like 20 kilos.  In U.S. 40-45 kilos. The first time I was like, pulling the rope, and it wasn’t going down! It was a problem.

WOR: What type of obstacle training do you have out in Italy?

Manuel: Right now, it’s so new and this was our first championship and it was so bad. They had so much running and just a few obstacles. For next year, it will be much much better. SGX in Italy does not really exist because the license is from one person in Switzerland and we can’t make nothing. If I keep doing SGX, I want to use it or it will be just money that I spent.

WOR: Right now, people don’t know SGX and don’t know to seek you out for obstacle training?

Manuel: People make a campus after one race. Yes, it’s like the Mafia everywhere. They are like mushrooms. Someone did one race and they make a campus. Do you understand?

WOR: Oh, they do that here too. Yes!

 (Mindless chatter)

WOR: How many people will show up in a single day to a race out there?

Manuel: This is only our second year and it depends on what race. Spartan Race this season in April and June in Milan and Rome there was around 4,000 people. All Spartans. Now, in September it was around 7,000 people. Next year in Rome, I think there will be 7 or 8 thousand people. It exploded. The race here in Italy, no more than a thousand people.

WOR: If an American were to travel anywhere to do a race, what place would you recommend?

Manuel: First, let me make a difference because Europe and America are not the same. Very different. If you are going to East Europe the races are toughest. The obstacles are a little bit harder and the weight is a little bit heavier and more mountain. I did one Super in July in Slovakia. I couldn’t walk for one week. The first kilometer was walking up to the top of the mountain, then down, then 2km up. The legs were destroyed.

In France, the weights are like a joke and it’s flat. So, whoever runs fast wins. In Paris, they had a 200 meter barbed wire. It was like the end of the world. In Europe the barbed wire are very very bad. The spine on the top is not like the U.S. In U.S. it’s like they have flowers on the top. Here, it just rips you open. In Valencia my sides and shoulders everywhere.

WOR: Well now I want to go to all of them just to experience it! Backpacking across Europe… Spartan exploration trip.  In regards to destination what would be a great one to visit?

Manuel: What I would recommend to people depends on what they want to see. We have a very wonderful location like Orte. It is one of the best locations you can see. Orte is close to Rome. It’s a lot in the river, the water is cold, but there is the town. It’s historic and you go to the top of the town and come down and so much to see. It’s one of the best.

I also recommend Austria the Ultra Beast. It’s on the Alps. It’s one of the best mountains in the world. Brazil is a very beautiful location and a lot of obstacles. We went on two mountains and across two lakes for the swim. You go to the top of the mountain and think, I finished and then you see the lake. My stomach, I could vomit. We did the sandbag and reached the top of the mountain and I thought, I can’t do this. Then I looked at the panorama and thought, I am so happy to be here. Then we went to the other mountain.

WOR: What is the temperature of the waters in the Alps? Did they tell you?

Manuel: The quarry was really incredible. Going over the rocks, just incredible. When you went and did the other mountain and saw the lake it was totally blue and frozen. The weather is different everywhere. In Munich in March it was 0 degrees Celsius. I went into hypothermia two times. The water was crazy. I was close to dying.

I also recommend Barcelona. There was a party. A lot of water and mud, but I want to go to every part of Spain because now I have new family. It is the best scene of your life because of the party. It was like 70 degrees Celsius in September. It was fantastic. You can go there and enjoy the sun. Italy and Spain you find very nice weather. U.K. it will always be frozen. Do you have cold water in your races?

WOR: Yes, we had to swim in waters 40 degrees, fahrenheit, at our championship.

Manuel: How was that?

WOR: A lot of people had to DNF because of it.

Manuel: It was 4 degrees in France and I was so frozen after the race I was like fuck off at the end and I leave. I run for fun, not to suffer. I think whoever made Spartan Race has to be funny. You understand?  To make you want to suffer. He has to be funny. I’m Italian…. water is the seaside and sun.

(This makes me giggle every time I read it. I never thought of Joe DeSena as funny. But, he is right, Joe has a wicked sense of humor.)

WOR: OCRWC is going to be in Canada. Are you going? 

Manuel: I found a friend to host me, but first I have to qualify. The level in Europe is pretty high. The people here run very very fast. There are some people who are just animals. My girlfriend is from Poland and I think water is cold and she is like, okay, no problem. There are a lot of professional athletes who are finding this.

WOR: Who are some of the big names out there?

Manuel: The Czech team is always winning. Albon win everywhere.

WOR: What’s your next adventure?

Manuel: I am getting the winter trifecta.

WOR: Where are they doing that?

Manuel: January in one month will be Czech Republic. The weekend after I will be in France for the Sprint. In February I will be in Poland for the Super. Right now, we don’t know the Beast.

WOR: They haven’t decided the Beast location yet? We have that same problem.

Manuel: They will decide. It’s just difficult because of the distance.

So many amazing places with so many races to choose from. The one last piece of essential advice I give you is to make sure you get a rental car wherever you travel to because just like in the U.S. the locations are never really in the city they proclaim, it’s always remote. You cannot take public transportation to any of the race sites in Europe. One word of mouth tidbit I have heard. If you have a DUI, you will not get into Canada. Don’t drink and drive! That’s easy. Check the country to see if you need a visa Passports are fairly easy to get because as an adult you can get one online. If you want to get your kids a passport, you have to actually go to the post office. Cheers to 2016! Safe travels down the rabbit hole.