This is an excerpt from Women's Guide to Triathlon, The by USA Triathlon.
Traveling for triathlons can be fun and exciting. It's a great way to see other cities and connect with the wider triathlon community while experiencing the many amazing venues and courses our sport calls home. The triathlon experience can be greatly enhanced by geography, as there's a little magic in finishing a race on a beach in San Diego, diving into Hawaiian surf, or biking through the Rockies. You can become a citizen of the world through triathlon, but first, you're going to need to learn how to pack!
Traveling to races requires planning and organization skills far in excess of those already needed to shoehorn hours of training into a typically packed schedule. Because you're taking your show (and your bike and wetsuit and shoes and gels) on the road, you're multiplying the possibility for things to go wrong, get lost, and break down by a huge factor, and, however briefly, ceding control over your race prep to an airline, hotel, or interstate highway system. It can be a challenge dealing with the unexpected, but the determination and attention to detail most triathletes exhibit will be a tremendous help during this process. Chances are you'll arrive on time, well rested and prepared to have your best race, but let's not leave it to chance.
USA Triathlon offers travel-related discounts including hotel, car rental, airfare, and bike transport to annual members. Log in to your account or visit www.usatriathlon.org/travel to learn more.
Choose your race. Seems like this is the simplest thing to do, but as triathlon continues to grow, the race options seem to have expanded exponentially, and just deciding can be tough. Make sure to factor in distance, ease of travel, and race setup and location relative to lodging and transportation. Also, look online for reviews of the race from previous years. You'll want to make sure you're hitting the road for a worthwhile event, and that all of the hard work you put in won't be wasted on a poorly run race over a dangerous course. This time investment up front can save a ton of headaches down the road.
Book accommodations early. Sometimes the race has a beautiful host hotel that's convenient, that's affordable, and that stocks those delightful bath gels you love for postrace recovery. Sometimes it doesn't. Get informed about all possible lodging options well in advance so you can make the best choice for your wallet, sanity, and convenience. Resources such as Priceline, AirBnB, VRBO, and Yelp will help identify traditional hotels, but also rental homes or condos, and provide great information about the quality of the stay. Pick a place where you can best relax and prepare, get good sleep, and comfortably recover after the race. An upgrade from the spring break motel to the high-rise well above the crowd may be worth a few more dollars.
Make sure that wherever you're staying is prepared to accommodate your needs. A simple call ahead can help you reserve bike storage, make sure a fridge is in your room for food and fuel, and ensure that you're not sharing a floor with 75 kids on a class trip just dying to keep you up all night! One of the hidden secrets of hotel living is that there are many amenities and services available to the average traveler, but most of us simply don't ask. Often an earnest inquiry to the counter representative can reveal possible upgrades, identify which side of the building is quietest, or yield a better level of service. Remember, the front-of-house staff have an inordinate amount of control over the quality of your stay, and a well-placed $20 proffered to the check-in person can result in any number of benefits. A simple "I'd appreciate anything you could do to make my stay great!" and a discreet gratuity can make you a favored guest and ensure that your race experience is well supported by the hotel.
Once you check in, lay out all your gear. This will enable you to identify anything you may have forgotten, save time later, and confirm the condition of everything posttravel, prerace.
Racing internationally? Traveling with a group such as Endurance Sports Travel can make international racing surprisingly easy and affordable. Using a tri-specific travel agent, while seemingly antiquated by today's book-it-yourself standard, will help immeasurably, as she will have expertise in the specific needs of the triathlete abroad. Destinations have different processes for handling odd baggage such as bikes and equipment, unique customs requirements, and other unforeseen impediments to a smooth travel plan. By letting an agent make your international arrangements, you receive guidance and often expedited service, have someone proficient in handling language or currency conversion concerns, and have someone who understands the importance of what you're doing and how travel can affect your race day.
Travel can have a number of effects on your body, and your travel plan should account for those eventualities. Plan to arrive a day or two in advance of the race to become familiar with your surroundings, shake off jet lag or other fatigue, and arrange for proper storage of your gear. The last thing you need is to arrive in haste, be disoriented and rushed, and create stress before your race. Similarly, don't plan to jet out of town hours after you cross the finish line. Allow at least a day after the race to rest, recover, and decompress before cramming your aching muscles into a cramped airplane seat or behind the wheel.
When flying, be sure to request an aisle seat on the plane so you have plenty of room and freedom to get up and stretch. If your race travel involves jetting to a different climate or someplace with a significant time difference, allow more time to let your body compensate and adjust to the new conditions.
Researching the Location
Read the athlete guide and get some local tourism information. The key to a successful race trip is doing your research and gathering as much intelligence about your destination as possible. The athlete guide will give you course maps for review and outline parking, staging areas, and the like; but you need a 360-degree view of your surroundings to make your trip the best it can be. Knowing the local landscape can provide a wealth of benefits, such as identifying pools or beaches for a tune-up swim, locating healthy eating spots, or scouting safe places to run in preparation for race day. Map out the race route because the map in your packet might not be the clearest, and identify the ways in and out of your destination. No one likes fighting traffic or getting lost, but we hate it even more when anxious about an upcoming race and concerned about the location of our stuff.
Another reason to learn about the destination is so you can enjoy yourself if you have some downtime. Traveling for triathlon is about the race, but it's also about seeing new places, taking a break from work and life routines, and using sport as a tool for creating new experiences. Finding out as much about your race location as possible can help your performance, but it can also identify where to get a massage or a triumphant postrace margarita!