Advice for the travelling triathlete
If there's one luxury I don't enjoy when it comes to triathlon it's consistency. Or rather, if there's one thing about my triathlon training, it's that it's consistently inconsistent!
That's certainly not by choice, but like most amateurs, the only way I can afford the bikes, new swim goggles and race entry fees(!) is by actually working for a living (I'm certainly not part of that growing clique of "elite amateurs" that seem to train full time and spend their entire lives on warm weather training camps while still affording all the latest kit!). In my case, having a day job means running global marketing for a fast-growing software company based in Sweden and with offices all over the world. Hardly even a "day job" when you have colleagues wanting your attention at all hours of the day. And that means most weeks you'll find me on a plane or visiting one of our many offices. If it sounds glamorous, trust me it isn't!
More importantly, the constant travel poses real challenges to training. Combined with the fact that when I'm in the UK I have a nine year-old son to look after, I'm not in a position to say that "Tuesday night is my swim squad night" or "Sunday is when I do my long run". Every week is different based on competing work and home responsibilities.
And therein lies the challenge. Most any coach will tell you that the secret to success in sport is consistency in training. Bugger.
I've been living this life for a few years now and I've still scraped a couple of 70.3 world champs qualification slots, so I thought I'd share a few lessons I've learned along the way. If you're like me and struggle to fit triathlon training around your real life, hopefully some of the following points might help.
1. Be flexible - yes, it sounds obvious, but I find it helps to identify the key sessions in a week and then compare that to my travel schedule. If I've got a hard bike or swim to do, I'll try to fit that in while I'm in familiar surroundings in the UK. So I might choose to focus on my run and strength training while abroad. You do need to take care here not to load your training week too heavily on just a couple of days, however.
2. Take advantage of being billy-no-mates - perhaps because I travel a lot (or perhaps just because no one likes me!), when I travel to often-visited cities, there's no expectations on me to attend a social dinner and so I often take advantage of "lonely" evenings to get my longer training sessions done. I particularly enjoy running around Stockholm, even in winter, so I'll often plan to do my long run while I'm visiting.
3. Adapt training to suit where you are - when I'm in Austin TX there's a nice run route along the Town Lake (always looks more like a river to me!) where you can more-or-less do a half-marathon without having to cross traffic. Great for long easy runs, progressive runs or longer intervals. In Stockholm there's a park which is just over 1km round with a few bumps - great for 1km reps. When visiting somewhere new, don't be afraid to ask the locals for advice and use social media to canvas for advice on training routes etc. Thanks to Mark Cathcart I always pack my wetsuit when visiting Austin as there's a great natural spring that's perfect for open water training when it's too cold back in the UK.
4. Pack kit - even when travelling to the U.S. for four or five days, I always fly hand baggage only. But even then I can pack enough kit for training (my wetsuit even fits into my carry-on when visiting Austin!). There's really no excuse to not take some form of kit, even if it's just the basic run kit. Granted taking a bike isn't quite so realistic (I'm working up to asking my boss to fund a training bike I can leave in Stockholm,...) ;)
5. Choose your hotel wisely - aside from being vaguely close to where I'm working, my number one criteria for choosing a hotel when travelling on business has become how convenient it is for running outside and whether it has a good gym (either on-premise or very close). Forget the breakfast buffet or room service; treat your hotel like a training base! I have a couple of favourites in Stockholm that are both close to great run routes and gyms (I'm still yet to find a gym in Stockholm with a Wattbike, but I'll take a spin bike over a crappy recumbent gym bike any day!).
6. Watch what you eat - I include this in the full knowledge that I'm often the worst for it, especially when I'm visiting the States and a big steak is just too darned tempting. But it is a real issue (I'm sure some would say privilege, but wait till you've tried it for three years!) when half your weekly meals are prepared in a restaurant where taste comes before health or "nutrition". I'm still trying to get better at my eating when away from home, but if you can make smart choices it will have a positive benefit on both your training (who wants to do a long run the morning after a big steak?!) and your waistline.
7. Don't stress the uncontrollable - another thing you'll hear from triathlon coaches a lot smarter than me. But some weeks I find it's just impossible to cram in all the sessions I'd like to (make that most weeks...). And yes I do stress about it sometimes. I see my cohorts and rivals putting in the sort of consistent sessions I can only dream of and sometimes it's pretty bloody depressing. But then I have to remember that I chose this life. I chose to do the job I do for many good reasons - I love the work itself, I like that it pays reasonably well and I do enjoy visiting new cities. Tri is a hobby. Sometimes it pays to re-establish a little perspective!
I am sure that a lot of what I've written above is pretty obvious to any seasoned travelling amateur athlete. But if there's a couple of things that will help you balance the need to travel for work against the desire to continue developing as an athlete, then it was worth spending half of this morning's flight to Stockholm writing it.
And if you've got any ideas you'd like to add to those above, feel free to get in touch with me and I'll share them!