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Coaches Blog

Traveling and Racing In 2021: What To Expect and COVID-19 Precautions To Take

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

We’re so excited for the return of endurance races after more than a year away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though racing in other countries might still be a little ways off, traveling to other regions for races is definitely a possibility, especially for fully vaccinated athletes!


Even though some things are beginning to look a little more normal, other aspects of travel might be “abnormal” for a while longer. So, we rounded up some tips and tricks to help you travel to your next race safely and with a little less stress.


Pre-Race Safety Precautions

Here are four easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of exposure to the Coronavirus while traveling to your next race.


1) Know the COVID-19 restrictions where you’re racing.

Especially in the US, COVID-19 safety restrictions can vary widely from state to state. Read up on the local regulations before you travel and make sure you can abide by them, especially if you’re traveling by mass transit (planes, trains, etc.) to the race.


2) Read the pre-race information as soon as possible (and frequently).

Flexibility and staying informed is the name of the game when racing in 2021. Read the athletes guide as soon as you can access it. Make sure you clearly identify check-in, packet pickup, bike drop, and other key procedures.


Keep an eye out for any updates and changes in the weeks and days leading up to race weekend. Things can change frequently as COVID restrictions are constantly updating in each region, so it’s critical to stay up to date on the latest information from race directors and host cities.


In addition to the athlete guides, join the official event Facebook group and check the websites regularly for any changes or updates that might affect your travel and race day plans.


3) Driving is your safest bet (currently).

At the time of this publication, the CDC says that all fully vaccinated people can travel domestically by plane (or other forms of mass transit) without testing or self-quarantine regulations. However, the safest way to travel to your next race is to drive yourself if at all possible.


Driving reduces your risk of exposure and allows you to better control your environment. Reducing your exposure risk can reduce your overall stress, which will help you arrive at the race venue more relaxed and ready to race!


If you do choose to fly, consider flights with as few layovers as possible to reduce your time in the airports. Surprisingly, planes are quite safe when it comes to air filtration. It’s the airports, taxis, and other things involved in air travel that increase your exposure risk.


4) Traveling internationally is a whole different animal.

If you’re traveling abroad for your next endurance race, it’s more important than ever to understand the COVID regulations for the race destination. If you’re not vaccinated, be prepared to provide negative COVID tests and arrive in plenty of time to complete any quarantine requirements.


Different airlines, countries, and race venues require different kinds of COVID tests. Be sure to know which tests you’ll need and the time window in which you’ll need them. To reduce stress, identify several potential locations to get the right COVID tests both in your home country and in the race location. After all, you might need a negative test to re-enter your home country.


If you’re fully vaccinated, some countries will allow you to skip the pre-flight COVID test and quarantine period. Don’t forget to bring copies of your proof of vaccination.


Because many things are unpredictable at the moment, many travel experts recommend athletes arrive a day or two earlier than usual. Having a little extra margin will reduce stress levels should your travels go slightly less than perfect.


5) Consider skipping the hotels.

COVID-19 is primarily spread through close contact with someone who has the virus. If possible, choose to stay in an Airbnb, vacation rental, or a single-family house where you don’t need to frequent breakfast buffets, lobbies, or shared bathroom facilities.


If you’re feeling extra adventurous, consider staying in an RV or camper!


The bottom line is sharing spaces with many people or sharing bathroom facilities increases your risk of exposure to COVID-19 (and other common sicknesses). You can dramatically reduce your risk of illness by staying in a place where you won’t need to share an elevator.


An added bonus is you’ll likely have access to a kitchen where you can prepare your favorite pre-race meals!


6) Plan to avoid indoor dining.

While we’re on the subject of pre-race meals, we’d also like to suggest you avoid the indoor dining options--at least for right now. Instead, explore outdoor dining or to-go meal options. Or, you can pack your own meals and take advantage of having better control of your nutrition leading up to the big race.


