9 Travel tips from a Veteran Road Warrior
"Done right travel and training" can be a marriage made in heaven
Posted Monday, 25 September, 2006
I'm talking about business travel, not vacation or destination races on the long weekend. I'm talking about having to be somewhere in front of a client in a conference room after a long flight.
I've been traveling extensively for business over the last 20 years and I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't. I like to treat running and training on a business trip as an adventure and try to make one plus one equal three. If you do it right it can be wonderful. I have run on business trips all over the North America. I have also had some great outings in Japan, Australia, India and England. Your running shoes are an incredible asset; they are literally your passport to explore and discover. It's another great example of how universal, portable and rewarding our sport is.
On the other hand travel workouts hold a certain amount of risk and it is very easy to set yourself up for failure. What follows are some tips - gleaned from years of roadwork while simultaneously playing at consultant, sales person and executive. I hope you find them useful. Shoot me an e-mail with the tips that pop into your mind when you review mine. I'd be interested to hear those great travel stories.
As I think back there are a few epiphanies and vignettes that stand out.
There was the morning I got up to jog the hills of Tokyo and they had incongruous bird song piped into the hotel simulating the natural sounds of sunrise inside the artificial environment. It just struck me as so Japanese to work this sort of simulated detail into the hotel. It was a bit surreal.
…Running the beaches in Sydney and being overwhelmed by the swimwear - or lack thereof - that was totally incongruent to a New England boy. It was Christmas at home and summer in Sydney. Wow!
…When I first was getting back into running and was training for a 10K. The style in those days was high-cut, brightly colored shorts. I had my favorite Tingley-hot-pink short shorts on and was out exploring the suburbs somewhere in Ohio when I was heckled by some rednecks in a pick up truck.
…Getting lost in winter somewhere in Ontario. Underdressed and wet, I was starting to worry and had to knock on a door to get directions back to the hotel.
…Running speed intervals on the roof of a hotel in Denver.
…Going for a run during a convention in pre-Katrina New Orleans. At 5:00 AM the cobbles on Bourbon Street were slick with spilled drinks, the smell of stale beer in the air and drunks still wandering about.
…Tiny, tight laps around the deck a cruise ship.
…Catching up with random runners out on the road and talking inevitably about the Boston Marathon.
…Running in my Hawaiian print shorts in India and having the people of Bangalore staring at me with open mouthed gapes as if to say "Good Lord! What IS that?"
…Doing the strip in Vegas in the morning and having to dodge the people still gambling at sunrise.
…Hurdling the homeless lying on the sidewalks in the heart of San Fran.
It's always something new. You have to treat it as an adventure and have an open mind.
Tip #1 - Don't expect to train at 100%.
If you're in the middle of a marathon run up or other strict, difficult program don't expect to be able to train at the same level on the road. Travel beats you down whether you know it or not. Your sleep patterns get messed up. The air quality can be bad. You're always dehydrated. Your nutrition is bad. You're under stress both physically and mentally. You may be at a different elevation. You spend hours at altitude cramped in an airplane. It all conspires to sap your energy and hinder your ability.
Set you expectations low. Expect to be at best 60-80% of your normal strength. Try to focus on just getting out and getting something done. Try to schedule long easy exploration runs instead of quality workouts. Give yourself extra time to warm up.
Be prepared to settle for 20 minutes on the exercise bike in the hotel rather than the 5 mile tempo run on your schedule. It's more important to do something than to try to stay on schedule and kill yourself.
The issue is that we get into the rhythm of a training program and it becomes routine and habit. You don't have that routine on the road. You're in a strange place - not your home course. You're out of place and out of sorts so it adds logistical and mental challenges to something you wouldn't even have to think about at home. Don't expect to take your routine on the road. Cut yourself some slack and leave room for the effects of travel.
Tip #2 - Get lost
You can explore a good part of many cities with a 10 mile run. Jus point your toes in a direction and go. Run by your watch and the sun. I've always found my way back (even with the icy fingers of hypothermia in Ontario!) Try to run in a big circle, taking rights and lefts and when you get tired, turn around and run back in the general direction of the hotel.
