Travel Like a Pro

Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico Photo Credit: Allan Torres
Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico Photo Credit: Allen Torres

Professional Triathlete Nicole Valentine shares her survival tips to make travel to your next race go smoother than your flight!

Turning professional as a triathlete wasn’t the instant ticket to sponsors, success, glamor, or jet set travel to exotic locations that I hoped it would be. In fact, forget glamor and think gritty. It has meant a lot of sweat and sacrifice. From becoming your own agent to rethinking how you earn an income, monthly expenditures, your social calendar, and how you travel. Destination race travel is no longer a vacation, but a necessary part of the job. And to do my job well, I need to ensure the smoothest travel experience possible.

Here are my top tips for race travel:

Plan in advance – Advance planning helps you select the cheapest flights and best itinerary. Try to get a nonstop flight or the minimum number of connections possible. This not only minimizes your chances of arriving without your luggage, but it is easier on the body. It’s important not only to plan ahead, but to handle the travel well.

Pack your nutrition – Yes, I am the girl on the flight who packed my own breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner in a massive lunchbox with a cold pack. Not only because I can no longer afford expensive airport food, but because the burger and fries from the airport grill does not fall within my pre-race nutrition plan for optimal performance. Plus, I know everyone at the airport is secretly jealous of my homemade burrito when having to choose between Sbarros or McDonalds. Pack the food that you typically eat for optimum training and racing and that you know your body digests well. And then pack Pepto Bismol just in case. Montezuma’s revenge is a real thing.

Bring extra water bottles to fill up at the airport if you don’t want to purchase additional water and electrolyte drink mix as the body tends to get dehydrated from travel. You need to ensure you consume plenty of fluids, especially while traveling. Coffee, soda, and cocktails don’t count.

Take care of your body – stretch before getting on the flight, in the airport between flights, and make use of aisle time to loosen up legs when walking to the lavatory. Hip flexors, glutes, and calves can tighten up from travel. The best way to minimize the impact is to get up and move as often as possible. Additionally, it can help to bring compression socks for the flight. Try to get as much sleep as possible before and after the flight.

Nicole Valentine assembling her Dimond bike in Puerto Rico

Prepare for sh*t to hit the fan – I have on a few occasions, arrived at the race destination ahead of my luggage. Make sure that you have packed and prepared for this. Carry travel size toiletries in your bag, as well as swim and running gear. That way you can proceed as best as possible with your pre-race preparation in the event your bags arrive several days later. Also, be sure you know your equipment, especially your bike, what needs to be done to reassemble it. Carry spare tubes, tires, hand pump, as it can be difficult, costly, and time-consuming to locate bike mechanics at the race venue.

As a professional athlete, our priority is to have our best race ever, to maximize our income potential, and advance our career. Thus handling travel well is not only a necessity, but a critical part of our job. These tips have helped me weather some pretty bumpy travel experiences and still put in top notch race performances. I hope they help you as well.

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About the Author: Nicole Valentine is a Professional Triathlete specializing in long course, Ironman, and off-road Xterra events. She has been involved in triathlon for the past five years and prior to that, competed in endurance mountain bike racing. As an age group athlete, she won back-to-back Outrigger Double Award titles (for the fastest combined time at Kona Ironman World Championships and Xterra World Championships), placing fifth in Kona and third at Xterra in 2015. Now in her second year as a professional, she has been on the podium numerous times in Ironman and 70.3 events. Nicole leads mountain bike, running, and triathlon clinics for various local clubs and community organizations. She resides in Boulder, Colorado.