Travelling for events can be a huge challenge. Between jet lag, unfamiliar surroundings, changes in diet and routine, it can be difficult to stay focused and perform at your best. Now that travel has become accessible again, here are a few tips on how to mitigate the effects and arrive on the start line at your best.
PLAN AHEAD. The more aspects you can plan, the better. Know your itinerary, timings and logistics. Book flights and accommodations to fully suit your needs. For example, being close to the start line so you have a shorter journey on race morning vs being close to the event hub so you don’t need to make so many trips back & forth. Research the venue and surrounding area so that you know what is available and what to expect. Reducing stress hormones in the days leading up to the race is key. The better you have prepared, the more relaxed and in control you will be.
If crossing multiple time-zones, ideally you will organise adequate time in country for recovery and acclimatisation before the race. The general rule is 1 day for each 1 hour time-zone difference, to reset your circadian rhythm. That is not always possible, but at least 5 days before major races is pretty good.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP. The number one performance enhancer is sleep. You will have done all your training by now and be as fit as you are going to be. The week leading up to the event only requires you to stay healthy and fine-tuned. Jet-lag can be a major obstacle, so it's important to get as much sleep as possible on the plane and during your trip. If possible, try to adjust to the local time zone on the 1-2 days leading up to your travel to soften the blow.
During the journey, dress in comfortable clothes with optional layers. Take additional sleep aids such as a mask and earplugs. A great idea is to write a note you can stick to your mask saying “please don’t disturb me for meals” if you’d rather sleep. Who needs another peculiarly timed meal at your destinations 4am?! If you have a long layover, there are often deals for sleep-pods or lounges. Again plan ahead for these.
Use of melatonin and magnesium can be useful to aid sleep when changing time-zones. Natural ways to boost sleep include getting sun exposure in the morning and keeping to dimmer lights or shades and winding down without screen-time for the 1-2 hours before bed.
STAY HYDRATED. Travel, especially air-travel, is renowned for causing dehydration, and can also make symptoms of jet-lag worse. Your muscle and fascia require fluid to stay in their optimal condition. It may be an annoyance having to get up to the cramped toilet on the plane, but this will do you a lot more good then not peeing and not moving for several hours. Drink a little extra than you think you should. It is wise to avoid alcohol completely and limit caffeine to a morning time-zone only.
EAT HEALTHY FOODS. This will maintain energy levels and help you avoid getting sick. Relying on airline food can be a gamble. Pack snacks and meals that you know you will eat and that will not upset your stomach. If you have a layover, it may be better to eat a healthy light meal in the airport instead. Ensure you get plenty of Vitamin C and a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables. This will act to maintain energy, boost immunity, and supply your muscles with optimal fuel.
Make sure you stick to reputable sources of food and water at your destination. This is very location specific. I got very sick before the Great Wall Marathon in China due to relying on a pre-race organised meal. Be careful with hand hygiene, water sources, and ensure well cooked food that hasn’t been reheated. The last thing you want is to get a stomach-bug right before the big day.
EXERCISE. During travel, move frequently. If in transit have a walk around, use the stairs instead of the escalator, stretch, do some calf raises. If on a long flight get up every so often. Use compression socks. If arriving in the daytime, go for a short run to stretch out your muscles and connective tissue that will have been shortened during prolonged travel. The sooner you can do this, the quicker you will recover from jet-lag. Remember to fuel up and hydrate well afterwards. If arriving late at night, save exercise for the following morning. Some gentle stretching, yoga or foam rolling will be really beneficial.
Stick to your taper plan, which generally involves reducing quantity but still keeping some quality work. For example, if competing in a marathon, still including some short strides or marathon pace efforts in the days leading up to keep your body fresh and your neuromuscular units primed.
Running is a fantastic way to experience a new destination - just don’t get carried away and do too much! A great tip is to use Strava heat map, or the All-trails app to pick out local running gems, or find local running groups online and ask where is good to run.
PLAN B. Things go wrong. Airlines lose luggage, schedules are delayed, bad weather affects the event. Be prepared for these eventualities. Taking extra snacks or entertainment in case of long delays. Wearing your race shoes and taking key race essentials in your hand luggage so you don’t have to replace them if your luggage doesn’t arrive. Taking spare weather gear in case of unexpected hot or cold conditions. Taking a first-aid kit and any personal medications in case of illness or injury. Make sure you are insured for your activity: marathon/ultra-marathon/triathlon usually need to be added.
MINDSET. Be clear about your agenda. If travelling with family or friends, be clear about your goals, particularly if this requires assistance from them. This is their holiday as well and compromise is needed.
Be patient. It takes time to adjust to travel, so don't get discouraged if you don't feel your best right away. Give yourself time to settle in and adjust to new destinations. Enjoy the sights and experiences. It is hard to have a perfect race lead-up when travelling. The more you can do to relax and enjoy the process, the better overall experience you will have. Embrace the unknown, expect the unexpected, and be okay with it.
By following some of these tips, you can help make your next travel experience as smooth as possible and ensure that you're able to compete at your best. If successful, it makes the remaining travel time that much sweeter.
If you have any other travel tips or tricks for a great race, please comment below to help others out.