I got sent to London on an emergency business trip one time with 2 days notice. I was in the middle of training for Chicago. I ended up doing a pleasant long run of maybe 20 miles. I covered Kensington, Buckingham Palace, Parliament and the Trafalgar Square area - all the tourist bits while running. It was great!
More often than not I end up getting a superior long run in where I might only have stayed out for 40 minutes. Another variation of this is to pick a landmark you can see; a mountain or the Golden Gate and run towards it. I ultimately find some unexpected sites and some really interesting stuff along the way. 10 miles will more than cover all the interesting bits of most cities. Go ahead, head out and get lost.
I got lost in Toronto one time and was going to be late for a dinner appointment, so I picked up the pace once I figured out where I was and was heading back. I was flying down Yonge Street through the crowds of tourist and shoppers. It's all a long straight shallow down hill and I was just flying. It was such a cool outing after a rough day at work.
Note: I would be neglectful not to warn you to also be safe. Know the areas you are running in and, especially you ladies, be careful. I'm sure I've run in places that I shouldn't have, but I've been lucky enough to never have any issues. You've got to take care of yourselves. Lone joggers in the middle of nowhere can be targets.
Tip #3 - Pack your clothing intelligently
You already know this, but pack technical clothes that don't take up much space and dry quickly. Go for clothes that are dual use and can be worn in different combinations or layers. You don't have to have your whole kit. I've run, on occasion in dress socks or no socks or a dress shirt.
Hats and gloves are usually enough to make up for being underdressed. If you can keep your head warm, you can usually tough it out. A balaclava is small and will keep you warm in any weather.
Go small. You don't need all your stuff and you don't want to have to drag it around with you. In the summer all you really need is shoes, shorts and a tee shirt. Bike shorts or tube shorts are good because you can swim and bike in them too.
Check the weather before you go. The weather can be totally different 300 miles from home. With the internet there's no excuse to show up unprepared. Don't forget some sort of reflective clothing for running in the dark. A blinking light or an illuminite hat work well and are small to pack.
Bring a good pair of multipurpose shoes. Bring shoes that will work on roads and trails because you don't know what the surface is going to be like. Be prepared and don't be afraid to improvise.
Tip #4 - Ask the locals
There's no place you can go where there aren't already runners. If you have the foresight - which I seldom do- you can drop a line to the local running clubs for suggestions or scheduled runs.
You can ask the folks you're visiting for good places to run too. You can ask the people in the hotel, but this is usually fruitless. If you ask around enough you may find someone to run with you. You will definitely get some options by asking. It's your choice whether you want to exercise those options or strike out on your own.
I found the Chattahoochee River running parks outside Atlanta this way and the Silver Comet bike trail. The locals will steer you in the right direction and it will strengthen your bond with them.
Tip #5 - Tell your work mates to bring their shoes
As much as I like running, I don't try to convert people at work. But if the management team is all headed somewhere I'll tell them to bring their shoes and we'll go for a jog. It's all voluntary - there's no harassment involved. I've run with bosses, coworkers and subordinates in many different roles. It's a great way to interact with coworkers on neutral turf.
The caveat here is that you're going to run up against different skill levels. You'll have to hold up and slow down for people and not be a jerk. Sometimes there will be some of that good old worker rivalry and people will want to 'take you on'. You have to leave your ego in the hotel and just have fun. Let them come to you. Let them 'win' if they have to. Teach them a lesson if you really have to!
Tip #6 - Google a track
The great thing about 400 meter tracks is that they are so easy to find from the air. If you look out the airplane window you'll see them. If you plug your work, city or hotel address into Google Maps and set it to satellite mode, you can zoom out until you see an oval. Then, in hybrid mode, you can trace the route between where you are and the track.
You'll be surprised at the density of running tracks. Most high schools and colleges have them. They are usually wrapped around a football field. A low tech way to find them is to just drive around looking for stadium lights, which are usually the tallest things around. Where you find stadium lights, you'll find a football field and chances are it's got a 400 meter oval wrapped around it.
