Monday, February 1, 2016

The Frequent Flyer's Training Dilemma

by Nick Mathers

I spent two years traveling between my job in New York City and my home in West Texas -- flying one way or the other about every five days. Those trips required at least one connecting flight and my East Coast legs were into or out some of the worst U.S. airports for flight delays. Work required many late night flights with even later night arrivals. During my big travel years, I PRed across all triathlon distance but I also experienced an overuse knee injury that left me unable to run for three months and a shoulder injury that limited my swimming.

While healing those injuries, my physical therapist and I came to the conclusion that they were related to my frequent travel, weakness and tightness in key areas and overuse from trying to “hit it” when I had the time to train. If you find yourself traveling quite a bit, here are some of the things I learned from trial and error to help you get those PRs but keep yourself off the injured list.

In the first few months of managing travel, my training was consistent... consistently sporadic. It took me a while to find a groove and even longer to figure out the most appropriate training that would keep me healthy and allow me to race well.

In my initial zeal to make up for lost training due to travel time, I essentially stripped out all easy and steady from my workouts. Not surprisingly, I broke myself -- first screwing up my knee to the point that I couldn’t run or ride, then overdoing the swimming. In the long run, those injuries led to a regular flexibility, stability and core strengthening routine, but it took a painful convalescence and a blow to the ego to get there.

Gordo has written before about his recommendation to taper into and out of travel. While that’s good advice in general, for someone who’s regularly on a plane, that would essentially mean a perpetual taper. You may be able to race yourself into shape, but it’s a good bet you can’t sit yourself into shape.

For someone like me with a proclivity for lower leg injuries, stripping out hard running was the way to go. I kept up the quality on the bike on the trainer and planned my longer rides as far away from travel as possible -- sometimes that meant a longer ride after work in the middle of the week if I was traveling on weekends. Regular intensity was limited to the pool as those sessions could generate the intended effect without leaving me wiped out.

Once I finally comprehended that I wouldn’t be putting up life-best training volume, my training became much more consistent. I did my best to simply avoid any daily zeros. A lot of times that meant “hotel room” strength or walks pre- and post-flights, but the more I felt I was doing something every day, the less likely I was to slip into a “I’ll get back on plan next week” funk.

Tips for the actual travel

  • Book an aisle seat. Sitting in first or business class is always preferable, but a lot of times that’s not feasible. Sitting in the aisle gives you a little more leg and stretching room and practically guarantees you’ll be getting up at least once during the flight, if not for your neighbor, because you’ll be following my next tip.

  • Drink constantly. Other than the obvious hydration benefits, perpetually draining your water bottle is a good way to ensure you’ll stretch your legs often for a trip to the restroom.

  • Figure out your gear. I regularly traveled with running shoes, a pair of shorts, swim briefs and goggles. Eventually I was fortunate enough that I could establish a “training base” in both locations with a bike and weather-appropriate gear; but I still packed the training essentials to encourage a workout if I was stuck in some other town. I sometimes threw in stretch cords or Therabands if I suspected I’d be visiting an airport hotel due to delays, especially during the winter months.

  • Create a 20-minute strength and stability workout for when you’re stuck somewhere. There are plenty of them out there. My recommendation is to bookend the workout with activities that you don’t dread, that way you’ll be inclined to get started.

Travel doesn’t have to kill your athletic ambition, you just need to be flexible with your training to reflect the reality of your situation and adjust accordingly.

Nick Mathers is Endurance Corner’s Editor-in-Chief. After constant travel for years, he recently let his frequent flyer elite status expire.
Click to share on Twitter and Facebook
      Tweet This!