Race season is well underway, and for many of us, that means traveling to destination races. Sometimes it’s a drive to a neighboring city. Other times, it’s a multi-state, multi-hour jaunt in the car, a flight across the country… or around the world.
Traveling to a race is its own special skillset, and it takes trial and error to head to a new venue, in a different time zone, with a less-than-optimal meal plan—and perform on race day. We chatted with QR pro triathlete (and veteran world traveler) Matt Hanson—fresh off a race trip to Europe to scout this fall’s Ironman World Championships in Nice, France—to get his key tips to a successful road trip to your next race.
Don't Stiffen Up
Whether it’s a long drive in the car or a long flight across the Atlantic to Europe or the Pacific headed to Kona, sitting idle in a car or airplane seat isn’t just tedious; it’s bad for your body. Joints and tendons used to motion sit idle and get tight. Blood circulation tends to pool at low points, creating those awful travel “cankles” we hate. Hanson says to do the obvious; move. Get out of the car and stretch, or walk the aisles of the plane with frequency. But he also suggests tools that help keep the body from stiffening up.
“Compression socks on a plane or car, absolutely, especially after a race,” Hanson says. “I always fly with a portable Hypervolt and use it every hour or two to get circulation moving, again, especially on the way home. All that stuff will keep your calves from 'muffin-topping' over your socks.”
AirTag your Bike
With the frequency of bikes being lost by airlines (creating unnecessary stress before a race), many have found massive value in a tiny white Apple product: the AirTag. Securely place one of these in your bike box, perhaps place it in a Ziploc bag and tape that bag to a hard interior surface, or place it within a pocket in your case’s internal space. Your airline may not know where your bike is, but if you’re able to provide proof it’s sitting on the tarmac, it will help them track it easier, knowing it's actually there. Sure, it's exclusive to Apple, but short a LoJack, it's the best way for the average consumer to track their gear.
Get into the (Time) Zone
When you’re moving across time zones, your sleep and rise schedule is thrown off-kilter for those on regimented schedules. Trips over multiple time zones compound the issue, making for restless nights and groggy days. Moving your body to the new time zone is key.
“Traveling east is always harder than traveling west; you lose hours of your day,” Hanson says. “Going west, I’ll stay on my Mountain time and slowly adjust one or two hours a day. But going east, that first night is key; you can’t take a nap and just gotta push through the day and stay up until bedtime. You gotta be willing to suffer a little discomfort on that first day, when you’re tired from a day of travel, in order to get your body in sync with the new time zone, and rested properly. Getting in a little run, bike, or swim on site can help get the body moving and push through those hours when you need to stay awake.”
Hanson also suggests for those long multiple time zone trips to bank a few extra days to allow your body to acclimatize.
“The third day of any long trip is always the roughest,” he says. “Most trips I’ll arrive three days before a race, but when I head to Finland later this year, I’ll be out there a week before the race.”
Plan for Proper Nutrition
Long trips and time in a hotel often mean less of your nutritional routine, especially if you eat out. Plan on finding the grocery store to ensure the fuel that’s gotten you through training. With a little planning, you can avoid a race morning nutrition that consists of a tiny stale bagel and a cup of terrible coffee from the hotel breakfast room. For a race you’ve trained months for, it’s negligent to stake the event on not being prepared to fuel yourself properly.
“Having a nutritional plan is key,” he says. “I always travel with a water boiler to make rice the night before the race, and a portable coffee machine for oats and coffee race morning. They’re really the three staples for the night before and morning of the race.”
That also includes meals in the days leading up to the race. Fast food may be handy when you’re racing around with registration and meetings, but again: proper preparation prevents poor performance. Seek out the fuel—lean proteins and fruits and vegetables—you’ll need for the race.
“Make sure fruits and vegetables are easily accessible. Unless you’re staying at a really good hotel, it’s easy to miss out on those things when you go out to eat for breakfast and dinner every day,” he says. “If you aren’t able to find fresh fruits and vegetables, and don’t take a regular multivitamin, it might be something to think about doing."
Check Airline Options
When we say options we’re not talking about business class versus economy (though if you can get biz class and lay flat for a flight, more power to ya!).
We mean look at your costs. Some airlines are renowned for cutting triathletes with bikes zero slack, extending you a handsome $250 oversize fee (or more) plus an extra bag fee for the honor of carrying your bike to your race. But you have other airlines like Alaska Airlines that currently consider your bike a standard piece of luggage, and simply charge you the standard luggage fee of $30 for the first bag. When considering airfare, hotels, rental cars, and more, a reasonable bike shipping rate is worth looking into.
Hanson also has one caveat: “Be sure on international trips if the flight is shared by codeshare partners, that those partners are bike-friendly as well” he said. “I recently made a flight accommodation through United, but on the way home it was governed by Lufthansa, which had bike fee rates that were higher than that of United.”
*Most airlines have a policy requiring hard-sided cases for bikes. If using a soft case, you may be asked to sign a liability release. Make sure you read the fine print as most airlines will state they are not liable for damaged bikes when using soft cases.
**Make sure you inspect your bike before leaving the airport, as most airlines only have a 2-4 hour window to file a claim for a damaged bike.
Keep your Bike’s Bits Safe
We’ve heard the stories (and seen them at our booth at races around the world): a bent derailleur hanger. A bent rotor. And more. There’s an easy way to ensure those two major issues never happen: learn how to remove (and re-install) your rotors and derailleur hanger when packing your bike. Don’t forget to re-install your thru-axles, so an errant heavy bag doesn’t squeeze the rear triangle or fork into a compromised (or damaged) position.
“If you learn how to do just these little things, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress,” Hanson says. “They’re truly basic mechanical things we should all know. There are also quick links for chains, again, a quick removal and installation, really easy. They’ll save you time, heartache, and probably a lot of money.”
Traveling to new races is fun. But having a successful race doesn’t happen just in the months leading up to the race. Follow these tips, and you’ll put yourself in a position to have a great race, away from home.
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