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Travel Tips for Athletes

Escape home and explore an exotic place by signing up for a race. Sounds like the perfect excuse for a magical vacation, right?

Yes! Until your luggage gets lost, you get sick, you have trouble adjusting to the time change, and you can’t find food you like to eat. 

Okay maybe this is a little extreme. We hope. But odds are that your idyllic dream vacation will not sail quite as smoothly as you anticipated when you clicked “register.” To help you avoid these potential pitfalls and reach your race potential while also having a blast, we sat down with professional triathlete and perpetual traveler Morgan Pearson to learn his travel secrets. 

After earning multiple NCAA All-American honors in cross country and track and field at the University of Colorado, Pearson broke out onto the draft legal triathlon scene immediately after switching to the sport. He won Age Group Nationals in his first race, earning his pro card. Now he races around the world for team USA on the World Triathlon Series circuit, the highest level you can get to in the sport. Here are his top tips (corroborated by science) on how to make race travel as seamless, successful, and satisfying as possible:

1. Go west! (If you can). Most people find it easier to adjust to the time change moving backwards in time. (You can deal with the repercussions of going the other direction when you get back…) If you’re heading east (i.e. from the U.S. to Europe), research indicates you should also try to schedule an evening, overnight flight. 

2. Adjust to the time change ahead of time. Start adjusting to local time before you leave by going to bed earlier or later than usual depending on which direction you are travelling. (Go to sleep later if travelling west, earlier if travelling east.) This is the biggest finding from science on travel and athletic performance. Research from the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary, Canada, also indicates you should switch your watch to your destination time zone as soon as you step on the plane to further aid with time change adaptation. 

3. Sleep on the plane, if you can. This is especially crucial for overnight or international flights, in which sleep deprivation can accrue quickly. Consider taking ambien or another sleeping aid to help you doze off, if needed. 

4. Expect the worst in terms of WiFi and cell phone service. Print out your itinerary beforehand, and know the rules of where you are going.

5. Crush the carry-on. Make sure to pack travel essentials, which include:
Compression socks (to enhance circulation and mitigate that stale post-travel feeling)
Pillow and eye mask
Noise cancelling headphones
Race gear (in case your luggage gets lost)
Snacks, including fiber-filled foods like fresh fruit and veggies and trail mix
Water bottle. (Just make sure it’s empty when you go through security, of course.) Don’t be afraid to ask for extra water while you’re on the plane! 

6. If you’re travelling with your bike, pack an extra derailleur hanger and two sets of wheels. (TSA is notoriously bad with bike handling, and there are few things worse than travelling somewhere for a race or trip involving a bike only for it not to work!)  

Aerial view of mountain range.

7. Flush out the post-travel gunk. In addition to wearing compression socks, hydrating, and moving around on the plane, it’s imperative to take care of yourself after you deboard so you can feel light and springy. After arriving at your destination, motivate to put on your favorite pair of Balegas and go for a walk, a little jog, or a short spin to flush out your legs before flopping onto your bed. Hydrate sufficiently, including with electrolytes. Pre-travel aspirin has also proven effective in mitigating sluggishness and also post-travel thromboembolism (blood clotting) -- a risk for athletes. 

Most importantly: remember to have fun and soak in the experience! That’s why you signed up for this trip, after all. Check out local running and biking gems on Strava, Map My Run, and Map My Ride. And fuel yourself properly by exploring the best cuisine your destination has to offer.

 
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