The Traveling Runner

July 12, 2013

Are you a frequent traveler? Does your training falter when you’re on the go? Whether you’re away from home for business or pleasure, travel can present significant challenges to your running routine. However, a little planning, flexibility, and determination can give you the necessary lift to hurdle the barriers and stay on track with your training schedule.

As a full time business professional and a part time professional athlete, I have had to refine my travel skills in order to continue competing at the highest level. The following tips have been developed from first hand experience and I hope that you will employ some of these suggestions to not let your travel schedule stand in the way of your fitness or performance goals.

Tips to become an expert traveling runner:

  • Plan lodging strategically
  • Travel in comfort & stay hydrated
  • Check local weather before packing
  • Pack running shoes & clothes in carry-on
  • Plan for training fuels and in run hydration
  • Pack small self-massage tools
  • Plan routes & call local run specialty shops for tips
  • Join local group runs
  • Run early to avoid missed runs due to schedule changes
  • Be flexible with your workouts
  • Eat healthy & rest

Strategic lodging One of the most important factors for enabling your training while on the road is having convenient access to places to run or venues to workout. When you are booking a hotel, look for something that is near running friendly roads or trails. If you have specific workouts scheduled during your travel, such as a speed session on the track or hill repeats, keep this in mind while booking and look for a hotel that provides you relatively close access to the facilities that you need. It is also helpful to book lodging accommodations that have a comprehensive gym on site or complementary access to a local facility nearby.

Travel in comfort If you aren’t headed straight to a meeting from the airport, I highly recommend traveling in comfortable clothing and footwear. This will enable you to rest and relax in-flight and be more active during a connection layover. Take advantage of a long layover to walk a few loops around the terminal instead of just sitting and waiting for your flight to board. A long walk will help shake off the travel fatigue and encourage extra blood flow to your muscles. You should also consider wearing compression socks or tights to combat the long hours of sitting on a flight or in the car on a lengthy drive to keep blood circulation going strong. Even if you are in a business suit, compression socks should be a piece of your go-to travel wear. My favorite compression socks are the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve.

Stay hydrated This is something that you should adhere to at all times, not just when traveling, however, it becomes even more important during your travels. Pack an empty bottle in your carry-on luggage and fill it at terminal water fountains or at special water bottle re-fill stations that are beginning to pop up in some airports. Drinking extra water can help combat the stale recycled airplane air and all of the germs that you are exposed to during your travels.

Pack appropriately Check the local weather and take this into consideration when packing your running gear. In changing weather conditions, accessories like arm sleeves or a thin jacket can be utilized for varying temperatures without taking up very much room in your suitcase. I recommend packing your running shoes and one set of running clothing in your carry-on so that you won’t be forced to miss a run if your luggage is lost or delayed. When you are a frequent traveler, you are bound to run into this problem every once in a while and a good run will help you blow off the steam of your frustrations with the airline when it does happens. I also recommend packing a few empty plastic bags or a fabric laundry bag (not mesh) that can hold your dirty running clothes for the rest of the trip. Nothing is worse than stinky running clothes spreading their smell to everything in your suitcase. I like to take it one step further by adding a couple of scented dryer sheets in my suitcase to keep things fresh.

Plan for fuels and in run hydration Pack enough gels, energy bars, recovery bars, and drink powders (electrolyte & recovery) to last for the duration of your trip. This will save you the hassle and time of trying to find your preferred training fuels at local stores. If you will be in a hot weather environment or planning any long runs during your trip, don’t forget to pack your hydration equipment. I throw a handheld bottle strap into my carry-on, which can accommodate the bottle that I always have with me to stay hydrated during my travels.

Bring self-massage tools When you are away from home, you are also away from your normal routine to keep your muscle tissues and fascia healthy. You might be missing regularly scheduled massage or physical therapy sessions, or maybe you are simply missing your normal self-massage and stretching tools. Unfortunately, it probably isn’t possible to pack all of the tools that you use on a regular basis, especially the larger items like a foam roller, calf stretching device, or a physio ball. However, there are a couple of small tools that I pack on every trip that can be used in a variety of ways for self-massage to keep the body healthy. I pack a TriggerPoint massage ball, a golf ball, and a small massage stick. These three items take up very little space and can even be included in your carry-on.

Plan routes If you are traveling to an unfamiliar place, I recommend spending a few minutes exploring the area and scouting out running routes before you leave home and preferably before you book a room. Do an internet search for running trails or routes in the area and use tools like Google Earth to plan a few runs in advance. There are also some great new programs popping up like Lo-ca-lei-kki that provide insights on training venues and group workouts. I highly recommend taking advantage of these types of tools to plan your training in advance.

