The Traveler’s Training Program

If last year was busy with travel, it’s nothing to what is planned this year.  Helping a client put in place a global information technology delivery model, I have to visit its sites and put in place global teams.  From the Americas to Asia, my frequent flyer programs promise to beat records this year.  Add to that a planned move to Europe with my family and you get an idea of what’s in store this year.

As I stared at this mounting quantity of travel and priorities, I pondered my training plan for the year and how I would be approaching my build ups.  It is clear that whatever plan I chose to follow would be one that required flexibility.  Plane schedules, client dinners, scheduling conflicts, time differences would surely wreck havoc on training.  Not having complete control over the training is something I’ve had to accept but there are many things I do have control over and those are the ones I’ve had to focus on.

Scheduling training in between family events, professional obligations and other commitments can challenging.

The first and most important thing to do is to accept that I’ll likely stay a middle of the pack racer and that it’s perfectly fine.  Of course there is a draw to go faster and get at the top of the podium but it’s not in store for me.  To begin I can’t commit the time that would be required but more importantly, it’s not my focus.  What I look for is balance in those important things to me including family, friends, business and sports and frankly if I have to excel at one, I’d pick family any day of the week over finishing on a podium.

In simple terms, any program contains multiple components that seem to be rather common across most philosophies and coaches and can be adapted to build a great program suited for traveling professionals.  If you keep them those key themes a priority in your program you’ll be able to keep the little things flexible and still balance travel, work and sports.

  1. Speed and Endurance Work: Whether it’s swim, bike or run, each sport requires a long set and a fast set at a minimum.  The long set gives you the endurance needed for the long event and the fast set (intervals, tempo) gives you the strength to go faster, providing higher movement economy and works on the heart.  As a great example, the Furman Institute of Running & Scientific Training (FIRST) has built a great running program with three minimum runs.  A long run, a tempo run and intervals.  Each with a purpose to improve your endurance, lactate threshold and VO2 max respectively.  In fact, the FIRST running schedule forms the basic core of my triathlon schedule and I always have a copy of “Run Less, Run Fasternearby.  It is ideally suited for traveling with fast – and therefore short – workouts (Interval and Tempo) during the week and long events on weekends when you are either at home or at least not in the office.  To the three run workouts I add at least a fast swim and bike set each week and a long one on weekends and you have my basic minimum set of workouts while on the road.  Of course the volume increases if I can or when at home but fitting in some quick sets are always do-able.  I have a 30 minute emergency workout for each discipline which I can do in a bind and that would maintain my level of fitness at a minimum.  So in 35-40 min a day while on the road I can get the work in at a minimum counting a quick shower and change of clothes.  If I have more time it’s a bonus but that’s the bare minimum and everyone at work and at home knows I’m sneaking in 40 minutes somewhere during the day.

    An example of training volume and travel impact. In Red are travel weeks with lower volume, blue at home with higher volume and yellow was a sick week.

  2. Variable Volume:  An important part of training is to exert increased amounts of stress on the body and then reduce it so that it can build strength, speed and endurance.  In most programs, the volume builds occur in 3-4 week periods.  While that is not necessarily possible to have 3-4 week periods of constant build with extensive travel, it is possible to plan 1-2 week build periods with high volumes for 1-2 weeks while at home and lower volume while on the road.  These variable stress volume on the body do work rather effectively from my experience.  Although it’s not as efficient as longer builds it still allows for good stress to be applied to the body and recover during your travel.  If it wasn’t for the dehydration caused by flying long distances, traveling the week before a race can be perfect for tapering.  In fact, the week before 2010 Chicago Triathlon I had a busy week and traveled extensively.  This forced me to have a good taper and it worked perfectly.  Being only able to sneak in small and light workouts I nailed the taper and had the race of my life that weekend!
  3. Core Work:  Core and strength work is a part of the training that I’ve often neglected during heavy volume weeks as I focus on the main three disciplines.  Being on the road does offer some opportunities to work on your core and is a necessary component of your triathlon workouts.  In fact, late last year I experienced a knee issue.  Though I’ll spare the long story for now fixing my issue required more core work.  Core work used to be somewhat of a big mystery to me.  Frankly, I thought it meant we needed to do a few crunches and that was all.  After working with my physical therapist I discovered that I either had muscles I didn’t know I had or that I was supposed to use them more than I was.  Hip flexors, abductors, glutes, back muscles, abs, she showed me how to work them all with various punishing poses and methods.  I now can do core work in virtually any environment using any equipment.  This core work is vital to our performance.  Swimming power is known to come from the core, knee and ankle stabilization comes from core muscles, running posture and power comes from core muscle groups.  If there is one thing all the triathlon sports have in common it’s core and that is something you can work on during business trips, family trips, watching movies, even sitting in the back of a conference room when you boss gives a presentation.  If all else fails, you can do the basics.  Park at the far end of the parking lot and walk, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator and try to sit up straight while working on a computer (something I just reminded myself to do while typing this)… I am also considering buying a TRX trainer for workouts while on the road, they seem quite effective from what I can tell.

    Massages can be an active part of your training and recovery, particularly while on the road

  4. Rest & Recovery:  Most experts agree that rest & recovery is a critical part of training.  Most coaches I follow advocate it, the pros practice it and we should too.  Though I doubt most of you will have time to take naps as some of the elite practitioners of the sport do, there are lots of things that you can do to recover while traveling.  Traveling well is key and I provided some tips in this previous post about traveling overseas.  But beyond flying itself, there are many things you can do such as maximize sleep and eating well.  Coincidentally, both are related in that if you eat well, you are likely to sleep better.  I won’t dive into the details of eating well too much here at there are likely plenty of information out there about eating well but let’s just say that avoiding junk food and hydrating will get you 90% of the way there.  In addition to the obvious, there are other things you can do to improve rest & recovery.  When I’m traveling I often make use of hotel spa facilities.  Hot tubs, saunas and particularly massage are all excellent tools to rest and recover.  In fact, those can often be done with co-workers or clients.  Even when others might not be keen to join in your interval session, it’s not uncommon for them to opt in for a sauna session or even a massage.  If you work with the massage therapist, they’ll focus on areas of trouble for you such as legs, shoulders, back as needed based on your recent workouts and trouble areas.  Another trick I use is that I make systematic use of compression and recovery socks.  Ever single flight that I take I use compression socks which helps with recovery.  In fact, if you choose black socks (I use 2XU) they fit perfectly fine with a business suit.  There are many other things you can do to maximize rest & recovery but remember that this is a key part of training and is one item you can maximize while traveling.

    Rest & Recovery is a crucial part of any training program...

From my research and study of the sport, these four main components are key to virtually any triathlon program and can be adapted to suit busy schedules or frequent travelers.  Beyond those core concepts of course you’ll need lots of flexibility, a great sense of humor and lots of positive thinking.  Many workouts will be shortened or changed, some will be missed altogether, and some done in less than ideal conditions.  You’ll certainly need to be steadfast in your commitment to training when alternatives are so appealing (going out to “soirees” seem to be a favorite amongst busy professionals) or when work demands your time (late night proposal anyone?).  But even with these constraints, I’ve been able to maintain a pretty good base level of training despite about 50,000 miles flown in the first quarter of the year and I hope you can too!