TOP TIPS for a seamless race-cation
When I plan my triathlon season, races in far-flung corners of the globe are tremendously appealing. They’re a way to combine my passion for triathlon with the opportunity to visit a new place. While I’m a 17-year veteran of the sport of triathlon in the amateur ranks, when it comes to combining racing and travelling, or race-cationing, I consider myself a pro. In 2017, I was lucky enough to race in locations as far afield as South Africa and Argentina, and over the years, I’ve raced all across Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America and the US. With so many years of race travel, I’ve also made quite a few mistakes along the way so here are a few of my tips to help you plan your perfect race-cation, wherever it may be.
Planning the trip
While destination races are part of what draws many of us to this sport, combining a triathlon with long distance travel and crossing multiple time zones can bring additional anxiety to racing — a pursuit that’s already stressful. The travel rule of thumb typically recommends that you allow a day for each time zone that you cross. For example, if you’re travelling across four time zones, plan to arrive at the race site at least four days in advance of the race. That said, it is usually much easier to adapt to new times zones when travelling West versus East, especially since triathlon races start so early in the day, so there is some flexibility around this guideline.
Working out along the way
If your travel is long-haul and includes a long drive or significant airport layovers, you may wish to include an easy workout during the travel. One time in Frankfurt, I was able to exit the airport and go for a city jog during an international layover. I’ve also heard of working out in the airport. Recently, pro triathlete and IRONMAN regional champion Ben Hoffman, squeezed in an eight-kilometre jog in Terminal 2 at London’s Heathrow airport, during a long airport layover! The key is to review your travel itinerary, see what makes sense and pack accordingly. A set of stretch cords or workout bands are easy to pack in your carry-on luggage and can be used to substitute a swim or a functional strength workout while travelling.
Go with the flow
Travel arrangements don’t always go smoothly, so be prepared for changes in your plans. The key is to understand what you can control and go with the flow with everything else. As pro triathlete Sarah Piampiano says about travel: “A missed swim and ride or a changed meal shouldn’t make a difference in your race…but stressing out about it will!”
Recovery: Ease into your destination during the first 24 hours with an easy swim or light jog.
Manage the travel impact
Big travel means big recovery, so as much as you’d love to arrive at the destination and hit the ground running, it’s best to ease into things during the first 24 hours, to allow your body to rest after the stress of travel. An easy swim or light jog on arrival are great to get the legs moving and blood flowing but it’s best to avoid anything too strenuous on day one.
Training on location
The earlier that you travel to a race destination site, the more training you will likely need to do upon arrival to finish up your taper and fine-tune for race day. Conditions for swimming, biking and running can vary dramatically depending on your destination. It can be dangerous and challenging to ride on the roads before race day in certain countries, such as China and many cities in Latin America. In those situations, bringing a travel wind trainer can be valuable. If that’s not an option you may need to rely on the hotel gym bike or find a local spin studio.
If riding outside is an option, then previewing the racecourse is usually ideal for your pre-race riding and running and a key component of race readiness. From a swimming perspective, check the event website for organised pre-race swims, as it can be a huge comfort to swim in open water with others. Note that in some places, a pre-race swim on course is not an option, so in that case, you will need to research local pools. One time when I was racing in Latin America, the safest option for a pre-race swim was a 10-meter hotel pool. Instead of making myself dizzy with frequent flip turns, I tethered my ankles to the pool steps and swam in place for my 20-minute swim workout.
Pack your nutritional must-haves
If you’re travelling domestically, food and sports nutrition selections probably won’t surprise you. Once you venture internationally, however, you might want to pack a few of your favourite nutritional “go-to’s”—especially those race-day musts. The key is to practice a little bit of nutritional flexibility when travelling. Several years ago at IRONMAN Cozumel, I couldn’t find bagels for my race morning breakfast in any of the grocery stores so I resorted to peanut butter and jam on a burger bun to fuel the morning. Multiple time IRONMAN Champion, Luke McKenzie, always travels with a mini Nespresso or an AeroPress: “Coffee is part of my nutrition routine and it’s essential to bring the coffee maker so I can make fresh coffee with the local grinds.” Once again, your chosen destination will determine what you need to bring with you on a trip.
Family and friends: Sharing your race experience with the people closest to you is a wonderful thing … but your pre-race stress may beg to differ.
Security: Airport lockers are a good place to safely store luggage for you to enjoy and explore a new city/country.
Family and friends
When I qualified for IRONMAN World Championships in Kona a few years ago, I saw it as an opportunity for a family vacation and invited my three sisters to join me in the small condo that I rented on Ali’i Drive. While I was excited about the family reunion, I underestimated the pre-race stress I would feel. I quickly became overwhelmed sharing the space with my vacationing siblings while trying to prepare myself for an IRONMAN event. While I do not want to stop sharing such experiences with family and friends, I’ve learned that I need to create some space for myself in the days leading into a race. Nowadays, I’ll invite friends and family to join me only the day prior to the race so that we can focus our time together once the racing is done and dusted. That way, they don’t have to bear witness to my pre-race nerves! Another option is to rent a separate condo or at least separate hotel rooms so that you can have the support of family and friends while also creating the opportunity for alone time, as necessary.
My favourite type of race-cation is one where I have some time to explore a new city or country post-race. This was the case in South Africa last season when I was excited to experience a safari in the famed Kruger National Park after racing IRONMAN South Africa. The biggest challenge in situations like this can be what to do with your triathlon gear, in particular, the bike, post-race. Thankfully a quick Google search revealed luggage storage options at Johannesburg International airport. Other options you might consider, depending on the location, are to ship your bike and gear home or to store them with the hotel bell desk, as long as you’re returning to the city or hotel at the end of your travels. Best of luck with your race-cations in 2018 and beyond, and if your travels take you to South Africa, Germany, California or Hawaii, I might just see you there!