Ask The Coach
How Do You Travel and Prepare For A Race with Confidence?
After all your training is done, the travel to your triathlon can be the final test before your race day. If you are crossing time zones and taking a plane to your race, the difference between having a successful “A” race and a mediocre “A” race can come down to how well you master travel preparations, changing time zones and jet lag. In the final few weeks of your training block, it is well worth putting some time and effort into how you are going to get to your race healthy, rested, time adjusted, hydrated and organized.
Here is a comprehensive list of action items for smooth travel and a great arrival.
- Download, study and bring the athlete guide for the race, including timelines, and swim, bike, run and transition maps. Get to know the swim, bike, run and transition portions of the course before arrival.
If you are racing in exotic locales check to see if you require any inoculations and if so organize to get them done well in advance of travel.
- There are times when it pays to upgrade to a seat with more leg room. Arriving fresh and not stiff leads to better race performance.
- Scope out your travel transfers before you get to where you are going and figure out what is the best deal, taking time, value and convenience into consideration - a cab, a bus, a shuttle, Uber, or rental car. If you do rent a vehicle, take a good look at a mini-van or SUV, these are easier vehicles to pack bikes and suitcases in.
- Try to pick accommodation that is close to transition, as this can make race day preparation and logistics a breeze. Have a plan for getting around once you arrive. Will you walk, ride your bike, take a shuttle, Uber, cab it or use a rental car.
- When packing, use a comprehensive checklist and pack your absolute necessary race items such as running and bike shoes, swim goggles, GPS, heartrate strap, and race belt in your carry on so that you can still race should your suitcase go missing. Pack lighter equipment such a travel pump instead of a full size floor pump, some multi-tools instead of a full tool kit. Bring a good bike lock for your bike if you plan to use it to commute to the course or grocery store.
- Prepare for weather and logistical eventualities. Ironman Florida 2015 turned into a non-wetsuit swim- the first time since its inauguration- sending many athletes scrambling to purchase skin suits and a switch to a non-sleeved triathlon suit. It cooled off and rained at Ironman Whistler 2015, causing pre-race panic and searches for weatherproof gear.
- Make sure your bike box or case can be carried without hurting your back, wrist or shoulders. A 4-wheeled bag is easier to haul than are boxes with only 2 wheels. Don’t overload your bag or it will be hard to haul and can slow you up when checking in with an airline - to say nothing of the extra charges (most airlines have a 50 pound/22.67 kg weight limit on suitcases & other bags).
- If time zones are going to be an issue for you, it is worth preparing ahead. If it’s convenient you can push your schedule one hour back or forward, depending on where you're going. The more time zones you're flying across, the earlier you'll need to start. This will give your body a chance to gradually adjust to your new time zone.
- It is recommended that you try going to bed earlier a few nights before leaving if you're traveling east (the toughest to adjust to), but if you're traveling west, try going to bed later for a couple of nights. While travelling start eating at the time you would eat if you were already in the new time zone, this will help you establish better digestive and sleep patterns. Sleep (or stay awake) like you're already there. If it's daylight at your destination, try to avoid sleeping on the plane. If it's nighttime at your destination when you're on the plane, try to sleep. Use earplugs, eye shades, and turn on the air-conditioning valve (cooler temperatures may help you to fall asleep faster).
- Stay hydrated when travelling by taking a refillable water bottle with you (as you can’t travel through security with liquids). Add electrolytes if you are travelling to a warm race and if you will be racing soon upon your arrival, bring your own snacks: airport and airplane food can be restrictive and low on choices.
Once you get to your destination:
- Do a light workout, preferably in the sun (remember to apply sunscreen if coming from northern places). If it's daytime at your destination, spend as much time outside as you can. Keep your hotel room bright as possible. The exposure to sunlight will help your brain adjust to the new time zone. Remain active and resist the urge to go indoors to sleep, but if you desperately need a nap, take one only for 30 minutes. Any longer than that will make the jet lag worse. Outside is best, but any exercise in bright light will help a lot. Be creative! Use the daylight to reconnoiter the race course on foot, on your bike or by vehicle.
- If you arrive at night and have trouble getting to sleep when you get to your destination, try assembling your bike. I know that always tires me out. Have a routine that you follow that allows you to unwind and get to sleep: reading, watching t.v., or going for a walk.
- Consider taking melatonin to help adjust to time and get some rest. Melatonin is the hormone your body naturally creates around the time you usually go to bed and taking it at the time you want to go to sleep, may help your internal clock to adjust to the new time zone. If you take melatonin, the time you take it is crucial to the success. You will want to take it within 30 minutes of the time you want to tell your body is your new "bedtime." (As with any sleep aid, talk to your health professional before taking melatonin, to be sure it's safe for you.)
- Before you go to sleep that first night know what you want to do in the morning, lay your workout outfits out the night before including sunscreen, Body Glide, hotel key, shoes, route map or phone with GPS (charge all your devices). Plan your coffee and breakfast food, including having snacks in your room. Being organized the night before can make for a more productive, enjoyable first day.
As with the rest of your training, start your preparations early, so that you aren’t stressed or exhausted as you start your trip. Have everything ready to go a day or two prior to leaving so that you have time to purchase any equipment or supplies you might need. Taking care of your travel will allow you to appreciate your confidence, enjoy your taper to the race, maximize the hard training you have done and enjoy all the triathlon has to offer!
LifeSport coach Mark Shorter is an NCCP certified triathlon coach who has completed over 88 marathons to date with a PR of 2:38. Mark has been coaching athletes in in running and triathlon for over 30 years. A number of his athletes have succeeded in marathons at Ironman, 70.3, Triathlon Championships, Boston Marathon, and Race Across America, even going as far as Worlds in a number of distances. Contact Coach Mark to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance.