RACE FIRST, PLAY LATER
Front-load your racing, and save the ziplining and street-food sampling for afterward – lest such adventures undermine your race-day performance. “Discuss expectations with your travel companions before the trip,” says triathlete Barb Lindquist. “Lay out your needs for your race, and figure out a way to accommodate their eagerness for fun and adventure.”
Include some training sessions that replicate the weather you expect at your destination. To teach your body how to cope with heat and humidity, physiologist Krista Austin, Ph.D., suggests wearing extra layers during workouts, progressively increasing their warmth through taper time. Heading somewhere chilly? Run on air-conditioned treadmills, or outside in the early morning. Beyond adjusting your internal thermostat, the practise helps you anticipate the gear you’ll need on race day (which you should pack in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost).
Travel exposes you to new pathogens, and tough training sessions combined with travel-related stress and fatigue can weaken the immune system. Ward off race-day sniffles with vitamin C: A 2013 Cochrane Review report found that it helps prevent colds and reduces their duration, especially among marathoners and others who undergo brief periods of stress. “Take two grams daily, starting a few days before your trip,” says Ben Greenfield, a personal trainer and performance coach who also recommends packing hand sanitiser and maintaining strict bedtimes pre-trip. “Starting off well rested helps your immune system survive the stress of travel.”
During travel, get up, walk the aisles, and do light stretching to restore circulation to seat-bound limbs (for long car rides, stop for stretch breaks), and wear compression socks to reduce ankle swelling, Lindquist says. Avoid crossing your legs or ankles. Aisle seats are the way to go – they allow you to extend your legs and get up to stretch. Even on overnight or international flights, an aisle seat will prevent you from being trapped by snoozing rowmates. If you’ll miss resting your head against the wall, bring along a neckrest.
Most people don’t drink enough to begin with. Factor in dry aeroplane air (which typically measures less than 20 per cent relative humidity), and dehydration becomes likely. “Unless you’re peeing clear or pale yellow, you’re not drinking enough water,” Greenfield says. Limit caffeine and alcohol (both are dehydrating) and instead sip carbonated water, or toss an effervescent electrolyte tablet into your water bottle: the carbonation helps stabilise a jittery stomach.
BEAT JET LAG
Time zone changes interrupt your sleep patterns and can also wreak havoc on your GI tract (which expects meals at customary times and gets thrown off by deviations to your biological clock). Minimising jet lag starts a few days before your trip: adjust your bedtime and mealtimes in one-hour increments, in keeping with your new time zone. Then set your watch for the destination time, and try to eat and sleep accordingly (even if that means skipping the in-flight meal). Upon arrival, avoid naps and maximise your time in the sun: exposure to light helps the body adjust.
Resist the urge to flush away post-trip stiffness with a rigorous workout. Instead, Lindquist recommends a 15-minute walk in your running shoes to loosen up and restore co-ordination. “The changes in air pressure you experience while flying affect your spinal-cord fluid and can make you feel clumsy,” Lindquist says. “It’s likely just travel, not an indication of how you’ll feel during the race.” An easy swim or pool run in the hotel pool can also dispel limbs’ leaden feel.