It’s something the pros seem to do all the time: jet around the world from race to race in far-flung locations. It sounds exotic and exciting, but it also sounds impossible. Traveling to one race is hard enough; how do you plan for multiple faraway races in the same trip?
Here are a few things I’ve learned the hard way after a couple of multi-week multi-race trips—and after just getting home from a four-city, two-races solo adventure through Finland and Sweden. Next up, after 10 days of rest, Ironman Lake Placid!
My first tip is definitely not to think too hard about what’s ahead. Take it one step at a time, from the logistics of planning to actually racing your fastest. Make a list of everything you need to do before you leave, check it twice, then have just smash it.
Pack lots of underwear
Getting everything you need for multiple races into a couple of bags can be challenging, even if you cram as much as possible into your easy-to-carry Hen House. You’ll feel the desire to overpack. Don’t. It all becomes extra weight after a few hotel moves. No one cares if you wear the same Smashfest Queen tank top three days in a row—but isn’t true for underwear. Pack lots of underwear; don’t pack lots of shirts.
Make your race checklist and go through it step by step, but know: you’ll almost definitely forget something. That’s fine. Unless it’s your bike shoes (and even then), you should be able to find a replacement.
Don’t forget race nutrition
The one thing that’ll be hard to find in another country is your specific race nutrition. That’s because food varies drastically across borders—even between the U.S. and Canada! So if you’re particularly particular, then make sure to bring enough of the bars, gels, and drink mix you want in a plastic bag. And don’t accidentally eat it all before you get to your last race. (Not that I did that…)
I’m a big fan of eating out and a proponent of trying local foods, especially local beers, but you’ll probably want to keep the most adventurous drinking until after you’re all done. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat a lot in between races. In fact, you should eat a lot in between races. Fueling is the best way to recover. Fueling and sleeping.
Plan on feeling terrible when you get there
I don’t generally struggle with jet lag, but I hadn’t factored in the 24-hour daylight in Finland and it left me feeling like I’d been punched in the face for the first four or five days. Unfortunately, my first race happened just two days after I landed and well before I started feeling like a normal functioning human.
If I’d known, I’d have arrived earlier to have enough time to adjust. But it still worked out OK. If you feel terrible too, don’t read too much into it. Keep moving, sleep when you can, and make it work.
And you’ll feel terrible some of the time in between too
You’ll also feel terrible in between the races, especially if you’re doing a back-to-back double with just a week or two in between. One race is hard, two is even harder. So if you feel exhausted and the idea of doing another race sounds impossible, that’s normal. Take rest and recovery (naps!), do easy light workouts in between, and then get moving ahead of race day with some efforts and pick-ups. And use the easy workouts to see the sights.
City rental bikes are your friend
One of the hardest things about any kind of vacation/race trip is balancing the focus on racing with sightseeing. You want to walk around the new city, but you also need to put your feet up and rest your legs. This is extra tricky when you’re doing multiple races; the need to recover is even greater and the extra travel is even more exhausting.
The key is to use your easy shakeout workouts to explore the countryside on your bike, check out the city pools for your swim, and do a slow shakeout run tour of town. And don’t overdo it with the walking. It wasn’t until my last day in Helsinki that I realized I could rent a city share bike for €5/day. All of a sudden exploring the neighborhoods and getting from landmark to landmark didn’t make my legs feel quite as terrible as walking miles and miles—even if I was “biking” slower than I run.
The roughest part of racing abroad for me, whether in Finland or Australia or Costa Rica, is navigating another culture and language on top of all the stress that regularly comes with a race. If you’re hitting multiple countries, with an even longer time to get homesick, and if you’re by yourself, then it can become exponentially tougher. Make sure to take some time to yourself. Small talk can be mentally exhausting, so if you need some alone time, that’s fine. But talk to people too; it’ll make it easier to navigate the little things—lap swim protocols, bike routes, restaurant recommendations. And it’ll give you people to cheer for and to cheer for you on race day!
Kelly O’Mara is a professional triathlete and sports journalist who produces and co-hosts the If We Were Riding podcast and weekly newsletter, “If We Were Riding.” She lives near San Fransisco with her husband Steve and their cats Tupac and Snoop.