Road Tripping for Athletes

by Mike Coughlin

I have always loved road trips. Pack the car, grab a map (or not), and hit the open road. In the years since the endurance sports bug infected me for good, most of these trips have involved training, racing, or both. Although more time-consuming than flying to a training destination or race, driving can be less expensive, less gear restrictive, more spontaneous and much more fun. However, it can also be much more tiring and the unwary road-tripping triathlete can find him or herself more exhausted from the travel than the actual training.

So how can we enjoy the benefits of the road trip without compromising training volume, quality and recovery? Here are a few tricks I have picked up over the years.

  • Pack a cooler: Depending on your geographic location, road stop nutrition can range from poor to abysmal. The wise road tripper will have at least one cooler packed with healthy meals and snacks to munch on for the trip. When supplies do run low, stopping at a grocery store instead of a truck stop can be worth a few extra minutes off the highway.

  • Hydrate: I have done some of my best hydrating on road trips. Why? Because there is nothing else to do and the water bottle is just sitting there in front of me, provided I ensure I have one (or two).

  • Stretch, massage and activate: If you have followed the previous tip, you will have no choice but to stop frequently to stretch. When you are in the car, switch drivers if possible and play around with stretches you can do while seated. One trick I use is to sit on a tennis ball to release my piriformis. Finally, activating your muscles is as important (or more) as stretching them, so include some isometric contractions in your car routine, particularly in your upper back.

  • Break up the trip: I have done some marathon road trips in my day, rotating drivers for 24 or more hours in some cases. While this saves on hotel costs, it can wreak havoc on your body, not to mention your training consistency. Taking two days to get to your destination instead of one can ensure you arrive ready to train, and in many cases allow you to train on each of the travel days.

  • Seek out road-training opportunities: A little planning can go a long way here, and running and swimming are the easiest activities to do on the road. Online resources such as Swimmers Guide for locating swimming pools, and Athletic Minded Traveler for finding running routes and gyms can really help as well. Road trip training also has an element of the adventurous and unexpected. I have done some of my most memorable workouts from my car en route to a training camp or a race.

Next time you are browsing for flights online to get to a training camp or race, stop for a second and consider packing your car instead. Then call up your training buddies and in your best college voice exclaim, “ROAD TRIP!”

Happy travels!

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