Coach Tip Tuesday: Destination Racing: Travel Time Frames
If you stick around the endurance sports world long enough, it’s very probable that you will eventually sign up for a race that requires you to sleep in a bed that is not your own. In other words, you’ll likely sign up for a “destination race,” or a race that you need to travel to in order to participate in it.
I’ve participated in more than 100 races over my years as an endurance athlete. I’ve raced on multiple continents and (as of the time of this writing) in 27 states. After all these years, I’ve learned some important things about traveling and racing, and it’s those lessons that I’m sharing today.
When to Arrive
Your arrival date/time is pretty important when it comes to racing well at a destination race. Very often, I see athletes timing their travel so they are in-town for the race for the least amount of time possible. While I do understand the reasons for this thinking (budget/cost, time away from work, etc.), it’s important to be realistic and honest about what certain arrival time frames mean for racing.
The ideal time to arrive for a race depends on a lot of factors. In my experience, some of the main ones that influence that decision are:
What the rules are for the race in terms of check-in, etc.
What mode of travel you are taking.
How long the travel time is (total transit time from door-to-door).
How many time zones you're jumping (and what direction you're traveling (forward in time or backward in time)).
How many things you need to travel with (bike, no bike, etc.).
What altitude you’re traveling to and where you live. (For instance, if you are traveling to and racing at a place that is more than 5,000 feet higher than where you live, this would be a major consideration for travel dates.)
How you personally handle travel physiologically. (Be careful here; I’m talking about how you actually physiologically handle travel. Not how you hope or wish you handle travel.)
If the race you are traveling to is an A-Race and you are flying or driving more than five hours to get there, I strongly recommend that you plan to arrive no closer than three days before your goal race. If you are jumping more than three time zones, it’s probably better if you add an extra day or two to that window. If you’re going higher in altitude, you either need to arrive three weeks earlier than race day to acclimatize or you need to race within 72 hours of your arrival. (For higher altitude races, arriving in the “middle” of 72 hours and three weeks has a high probability of having a negative impact on how you feel and perform due to the fact that your body will not be acclimatized; in a worst case scenario, you could get altitude sickness.)
While this may seem excessive, having several days “to spare” before your race will allow you a higher probability of being able to handle any unforeseen complications (such as traffic, delayed or canceled flights, etc.), to recover from the travel, to settle into a good sleep routine, and to give yourself the best chance possible at feeling fresh and ready on race day.
When to Depart
In my experience, departure dates/times are not as important as the arrival days/times are, but they are still important. The same factors that influence the decision about when to arrive also impact the decision about when to leave.
I’ve traveled home on the same day as a goal race, and it was a horrible idea. A HORRIBLE, no good, very bad idea. (Please - for the love of all things frosted and delicious - let my experience be sufficient for you and do not learn this lesson yourself by doing it. :D )
Traveling the day after a goal race is a less terrible idea than traveling the day of a goal race, but traveling at least two days after a goal race is - in my experience - the best idea. This allows you to focus on recovery post-race without the stress of managing travel details and logistics.
Stress is stress; the body can’t decipher whether the stress that is imposed on it comes from a workout or from other factors (such as poor/inadequate sleep, anxiety about traveling, etc.). Traveling is stressful. End of sentence, period. No matter what mode of travel you take, it is at least somewhat stressful on the body (though there are certainly some travel modes and choices that make travel less stressful). Racing is already stressful on the body, and traveling very soon after a race imposes more stress on the body. This can impair and delay recovery, which is not ideal, especially after a goal race.
Furthermore, if you are visiting an interesting place, staying for a few days after your race allows you to experience where you are. If the race is an A-Race (and you’re preparing properly ;) ), you likely are resting and staying off of your feet prior to race day so you can give yourself the best chance possible at feeling good and having a good performance in your race. After the race is an excellent time to sightsee, walk around, and go on adventures. Planning your trip home so that you travel a few days (or more!) after your race enables you to embrace the full experience of the race and the place.
Go Have an Adventure!
My experience has shown me that traveling to race can be a truly wonderful thing. I’ve visited places I might not otherwise have gone to because an interesting race was taking place there and was the catalyst for me to take the trip. I truly hope you get to experience the joy of racing in a fun destination so you can experience more slices of this wonderful world.
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.