How to travel to a race like a pro
In this post, some tips on how to travel to a MTB race, so that when you arrive, you're in the best shape possible to pull out a storming race performance.
Travelling to races can take a lot out of you, perhaps more than you realise. You're often sat in a less-than-optimal position for long periods of time, staying fuelled and hydrated is made more difficult, and if you're driving, your full concentration is required at all times.
For those travelling internationally, this presents a host of other complications too, like getting your heavy bike bags through the airport, finding your hire car etc.
Here are a few pointers on how to minimise the stresses of travelling to your race.
Pre-prepare your food
The main secret to all this stuff is forward planning, but perhaps where it matters most is in your nutrition.
When you're on the road, it can be really tough to find healthy snacks and meals that you're comfortable with and are used to eating, especially if you're a vegetarian or vegan.
Make sure you prepare and take with you enough food for the time you'll be travelling, and remind yourself regularly to keep eating. It's really easy to get caught up in the journey and forget to eat, which will leave your without enough energy when it comes time to race.
Good choices for meals that are balanced and easy to pack are wraps with a good protein source and plenty of veg, sandwiches using a think bread and pasta dishes in tupperware. That's what I go for anyway.
Sip water regularly
Closely related to the above is the importance or staying hydrated, and this is another thing that a lot of athletes let slip when travelling.
Always try and be disciplined to sip water every 15-20 minutes to stay on top of your hydration-levels, without becoming too thirsty or indeed drinking too much. Water is fine, as is an electrolyte drink, which can be better absorbed by the body.
I make sure I have a 750ml bottle to hand at all times, whether that's in the car travelling to a domestic race, or in my carry-on bag when flying abroad. I usually take the bottle empty through security and then fill it up with water before the flight to save on costs.
There's much debate as to the effectiveness of compression, with some riders raving about it, and others choosing to stay skeptical.
I would say I'm in the latter camp, but acknowledge that if there is a benefit, then wearing compression tights like these from 2XU can only do me good, and if they don't work, then there are no negative repercussions.
What they do seem to help with is circulating the blood around better when you're sat in a static position for long periods of time, such as on a flight or in the car. The tights help stop the legs swelling and feeling so lethargic.
You can use full tights, or compression socks to help with this. As a bonus, these items of clothing help keep you warm and comfortable when travelling, which definitely shouldn't be underestimated.
Stretch your legs
This goes for generally standing up every once in a while whilst travelling, as well as taking a bit of time to actually perform some static stretches once you get to your destination or when you stop for a break.
Walking around for just a few minutes will help circulate the blood better around the body, and stretches will stop you getting too tight.
Common problem areas include:
- Glutes - stretching the gluteus medius is an important one for control of the leg during extension
- Psoas - this is a muscle just below your hip on the front of your leg, and gets tight after prolonged sitting
- Calves - performing a standard wall lean exercise to stretch the calf muscles helps with power transfer when you come to ride
- Quads - taking your foot and pulling it up into your buttocks, which tensing the glute is perhaps the best overall stretch for cyclists travelling
The time before a race is when you should be conserving your energy and trying to shift as much lingering fatigue as possible.
So, if you can, sleeping whilst you travel is a great way to do this and to feel alert when the race start rolls around. Even sleeping for just 20-30 minutes at a time can be of big benefit.
To help you to sleep when travelling, consider taking some earplugs and a face mask to block out the light.
Finally, if you can find one, get a carry on bag that doubles as a backpack and a rolling suitcase with wheels. I use the Lowe Alpine TT Roll-On 40, but there are some other options from The North Face and Karrimor.
These are great for when you've got your hands full manoeuvring a bike bag and need to sling your carry-on bag on your back, but then can wheel it along once the bike is checked in.
What's more is that when the flight attendants are looking for rolling luggage to put in the hold because they've "run out of space", you can put it on your back again and float onto the plane not having given up your carry on bag to the hold! Win.