The Long Run: Train Or Bust

Ultrarunning star Scott Jurek shares his tips for logging miles while traveling.

Written by: Scott Jurek

Photo: Scott Draper

It was a classic case of air travel gone wrong. In 2001, my team and I were stuck in the Vancouver International Airport for an extra 12 hours while on our way to the Hong Kong Trailwalker 100K. In an instant, we lost half a day and missed out on a training run on the course. It would have been easy to grab some dinner, curl up on the airport floor and call it a day, but my teammate, Ian Torrence, had a better idea. Before I knew it, we were running along the sidewalks of the departures entrance. Although the 90-minute run took place alongside roaring planes spewing jet exhaust, we made the best of things and didn’t miss our training run. I maintain a busy travel schedule amid training for the world’s longest and toughest ultramarathons; combining pre-travel planning with adaptability is my strategy for running while on the road. Before leaving home, I front-load training. My advice:

  • Plan the week preceding travel as a higher volume week and the travel week as a recovery week.
  • Do quality sessions such as tempo runs, hill workouts and long runs the week before travel.

If I’m traveling some place new, I try to research the area so I know what to expect when I arrive:

  • Use the Internet to research running routes; I like www.mapmyrun.com and www.usatf.org/routes.
  • Search for restaurants and grocery stores to save time and fuel right.
  • Check the weather forecast to pack appropriately. This may appear to be a no-brainer, but you’re more likely to skip a run if it’s pouring and you forgot a running hat and waterproof shell.
  • Research nearby running specialty stores and running clubs to join group workouts and explore hidden routes. Before a trip to Asheville, N.C., I contacted resident trail running legend Will Harlan, who gave me a great tour—complete with lessons on botany and history—and workout on a local trail.

Upon arriving at my destination, I gather additional information from the hotel staff to confirm my research and get advice from locals that may not be available online or in English. When I traveled to Tokyo in February, I stayed one mile from the 5K path that circles the Imperial Palace. I went for a run to shake off the jet lag as soon as I got settled, sightseeing during the less hectic late-night hours.

A busy schedule that changes on the fly can obliterate training plans. Here’s what I do:

  • Look over the next day’s schedule and plan when a run will fit; it’s often best to train first thing in the morning before obligations pile up.
  • For tempo and specific pace workouts, a GPS or speed-distance watch is an important tool for knowing splits on routes without mile markers.
  • Evenings are a good time to squeeze in a flexibility or short strength session. If a hotel gym is not available, consider a portable gym unit (such as TRX or resistance tubing) that packs easily.

Remember, even the best plans need to be flexible:

  • Make do with the time and environment: Thirty minutes of running in traffic can be better than a zero for the day.
  • Make the most of unexpected schedule changes. Have running gear on hand for unexpected opportunities to train.
  • Factor the day’s stress into whether getting out for a late-day session is worthwhile. Sometimes rest and sleep may be the best choice.

While it may not take the form of running alongside an airport tarmac, training during travel can be something to dread or a fun challenge to embrace. Running in a new environment and being adaptable may be just what you need to stay motivated.

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