If you are in a major metropolitan area, you might be able to take an exploration run to see the sights and learn the city. This is one of my favorite things to do when traveling to a new city. I go on a run with a goal of learning my way around and seeing the local sights. I do not plan a specific route and if I hit a traffic light I just make a turn so that I don’t have to stop my run. It’s possible to lose your way or get turned around after making numerous unmapped turns, but if you truly are lost it’s always easy to stop and ask someone on the street to point you in the right direction back to your hotel.

Utilize the local experts (run specialty shops) Another way to learn about the best places to run or what tracks might be open to the public is to call upon the local experts – the local running specialty shops. They are a wealth of local running knowledge and a valuable resource for advice on where to run and if you’re lucky, they might even tell you about the secret spots that many locals don’t even know about. They can also tell you about local group runs, which can provide you with refreshing company on some of the runs during your stay if they are compatible with your schedule.

One of my local specialty running shops in Bend, OR

One of my local specialty running shops in Bend, OR

Run early It is often the case that your schedule is not truly yours when you are traveling, whether for business or pleasure. Get up early and complete your run or workout before the day really begins in order to guarantee that you actually get it in. Our days rarely go perfectly according to schedule. We have all had meetings that go long or meetings that continue right into dinner or simply meetings that weren’t planned at all. These roadblocks can easily prevent a planned run from actually taking place, so plan to do all of your most important training in the early morning so that you can guarantee that you get it in. If the opportunity presents itself, any extra time that you have later in the day becomes a bonus where you can sneak in a second run or simply relax and recover.

I hit the mountains as the sun was coming up on a recent trip to Snowbird, UT

An early morning run in the mountains as the sun was coming up on a recent trip to Snowbird, UT

Be flexible with your workouts If you don’t have convenient access to the preferred training grounds for a planned workout, try to be flexible and adjust it to your surroundings and what you have available. For instance, if you have a speed session scheduled on the track, but no track access, try a fartlek workout (Swedish for “speed play”), so that you can base your workout on a similar effort and interval time instead of basing it on exact distance around track. For example, one mile repeats could be replaced by 5 minute repeats at a similar effort on an unmarked road or trail. If you have a hill workout scheduled and you happen to find yourself in the middle of a flat landscape, try a hill workout on the hotel treadmill or a stair climb workout in a tall building. The goal should be to replicate the stimulus and effort that your planned workout called for using what you have available to you in your surroundings. This can actually be a lot of fun and provide a new and exciting mix into your normal workouts.

Eat healthy and don’t forget to rest Maintain a healthy diet and a sound sleep schedule while traveling so that you do not hinder your fitness or performance goals. This may seem like simple, sound advice, but it is next to impossible to do unless you plan and prepare for it. Pack healthy, nutritious snacks for your travel days and once your arrive, head to a grocery store as soon as possible to buy healthy snacks for the rest of your stay. I like to pack ziplock bags with homemade trail mixes of cereal, dried fruit, seeds, and nuts along ziplock bags of fresh vegetable and fruit pieces. My favorite trail mix consists of Chex (corn & rice), chopped dates and apricot pieces, cranberries, dried coconut, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and a few dark chocolate chips. My favorite fresh mix includes apple slices, carrot sticks, bell peppers wedges, and celery sticks.

Beyond the healthy snacks that I pack, after landing at my destination, my first stop in the rental car is at a grocery store to stock up on more fresh fruits and vegetables, along with some Greek yogurt, that I can store in my hotel room for healthy snacks throughout the trip. By having healthy foods around, it enables you to enjoy nutritious snacks that can aid in keeping you feeling good by avoiding some of the sluggishness that heavy meals can trigger.

A visit to Whole Foods enroute from the airport to my hotel

A visit to Whole Foods enroute from the airport to my hotel

At the end of the day, you can’t be productive in your training if you don’t get enough sleep, so make sure that you set limits on how late you will stay out socializing for business or pleasure and make sure that you get an adequate amount of sleep to support your workout the next morning. With proper rest and a relatively healthy diet you can stay on track with your training schedule to reach your fitness and performance goals.

It’s not an easy task to run and train while you’re traveling, so you need to do everything in your planning power to enable it. Throw in a little extra flexibility and determination and you can hurdle the barriers and stay on track with your training schedule. Good luck and travel safe!

Please comment to add your tips and rules for being an expert traveling runner.

Follow @RyanBak_yurbuds on Twitter and RyanBakRunning.com for more tips.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gnd September 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Hey! this site is great and very useful for business travelers runners!

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