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Tips for the Traveling Track & Field Athlete

Traveling to other countries or cities for track and field meets is an amazing opportunity to be an explorer, ambassador and an athlete all at once. Because of the sport’s international appeal, competitions are held all over the world. From Australia, to the Middle East, to Europe and North and South America, you can find a track and field meet for every age and every level.

Imagine competing with the Eiffel Tower only blocks away from the track stadium. You might even travel to other countries like Brazil, Poland, or Canada to compete and represent your country.

You will probably only take a short road trip to neighboring cities, states or provinces for your first track and field meets. But if you perform well enough or compete at the university/college level, you may start to take longer road trips or even travel across the country by plane for competition. If you reach the elite level or compete as an open athlete, you will probably spend weeks or months away from home while at training camps or competitions in other cities or countries.

Some of the Challenges of Traveling

But while traveling to away meets is one of the most exciting ways to showcase your skills, strength and speed, it can also be one of the most stressful parts of the season since it throws you out of your element and training routine. But it is an opportunity you should not pass up.

Here are some of the hurdles you may hit while on the road:

  • Disruptions in your daily training routine.
  • A weather, altitude or climate change.
  • Jet lag.
  • You will eat out more often and may not have access to foods that make up your normal diet.
  • You will be tempted to try new foods or to eat more than usual at dining halls.
  • Risk of illnesses due to poor food or water.
  • Extra stress from planning the trip, getting workouts done, and logistics.
  • The distraction from being in a new place can make it hard to concentrate on your event.
  • Being homesick for your family and friends.

But don’t worry about encountering these obstacles! Whether you are traveling by plane, car or bus, here are the tips that will help make traveling a little bit easier so you can compete well and take advantage of your new surroundings.

Traveling by Air

Whether the trip takes two hours or 15 hours, hopping on a plane for a track meet takes a lot of planning and packing. Make sure you have everything you need to be well-prepared and comfortable while at meets and in hotel rooms, even if you are just gone for the weekend. First, check out the iSport Beginner Guide "Top Ten Items Every Track & Field Athlete Should Have" and then take a look at the list below.

Bring the Essentials in Your Carry On

If the unfortunate happens and your luggage gets lost, you'll be left with none of the things you need for competing in any events.  Because it's better to be safe than sorry, it's a good idea to carry the things you'll need with you in a carry-on bag, not to mention it'll make the actual flight more comfortable.  Here are some examples of those kinds of items:

  • Competition shoes, a spike key and one uniform: Pack these items in your carry-on just in case your luggage gets lost. You may need to take the spikes out of your shoes for safety reasons but you should be able to keep it in a small plastic bag. If you are not sure call, the airline to see if it will allow you to carry-on spike pins.
  • An empty water bottle: Traveling makes you dehydrated because of the change in cabin pressure and the possible change in climate once you land. You may not feel thirsty, but your body will need more fluid than usual. Bring an empty bottle to fill with water after passing through security.
  • Snacks or a light meal: Many airlines have either stopped providing meals or charge for them and the complimentary snack they provide is okay, but it won’t fill you up on longer flights. Pack things like dried fruit, nuts or sandwiches to curb those hunger pains. If you are traveling overseas or to another country double check with the airline to make sure you can pack fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • A small bottle of hand sanitizer and lotion: Put these things in a small plastic bag (make sure the bottles are less than 3 oz.) to help your skin or lips during and after the dehydrating plane ride.
  • Socks and a sweatshirt: It can get pretty cold on planes, so bring layers to keep you warm.
  • A pillow, air pillow and/or a sleeping mask: These items help you feel more comfortable in the tiny plane seats. Sometimes airlines provide pillows and blankets, but they are usually small and in short supply.
  • Headphones and/or earplugs: Headphones come in handy if you want to watch the in-flight movie, and the earplugs will save you once that screaming baby in aisle 12 starts crying.
  • Gum, mint or chips: Chew on something when the plane takes off and lands to prevent your ears from popping during the sudden altitude change.
  • Slippers or comfortable shoes: You may want to take off your shoes on longer flights and comfortable shoes are easier to slip on if you have to go to the bathroom or walk around the cabin.

Not all of these things are absolutely essential, but having them on hand could make life much easier.

Be Comfortable and Stress Free

The most stressful aspects of plane travel are the lines and security stations you have to get through in the airport. The best way to avoid this extra stress, is to arrive at least two hours before the flight is scheduled, just in case there are any delays, issues with packing or ticket mishaps.  Here are some other tips to help you when you travel by air:

  • Sign up for a frequent-flyer card. You can use the miles towards other tickets and skip the long lines at security.
  • When you pick your seat, try to get one near the emergency exit or aisle where you will have more leg room.
  • Get up and walk around as often as possible. If you have a window seat, try to pair up with a teammate that won’t mind you moving around him or her to get to the aisle. Walk to the back of the plane and do some stretches every 30 minutes or so if you are awake to help you stay loose and not feel so cramped.
  • Try to avoid seats near the restroom or against the back of the plane. The seats are not very comfortable and do not lean back.
  • Take advantage of un-crowded flights—be greedy and grab an entire row. You can stretch out and fall asleep more easily.
  • If the flight is long, try to book with an airline that provides individual televisions and a number of movies and shows from which to choose. Flights over five hours can be torture if you do not have a source of entertainment.

Traveling on the Road

Traveling by car or bus to meets may not be as stressful as going by plane, but that doesn’t mean they are always comfortable. Bring an iPod, snack and a book or magazine for the trip to help pass the time—some teams like to bring game books like Sudoku or crossword puzzles to exchange and work on with other teammates. Try to get a window seat in case you want to grab a quick nap. If you get carsick, sit in the front so your eyes can watch the road.

Make sure to take advantage of your time away to develop friendships with your teammates. The team can become a kind of a surrogate family and natural support system when you are away from home.

Nutrition on the Road

It can be difficult to take in nutritious, homemade food on the road. Here are some tips on eating well while traveling.

Plan Ahead

Research what kinds of restaurants are near your hotel or meet. If you have certain food requirements, talk to your airline, coaches or caterers (some big meets will have them) about other meal choices.

Adopt Your Eating Habits

Change at what time you eat to fit the time zone you are in. This means even if it is 6 p.m. in New York but your body clock is on California time (3pm), still make an effort to eat dinner. Doing this will help your body adapt to the time change.

Be Mindfull of Food & Water Hygiene

Find out if it is safe to drink from the local supply. If it’s risky or you are unsure, stick to bottled water and don’t put ice in your drinks.

Stick to food cooked in well-known restaurants and hotels. Avoid foods at open markets or stalls. You may be tempted to try some true, authentic cultural food experience, but it may not agree with your stomach. And in high-risk environments, avoid salads or unpeeled fruit that has had contact with local water or soil.

Choose Local Cuisine Wisely

Sometime is may be best to bring food from home.  Examples of foods that are easy to carry on include: oatmeal packets, breakfast bars, rice cakes, spreads (honey, jam, peanut butter), powdered sports drinks and liquid meal supplements, sports bars or dried fruits and nuts.

Before your competition, stick to eating foods that are similar to what you would eat at home and fill all your nutritional needs. You can experiment with local cuisine after the meet.

For more information on this topic, check out the IAAF Book of Nutrition.

Enjoy the Experience

Competing nationally and internationally is a great opportunity. Take advantage of the things other cities have to offer and get to know the other athletes that are competing. With a little preparation and foresight, you will be able to balance new cultural experiences with your high competitive goals as a track and field athlete.

Hitting the road (or airways) can present a whole new set of challenges to your success as a track and field athlete. This guide offers solutions.
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