COVID-19 Safety At Your Race

Now that you’re at your race destination, here are some safety precautions you should expect to abide by and plan for. Race directors are eager to put on safe and fun events, and our support and participation are vital.


1) Masks are a must.

Masks are a proven way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and lower your own risk of getting sick. The great news is that wearing a quality mask can help prevent colds, the flu, and other illnesses, too!


Be prepared to mask up at all times before and after the race. Your cheering squad should also mask up in and around the race venue.


2) Changes in pre-race check-ins.

One thing that might look different for a while is the packet pickup and athlete check-in process. Many race directors are opting to mail race packets or shift to drive-through packet-pickup formats to reduce the risk of crowds.


Many races are also holding their athlete briefings online. Some are even eliminating the race expos altogether and selling swag online.


At larger races (like IRONMAN triathlons), be prepared to select a specific athlete check-in time and another time for your bike check-in. If you need to coordinate with your support crew, make sure to come to your athlete check-in time with a plan. This will help the process go more smoothly and eliminate unnecessary stress.


There are pros and cons to these changes, and we hope they’re only temporary precautions.

3) Be prepared to self-support.

This one will vary dramatically from race to race, so be sure to read pre-race materials carefully to understand exactly what you can expect on race day.


Many major races (IRONMAN, Challenge, Rev3, etc.) have eliminated more close-contact things like body marking and wetsuit stripping. Race directors will either provide temporary race tattoos or have you body mark yourself.


Pro tip: if you’re racing an event where you’ll need to do your own body marking, consider having someone in your support crew write your numbers on your arms and legs before heading to transition or using temporary race tattoos to keep things legible. It’s surprisingly hard to write on your own calf in legible handwriting!


Other things you won’t be able to count on at races this year include sunscreen appliers in transition, post-race massages, bike catchers, and change tents. So, practice wriggling out of your own wetsuit, racking your own bike, and applying your own sunscreen.


4) Social distancing during the race.

Triathletes have been practicing social distancing on the bike for decades, but you might notice a few other social distancing procedures at endurance events this season.


While mass swim starts were already on the endangered species list before the pandemic, they’re completely dead now. Expect to stay spaced out and do a time-trial swim start. For running events, expect smaller corrals or other efforts to space athletes out before the start line.


Aid stations at cycling events and on the bike leg of triathlons will likely remain the same. Volunteers will still “hand up” bottles and nutrition options. However, you should expect to remain 6-feet apart at pit stops or when you’re rolling through special needs stations.


Running events and the run leg of triathlons are where you might notice the biggest difference in on-course “service.” Rather than handing cups and nutrition options, volunteers will likely stage water and food options on tables for athletes to grab as they run by.


At smaller events or in regions with very strict COVID-19 restrictions, race directors may opt to have athletes “self-support,” meaning there will be no on-course nutrition available. If you’re racing a “self-supported” race, be prepared to carry all the water and nutrition needed through the entire event.


5) Changes to post-race festivities.

You might notice a few changes when you cross the finish line, too. Expect to be handed a mask right away to wear as you move through the finish area. Most races have also done away with volunteers putting medals around people’s necks. Instead, expect to pick up your finisher swag off a table or receive it in a bag.


Unfortunately, some races have temporarily suspended awards ceremonies to eliminate crowds. So, prepare to throw your own socially distanced post-race celebration back at your Airbnb.


The bottom line is, racing is back, but things might be a little different this season. If you stay safe while traveling and take the time to read things a little closer to really understand all the ins and outs of what to expect on race day, you’ll rock your next endurance race.

 

Gregg Edelstein is a certified USA Triathlon Level 1 Coach, an IRONMAN University Certified Coach and a USA Cycling Level 3 Coach based in the greater Boston area. Gregg offers his athletes insight on the principles of exercise, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, working to make them well-rounded and engaged athletes that share his passion for sport. Gregg can be reached at Greg@TeamMPI.com

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