The Vegan’s Guide to Traveling to a Destination Race

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This post was written by Doug Hay.

Race week is all about routine.

What you eat, how you taper, and the amount of sleep you get are all calculated and practiced.

When it works, you stick with it, race after race — it’s one less thing to worry about.

But even the best routines get thrown for a loop when your upcoming race requires travel.

I was reminded of this firsthand during a recent trip to Northern California for the Mendocino Coast 50K. My wife and I traveled around the area for a week before the race, sleeping in new beds, eating different foods, and not exactly staying off our feet.

It was a total blast, no doubt, but not ideal the week leading up to a race.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost when traveling to a destination race …

Today’s post is a 4-step guide to taking a smart approach to race travel, and the extra considerations you should take as a vegan.

And it all starts before you ever leave home:

1. Make a List, Check it Twice

Packing lists are nothing new. Most travelers use a list in some form or another every time they bust out the suitcase.

But for a runner traveling to a race, that packing list becomes an essential part of preparations. Make the list a few days before you start packing, and add to it as needed.

When you start packing, keep running clothes and gear separate, so you can look at them independently before putting it all in the suitcase.

Every runner’s gear list is different, but here are a few commonly forgotten items you don’t want to leave behind:

  1. Lubricant
  2. Nutrition (Energy gels, bars, snacks, etc.)
  3. Running socks
  4. Running hat or visor
  5. A throw-away or packable layer for before the race
  6. Change of clothes for after the run

Keep your list specific, and go over it a second time before you stuff everything into your bag.

  Quick Word on Packing for an Ultramarathon

When packing for an ultramarathon, it’s easy to get carried away. Trust me, I’m the worst at this.

While traveling to an ultra, think light … maybe you can cut back on the layers, or go with a handheld instead of a hydration pack.

Take what you need, but be selective and smart with those choices.

2. Handle Travel Like a Pro

All travel will be tough on the body, but your chosen mode of transportation will create different challenges. For that reason I’ve split up this section into parts A and B:

A. How to Manage Plane Travel Before and After a Race

For many destination races, the best (or only) way to get there is by plane.

It’s quick, easy, and not ideal for runners. When plane travel is part of the agenda, follow these tips:

  • Jet-lag: If you’re moving time zones, don’t forget about jet-lag. Begin adjusting your sleep schedule a few days before the trip to make the transition a little easier. Once there, go to bed based on local time, not what your body feels like. If at all possible, try to arrive early enough before the race to let your body adjust.
  • Use a carry-on (just in case): Plan to check a bag at the airport? Prepare for the worst and always carry the essentials on with you. Running shoes being the most important.
  • Bring snacks: It’s no secret that most airports aren’t vegan friendly. Pack snacks from home to stay fueled and happy.
  • And a water bottle: You can rely on flying to dehydrate the body about as much as you can rely on that baby in the next row to keep you from napping. In other words, it’s going to happen. Always bring a bottle to fill up inside the terminal, and drink up throughout your trip.
  • Get up and move: This is important before the race, and even more important on the way home. If you’re on a longer flight, get up once an hour to stretch, move your legs, and work out any stiffness to keep you loose and aid recovery.
  • Wear compression socks or sleeves: To help keep the blood flowing and recovery progressing, throw on a pair of compression socks or sleeves during the trip home.

B. What to do When Traveling by Car

Traveling by car provides you with a lot more freedom. You can be less conservative with your packing, stop whenever you need a leg stretch, and bring whatever food you may need.

But of course, even car travel is still rough on the body. Here are my tricks for arriving in good form:

  • Stop often (for five-minute runs): I once read that elite ultrarunner Ricky Gates would stop every one to two hours for a five-minute shakeout run when traveling to or from a race by car. I love that idea, and now adopt it whenever possible. It may take longer to reach your destination, but your body will thank you when you do.
  • Pack your lunch: Healthy fast food options are rarely reliable for vegans on the road. Save yourself the trouble: pack snacks, sandwiches, trail mix, and fruit to keep you and your stomach happy. When all else fails, look for grocery stores along the route that may have a good salad or prepared foods bar.
  • Avoid over packing: Just because you have the extra room doesn’t mean you need all that gear. Stick to your list and it’ll just make final race prep less chaotic.

3. Take a Thoughtful Approach to Meal Planning

Let’s face it, as a vegan or vegetarian traveling to a new place, a thoughtful approach to your meals will save you a lot of hassle.

Just the other day a friend was telling me about a recent struggle he and his father (both vegan) had the night before an ultramarathon. Options were so limited in this small Virginia town that even the local Mexican restaurant wouldn’t work. They were forced to stop at the gas station, pick up a can of beans, and make tortillas in the hotel’s microwave.

No one wants to deal with that stress the night before a race.

Thankfully there are a few steps for avoiding the pre-race restaurant struggle.

For starters, do your research ahead of time. Hop on Happy Cow, reach out to the local NMA Running Group, or peruse Yelp for vegan options.

Once there, start asking around. Don’t be afraid to drop into a restaurant and ask what they can do for you, or ask the hotel front desk for advice.

And when all else fails, bring back-ups. Whether it’s a bunch of fruit, trail-mix, or microwavable burritos, have something on hand for the just-in-case situation.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget about post-race food. Assume most of the finish line treats will not be vegan, and have a snack on hand, or grab a few extra bananas to help fuel your recovery.

4. Have Fun (But Not Too Much Fun)

When traveling to a new place, especially if it’s in a location you’ve been dying to explore, temptations will be everywhere.

Sightseeing, new foods, fun nights out, they’re sirens of this new land.

Don’t shy away from the fun and adventure … but save most of it for after the race.

Keep in mind that you’re on this trip to run a race, and that should be the priority (unless it’s not, of course). Avoid spending too much time on your feet, and try to refrain from too many of the local adult libations.

Use the Destination to Your Advantage

One of the best ways to explore a new city, mountain range, or landscape is by running it. So why not explore it during a race?

When properly planned, destination races could be just the boost you need to reach a new race goal or PR. Or the excuse you’ve been looking for to plan an epic vacation.

Use the excitement of a new location to your advantage, and embrace the entire destination race experience.

About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One), or follow him on his blog, Rock Creek Runner.

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  1. Ian Davey says:

    Great post thanks and perfect timing, I’m traveling to East Java next week for the Ijen trail run so I’ve started my list just this minute.

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