Matt and Mario,
I am training for the NYC Marathon. I have quite a bit of traveling coming up and I need to keep up my training. What advice do you have on training while traveling?
Staying on track in marathon training can be difficult for those who travel frequently. Just how difficult it is depends on a variety of factors, including how far you travel, your destinations, the kind of people you’re surrounded by while on the road, and the sorts of events you travel for. Here are a few tips that should help you stay on track toward a good day in New York City regardless of the specifics of your trips:
1. Bookend your trips with heavier training.
If you expect not to be able to train as much during a trip as you would at home, increase your training load during the last few days before you leave and increase it again after you get home. There should be an ebb and flow in your training workload anyway, as you heavy up your training in some weeks to stimulate fitness gains and lighten it up for a few days here and there to consolidate those gains. So, plan fluctuations in your training that are harmonious with your travel schedule.
2. Plan your travel training opportunities.
If you have some flexibility in terms of where you stay, take some time to research accommodations in your destination city and choose a hotel that has a great fitness center or a health club nearby, or one that is close to a big park where you can run. There’s a great website, athleticmindedtraveler.com, that can help you with this sort of planning.
You might also wish to recruit travel training partners before you depart. You can do this by posting queries on running community message boards and by contacting running clubs in your destination localities. Finally, you can use services such as mapmyrun.com to find appropriate training routes in the places you’re going.
3. Replace volume with intensity.
To some degree you can make up for having less time to train while you’re traveling by increasing the intensity of your training. In fact, if you’re willing to go hard enough, you can actually come back from a one-week trip during which you are only able to spend half as much time training as you normally would fitter than you were when you left.
For example, instead of heading out the door to jog for an hour (as you might do at home), find a treadmill in your hotel’s fitness center and do a 20-minute run that includes 10 x 30-second sprints on a steep upward gradient. It will hurt, but it will also pay dividends.
4. Remember that anything is better than nothing.
I used to try to train as normally as possible when I traveled. It was hard. So many times my alarm would sound seemingly in the middle of the night to wake me for a 10-mile run or something before I left the hotel to do whatever sort of work I had to do, and sheer exhaustion from jet lag and the travel itself would get the better of me. I would shut off the alarm, go back to sleep, and miss the workout altogether.
Eventually, I realized I was setting myself up for such failures with unrealistic expectations that contradicted my psychology. So I changed things up. Nowadays, when I take trips that require me to train early in the morning and tired or not at all, I don’t even try to do my normal workouts. Instead, I do what I call better-than-nothing workouts. Before I go to bed I set an alarm and tell myself, “Just get up and run for 10 minutes. That’s it.” When the alarm sounds, I’m still not happy, but I don’t have any trouble getting up and running, because hey, it’s only 10 minutes.
More often than not, once I get started I find the motivation to train longer. I just need to set a low expectation to get myself out of bed in the first place. But that’s really the hardest part. Once I’m moving I can usually keep moving for 20 or 30 minutes. Sometimes I do run for just 10 minutes, though, and I still feel better for it than I would feel if I planned to run for 10 miles and didn’t run at all.