We often travel to places that differ from our home stomping grounds for races. This may mean that the temperatures are hotter, humidity much higher, hilly terrain, different altitude, or water temperatures much lower/higher. It may even be that cultures differ, and we may not be able to find certain staple foods or items that we find easily at home.
Traveling to races costs a lot of money, and we put so much time into training. Some of the factors mentioned above can significantly impact our race performance. It doesn't make sense to skip doing your homework.
If you go into the test trying to wing it, you risk not finishing or being at serious health risk. For example, hot and humid conditions will decrease performance by greater than 10% even if you try to train and prepare. Similarly, if you are traveling to a race that you know is at altitude, you may not want to get there the day before and risk altitude sickness on race day.
It's a little more challenging to train for altitude without high-altitude tents and/or altitude simulator masks. Try to arrive at least a few extra days early to avoid the possible initial altitude response occurring as you wake up and race.
Going to a cold water race? You may want to begin swimming in open water a little earlier in the season when the waters around you are a little more frigid. Consider investing in some neoprene items to supplement your wetsuit. Take some cold baths and mentally train yourself to stay calm and control your breathing. Usually, rapid breathing affects us the most in the cold water swimming.
Going to the Caribbean where the waters are warm? Hot water conditions can impact us as much--or more--than cold water. With hot water, you sweat more and increase body temperature quicker, so performance will suffer. Hot water makes breathing more difficult and can even feel thicker--like you're trying to swim through dirty sludge. I recommend going to your local YMCA and swimming some hard workouts to prepare yourself. Typically the pool temperatures are in the high 80s at these pools, so it will familiarize you with the feeling.
Cultural differences can also impact us. In addition to different types of food and the language differences of being from another country, other things often are not considered. For example, in my international racing days, I traveled all over the world and took notes on some places.
In Europe, for example, ice is harder to come by. Don't expect to find ice readily available to put in your water bottle or to have it put down your race suit during the hot race.
Another staple in many endurance athletes' diets is peanut butter which can also be very hard to find in many European and Asian countries. In this case, I would plan on bringing a container of peanut butter in your luggage.
In summary, we spend countless hours training to get our bodies fit for race day. We need to make sure those hours of training are spent getting us ready to train for the race conditions we're about to take on (not the conditions at home).
Do your homework in advance. Better yet, tell your coach what races you are doing and ask about any considerations they could include in your training program to better prepare you. Your coach should know how to incorporate these training adaptations in your training program--and will probably suggest things you haven't even thought of!
Aaron Scheidies is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and licensed Physical Therapist. A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in Exercise Physiology, Aaron has coached World Champion Paratriathletes as well as Ironman World Championship qualifiers. Aaron is an 11 time World Paratriatlhon Champion and has set the World’s fastest time for anyone with a disability at both the Olympic (1:57:24) and Ironman 70.3 distances. (4:09:54).