Traveling to races is one of my favorite things about being a triathlete. However, I’ve definitely had some growing pains, if you will, in learning how to travel and race effectively. While there are many reasons to race close to home (decreased cost, ability to sleep in your own bed, local cheering section), I believe there are just as many reasons to travel to races.
If you choose to travel and race, the most critical aspect is organization. This starts with race choice, and this requires collaboration between you and your support team (unless you’re traveling alone; then you alone have input into the race).
The most important aspects of traveling to races are race choice, travel, lodging, cost, and race nutrition. Let’s take each separately.
1. Race choice: You’ll need to research the race site, especially if you’re traveling out of the country. Do you need a passport and/or a visa? Is your passport valid for at least 6 months after your trip (some countries won’t let you in with a soon-to-be expired passport)?
You need to also identify why you want to travel a long distance to compete in a race.
Perhaps you’re trying to qualify for a world championship race, and your race choice will be the one where you have the best chance to qualify. You may also choose a race that just plain suits your strengths and that you’ll enjoy.
You could be racing with a group, and the decision was to go to “X” race. Regardless, look over each leg and review time cut-offs. For example, not all iron-distance races have a 17-hour cut-off. Did you know that Challenge Roth has a 15 hour cut-off for individual participants?
2. Travel: How far away is the race? Count how many time zones away you’re traveling. Check the elevation for the race. These two items will drive how far in advance you need to arrive. Do you need to rent a vehicle, or can you travel by rideshare?
If you need a car, allow enough space for you, your entourage, luggage, and potentially your bike. As a general rule, I tend to arrive 2-3 days out from a race I’ve traveled to, then plan to stay afterward for vacation. I did have an exception in New Zealand, where I arrived five days before the race to adjust to the time zone.
3. Lodging: Things to consider include: proximity to the race site, proximity to grocery stores and/or restaurants, ability to prepare your own food, and space for you to rest (quietly) and lay out/pack your gear. A kitchen is invaluable because it allows you to prepare foods that you know will work for you.
If you choose to stay in a hotel or place with no kitchen, know the local restaurants and identify some gut-friendly choices. For example, I have a friend who always stayed near an Applebee’s and would eat a specific salad the night before the race. It was a tried and true method for her to get her nutrition in, and she didn’t have to guess whether it would cause gut issues.
4. Cost: This will vary wildly, depending on where you go and who you take with you. Some factors to consider:
How long do you need to be at your race site?
Will you combine the race with a vacation?
It is my personal opinion that if you leave your home country to race, you should spend time in the host country. You can call it a reward for a great race or call it a family vacation.
While adding in a vacation increases the cost, there may be some negotiations between you and other adults coming with you to help minimize cost. My husband and I agreed that whoever raced paid for flights, lodging, and food when at the race venue. The racer could ask for help booking VRBO or hotels, but the athlete had the final say. After the race was completed, any ‘vacation’ expenses were split between us. I’ve taken my husband to Florida, Idaho, California, and New Zealand. He took me to Arizona and Leadville, Colorado. I’ll let you decide who came out on the better end of those destinations.
5. Race Day Nutrition: I would default to taking all of the nutrition you’re going to need. Your ability to take specific foods into other countries will require research. There was an instance in New Zealand where a friend brought along their own electrolyte mix. They put it in a Ziploc bag rather than the bag it came in from the factory. Customs threw it away. It was a specially mixed blend for him, so it was impossible to just run out and replace. Another instance occurred at IRONMAN Florida. One of my favorite foods on the bike was Raspberry Newtons. I was living in Colorado at the time, and they were readily available, so I thought they would be available in Florida, as well. I was incorrect. No Raspberry Newtons to be found from Mobile to Panama City Beach. I subbed in a different flavor and was grateful that my stomach didn’t revolt.
Bottom line, pack what you need, and it’s generally best if it’s in the original packaging and sealed.
While this list isn’t exhaustive, it will undoubtedly get you thinking about what absolutely has to happen for you to travel to a race.
Maria Netherland is a Northwest Florida-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Youth & Juniors Certified Coach as well as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist. Coach Maria loves working for athletes of all abilities, military athletes, and new triathletes as they pursue their goals. Maria is a veteran of the US Army and a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate. She can be reached at email@example.com.