No one wants to spend the day before a big race in the airport but sometimes our busy lives make last minute travel unavoidable. I’ve spent countless Friday afternoons hustling to the airport, banking on my flight being on time and praying I make it to Saturday’s 6 a.m. start time. In fact, some of my best races including Canyons 100k and the successful Grand Canyon Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempt were both following a half day at work and a Friday afternoon flight.
However, the less fortunate days of the prerace travel roulette have landed me without luggage—including my running shoes. Even worse, prerace airport food gave me a severe case of the runs (not the good kind) before the 2016 US 50k Trail National Championships, and kept me up all night and forced me to carry wet wipes and an extra pair of shorts in my racing pack.
I don’t recommend sitting in the old airborne germ tube 24 hours before you’re supposed to toe the line. If you’re granted the luxury of time, spend the day before the race with your feet up, consuming a continuous drip of pre-race friendly calories and worrying about getting through packet-pickup rather than the security line. But if you have to take that last minute prerace flight, here are a few tips to minimize the chance of any airport induced disaster.
Arm Yourself With Prerace Friendly Foods
Is there anything worse than inflight hunger pains? Yes: misbehaving bowels at mile five. That’ll outdo pangs of hunger, every time.
Airports and airlines are getting better about offering healthy options inflight and in the terminal. Still, you shouldn’t try anything new before a race, including a pre-race dinner at the airport bar and grill. Instead, eliminate the temptation to hit the Carl’s Jr. by your gate by packing enough snacks to keep you satisfied throughout the travel time. I always pack fresh fruit like an apple, some nuts or nut butter and a pack or two of instant oatmeal in case I get desperate.
If you’ve finished your snacks before boarding time or if the TSA confiscated your pre-packed dinner, steer towards packaged foods to hold you over until mealtime. Personally, I avoid all raw foods and produce in the airport and stick to healthy packaged snacks like a fruit and nut bar. To be extra careful before big races, I even splurge on a big bottled water.
Carry on your gear
Before a big event, it’s hard to trust anyone but yourself, especially when it comes to traveling the friendly skies. Bags get lost more than airlines like to admit. Checking your shoes in a bag that doesn’t leave the airport with you could keep you from the start line. Never take the chance of checking anything that you absolutely need (and can’t replace) at the airport. For me, that just means wearing my running shoes during travel.
Don’t be Nervous to Stretch it Out at the Gate
It’s important to give your legs extra TLC in the form of stretching and self-massage in the days leading up to your big race. Pack tools to help you take care of your legs during travel, like stretching bands, foam roller and other runner-specific recovery devices. Roll Recovery products pack up nicely, and you can roll out your legs more inconspicuously while staying seated. I stick with a good old fashion metal water bottle or a Nalgene.
Kick Up Your feet
If your travel day involves an unbearable early start or you find yourself running around with awkward luggage to catch your flight, it’s even more important to take time off of your feet for the rest of the day. If I’m traveling a great distance the day before a race, I’ll treat two days before race day as if I’m running it the next day. That means minimal activity, sitting more than I would on a typical day and eating lots of prerace friendly foods.
When you arrive at your destination, rest as soon as possible. Putting your legs up on the wall can help drain and circulate the blood in your legs so that you recover quicker and are ready to run the next day. If you have time and don’t feel too wiped out from the trip, a leisurely shakeout run can also help circulate the blood and speed up recovery post-travel.
Try to Smile
I’ve recently decided the worst job I could possibly have would be an airline customer service representative. Travel can be frustrating. We turn into monsters when facing a delay, cancellation or lost bag.
But acting out on that frustration doesn’t make it go away. When travel does not go as planned, try to be as flexible and positive as possible. Staying stress and worry free is essential for traveling, whether by plane or car. Remember that even if the days leading up to your race are not ideal, your training hasn’t gone to waste. Your fitness is there regardless of where your bag ended up. On race day, stay positive and focused. Enjoy travel by bringing your favorite books, journaling or planning your post-race meal. Relax as much as possible or just roll with the punches.