June 12, 2018 / 4:31 PM / in 8 days

Your Money: Join the great chase for cheaper 'runcations'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For some people, the ideal vacation involves a lounge chair, a stiff drink with an umbrella in it and a whole lot of nothing.

Runners competing in the Comrades Marathon pass through Camperdown, South Africa, June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

Then there are people like Nick Smith.

The 34-year-old writer lives in Vienna, Austria with his wife and daughter, and when he goes on a trip, he does not like to just lay around. He runs a marathon.

The most recent: Florence, Italy. “One thing that’s nice about combining running with vacations is seeing everyone else with the same idea,” said Smith, who just published his first book, ‘Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers’ and enjoyed visiting the Uffizi Gallery with other people in running gear after the race.

Outside the running community, the idea might seem quirky, or even masochistic. But in running circles, the practice is extremely common, and even has its own name: Runcations.

Anyone who has been to a big running destination event, like marathons in Boston or New York City, knows how popular runcations can be. Almost 7,000 of Boston Marathon’s 2018 runners came from outside the United States, many of them staying in town three or four nights, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

Even Disney is in on the fun, offering a dedicated website (runDisney.com), and package deals to participate in themed events like the Princess Run or Star Wars Run.

Of course, these trips do not come cheap. Although the Florence marathon entry fee was only $55, when you add in train tickets for a family of four in an overnight cabin, an Airbnb, entertainment and meals, Smith ended up being out $1,300 for the weekend.

“For runners, travel destinations’ appeal can be greatly enhanced based on a popular race,” says Leah Etling, marketing director for trade group Running USA. “I’m a lifelong runner and traveler who never goes anywhere without going for a run — and just got back from a trip to Molokai where I did just that.”

Like any activity (read: addiction), costs can spiral out of control if you are not careful.

At the top end: Boston’s Marathon Tours & Travel recently booked a trip for three generations of a single family who traveled to the Amazing Maasai Marathon in Kenya to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary, which cost around $80,000.

The firm also offers an Antarctica Marathon and Half Marathon adventure, which costs between $8,000-$11,000 per person, depending on the type of cabin you want to book.

So how do you sign up for runcations, without running your family into the poorhouse?

* Make it a group event

If you are footing the bill alone for rental cars and hotel rooms, the totals can get uncomfortably high. The solution: Get some running buddies involved (not that hard, if you belong to a local running club).

That is what Florida financial planner Thomas Balcom has done for the last five years for “Tough Mudder” half-marathons in places from Las Vegas to Tampa to Phoenix, cutting his costs to around $650 a pop.

* Look for discounts

When Birmingham, Michigan financial advisor Michael Palazzolo goes on a runcation, he keeps an eye out for cut-rate deals for runners, which have been negotiated by race organizers.

“Many runs post a list of approved hotels where you can get discounts,” said Palazzolo, whose next runcation is a 7-miler though wine country in northern Michigan called the “Harvest Stompede.”

* Make sure it works for the family

A destination marathon may be a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for you – but there are other people involved in the equation, too. And they may have very different ideas of what a vacation involves.

That is what Nick Smith learned during the Florence marathon. His dreams may have included jogging merrily across a sun-dappled Ponte Vecchio, but it ended up pouring the whole time, on runners and spectators alike.

“After the rain in Florence, my wife mandated that all future runcations either include an extra adult to help with childcare - or that the kids race with me,” he said.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum

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