Destination races can be exhilarating yet exhausting. These tips will help you race your best when you travel far.
This article was originally published in Inside Triathlon magazine’s 2012 special issue, Tri Guide.
Racing well after a day of travel can be difficult, and nobody wants to have their hard work and training spoiled by jetlag and fatigue. Here are the trip-planning tips I’ve learned through my years traveling the world as a pro triathlete—they help ensure I’m ready to race, even if everything goes wrong on travel day.
Feeling good after travel starts well before your travel day, so once you decide to do a race, figure out where to stay and your travel dates.
“Do your homework,” said 2004 triathlon Olympian Victor Plata. “Scope out the hotels. Read reviews, and use Google Maps to find a hotel close to the race site. The host hotel is not always the best choice.”
You also want to have a plan for where to train once you get there. Plata recommends you “stick to a pool if there’s any question about water quality at the race.” SwimmersGuide.com can help you find a pool and lap swim hours anywhere in the world. I also try to find a hotel with a fitness center so I can run on the treadmill if the weather or location doesn’t allow for a good run. I try to avoid running on concrete right before a race because I find it wears out my legs.
I like to arrive early and get used to the area, as this gives me plenty of time to familiarize myself with the course and relax. Domestically, three days is plenty of time. When I fly to Europe or Asia, I like to give myself a week.
Once your travel arrangements are set, think about what you need to take so there are no last-minute problems. When you make your packing list, think about where you’ll pack everything. I like to be able to roll all my bags because extra weight on my back saps energy before race day. To avoid theft, you want to be able to take all your belongings in one trip without a luggage cart. I recommend a rolling carry-on and a transition backpack that can strap to the other bag.
Everything you absolutely need on race day goes into the carry-on. Your bike may get lost, but if you have cycling shoes, flats, your race kit, a wetsuit and some goggles, you can rent a bike and still have a good race. After racing 20-some Ironmans and a dozen short-course world championships, Peggy McDowell-Cramer says to pack “ahead of time, so there are few questions left, and the fewest things left to do. For me, that is an exercise in getting rid of angst, which I find to be a major energy burner and enjoyment wrecker. Like triathlons in general, I try to control as much as I can.”
Pack food and a large empty water bottle for the plane. If your flights are delayed, or you arrive after all the stores have closed, you need to have enough food to get you through. It’s easy to get dehydrated on planes, so make sure to fill your bottle at every opportunity, and ask the flight attendant to fill your bottle one last time before you leave the plane. I also like to pack full bottles in the bottle cages on my bike so that I have water I know I can trust when I arrive. For food, your prerace meal is a must, as well as snacks. Tuna bags and tortillas are easy to pack, but I know many athletes who bring their own hot-pot and a day’s worth of easy-cook meals.
On the plane wear your compression tights and bring a neck pillow. Get up every 45 minutes unless you’re asleep. Noise will tire you out as well, so turn off the movie and put in a good set of earplugs. Try to sleep according to the time zone of your destination during the flight. Arriving well rested is the priority, and the extra sleep can help you adjust your clock so you’ll be one step ahead of the guy watching “Bridesmaids” in the seat next to you.
Crossing time zones can cause terrible jetlag. My method to prepare for the time change is to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night before the flight—for up to five nights—but to still wake at the normal time. My coach, Mike Doane, insists I have a schedule for workouts and recovery after I arrive. I try to get plenty of sunlight and do a workout at race time each day. I usually feel pretty crummy the first day, but if I stick to the plan my body always comes around.
All this preparation gives me a plan “A,” and I try to stick to it as closely as possible. But something will inevitably go wrong—your bike may be lost, flights delayed, hotel reservations lost. Stay relaxed and don’t worry about straying from your plan. In the end, things will work out, and if you do most things right, you’ll be ready on race morning.