Finding the track is sometimes just the beginning. Getting into the track may be a challenge. I'll climb the fence if I have to. What are they going to do? Arrest me? Many times I'll share the track with some team. It's ok, just smile, act like you belong there and stay out of the way!
Tip#7 - Go early
If you wait until after work your chances of getting your workout in are greatly diminished. Like many of you, I hate running in the wee hours of the morning, especially if it's a hard workout. But I hate not running more.
You have to go out before everyone else gets up. Once you're caught up in the work day it gets really hard. Chances are someone will want to have a big working lunch or pizza in the conference room to save time. Then the meetings will inevitably run late and there will be a dinner to attend. You'll end up bloated, tired and dragging into the hotel at midnight. You're not gong to want to run.
If need be, do less but get it done in the morning. It will change your whole day by starting out with a win. The people I work with will inevitably ask me, "Did you get a run in this morning?" Somehow my pre-dawn rambles have become part of the company culture.
Tip #8 - Pack food
Planes and trains and meeting are not good places to find nutrition. What's the average fare? Sticky pastries and coffee, pizza and sandwiches, steaks and wine. It might be 'good', but it's not good fuel. The worst part is that the nutrition will tend to come in large starchy bunches separated by hours of nutritional wasteland. It whipsaws your energy level and burns you out while adding unwanted girth. By the time food shows up in the meeting room, you're so hungry you binge!
I bring my own food. I pack stuff that is small and high energy. Power bars are great if you're trying to train. Nuts are compact and full of energy. Dried fruit is awesome and portable. You can fill a baggie with Gatorade powder and squirrel it away somewhere. Individual servings of instant oatmeal are good too - you can just mix with hot water in your room.
I also try to load up on any fruit that may be available at the hotel in the morning. If they've got a bowl of apples or bananas, take 5, it's a long day and these snacks will help you span the long hours of nothingness while you debate the budget.
You will get caught in travel hell. You will find yourself trapped for hours in an airport or an airplane with nothing to eat. You need to be ready. You need to provide for yourself.
Try to plan ahead. If you're comfortable with the venue, maybe you can ask for salad or fruit to be made available. Believe it or not, no one is going to give you a hard time for snacking during the meeting. Instead they will want some! One of my favorite tricks - and they all think I'm being thoughtful - is to swing by the store and provide a big bag of trail mix for the meeting. I pour it into a bowl for everyone to nibble at during those long hours in the afternoon between lunch and the late dinner. I get to keep my energy up and everyone loves it.
If I'm ever crash landed on a desert island, I'm going to be very popular because I'll have a couple days of food hidden somewhere in my belongings. You can count on it.
You also have to hoard water. Go easy on fizzy drinks and alcohol or your going to be miserable. Good old H2O will ease jet lag and keep you feeling right as rain. Traveling is notoriously dry work and you will tend to get dehydrated. Whenever you have a chance get some bottled water and bring it along with you.
Save the bottle when you empty it. Even if it's a Pepsi bottle you can rinse it out and fill it back up with water. If you've got a workout to do you'll be thankful to have a bottle of water with you.
Tip #9 - Steal a run
Many times the people you are working with will think your running addiction is a social disorder and will do their level best to keep you from your fun. In their world view they are saving you from yourself. Don't be afraid to steal a run. "I'm sorry, I'll be a little late for dinner I have an appointment, you go ahead to the bar and I'll meet you there later."
Stick up for yourself. It's something you need to do to feel good. It's something that will make you more effective and clear your head. Screw them if they don't get it. Sneak out and run.
That's it. Those are my travel tips for runners. My challenge for you is to run on your next business trip. Whether dodging taxis in Manhattan or rows of corn in Nebraska make time for a run. Have an adventure. Lace up your shoes, pick a direction and get lost.
There are purple mountains in Colorado and amber wave of grain in Iowa that are waiting for you. Go find them.
And I'll see you out there…I'll be the guy getting whistled at by truck drivers, "Is them leotards y'all is wearin boy?"