We have all been there with the post-race blues. Reflection and contemplation. You wonder, what can I race next? And your one genius friend says lets race in _________ (insert exotic location). And at that the moment, you both say, “IN”, and you sign up!

Now, what?  I speak from experience. Ironman Cozumel sounded amazing. The beautiful water and the accommodations were so affordable. But what I failed to check before I signed up were the flights. 1) they were $1,200 per person and 2) I couldn’t get to Cozumel from San Diego in one day. No way, no how.

Before you hit the ‘submit’ button for your own destination race, learn from my race travel experiences and you will arrive calm, happy and ready to race.

Travel Itinerary: If your race is not near a major airport, it’s important to research a complete travel itinerary before you commit to the race. Understanding all of the travel segments is important to know in advance. Hello, Lake Placid 2014. It took us two separate flights from San Diego, plus a ferry ride. And we learned that the ferry stops at 11 pm. Which hiccuped our plans as we were delayed in Dulles for five hours. We missed the ferry and had to drive the loooooong way to get there.

Understanding all of your travel segments will help you plan in advance for contingencies, including a 22-hour travel day! “Which is ideal”, said no one pre-Ironman. 

Select Travel Days Wisely: For an Ironman I always plan to arrive a minimum of three days early. That means arriving Thursday, at the latest, for a Sunday race.  That gives you a day of buffer for delayed travel,  lost luggage, and time to adjust.  I made a mistake in 2011 traveling to Coeur D’Alene going on a Friday for a Sunday race. I thought that since it was the same coast and only one flight I would be fine!  

I missed my flight because TSA was wildly suspicious of the 4 x 1-quart bags of white powder (CarboPro) and the 10 small baggies of colored pills (salt tabs) and as such, I was pulled aside.  I made the next flight but was pressed for time to make the check-in.

Being stressed out and rushed, after months and months of hard work is not how you want to arrive for your race (any distance). Save yourself that kind of stress and allow for buffer days in your travel planning.

Bike Travel: Before you commit to the most affordable flight, look at the airline’s policy for bikes. Alaska, Delta, American, and Southwest offer $50-75 bike travel, but if you only fly Spirit Airlines then you will want to budget $150 each way for your bike. Another option is professional bike transport. D3 has a great partnership with Pro Bike Express! Your bike arrives at the race site and you have a resource immediately available if you need bike repairs. Other services include mailing your bike, but the cost of that can be around $575.

I ultimately traveled with my bike to Cozumel. There are many bike cases on the market, but I’m fond of the Scicon bike bags (also a D3 partner). If you are not wild about breaking your bike into 19 pieces, give their bags consideration. My dog can pack the bike it’s so simple. Wheels off, you put the forks with your wheel skewer or thru-axle (disc brakes), and you are good to go. Pro Tip #1: watch the YouTube How-To Video. I use pool noodles for extra packing and protection. ProTip #2: I pack a lot of my gear in the bag, most airlines have a 50 lb limit so you can fit a lot in there. However, I recommend carrying your race gear on the plane. If your luggage is delayed, you can still train; or if it’s lost, you are not running all over looking for replacements.

Nutrition: Keep in mind the Safeway in Cleveland may not have the Gluten-Free Kodiak Pancake mix you are used to eating on race morning. Nor does Cozumel have coconut milk or gluten-free anything, other than rice. Traveling with a quart of organic coconut milk is not ideal, but I always bring my must-have pre-race and race-day nutrition with me to a destination race. One of the reasons I include nutrition when I write my race plan is so I have it planned out, laid out and ready to go before I leave San Diego.

Comfort: there is no shame in bringing your 30-year-old pillow with the frayed pillowcase. (#dontjudge) You want to be comfortable, sleep well, and be well-rested. An eye mask and earplugs are always a good travel idea; as are warm clothes for the airplane.

Final Hacks for Tri Travel:

  • Check the extended forecast, so you have the right clothes for your chosen destination. Sure shopping for gear is fun, but it’s not ideal when you are scrambling for a vest or arm warmers in a foreign country when you have 5 sets at home.
  • Ziplock bags, I know are bad for the environment, but they are incredibly handy when traveling. I bring all sizes.
  • Don’t fuel yourself 72 hours out from a race with the free Oreos and chemical-laden crackers on the plane. You’ve worked to hard. Bring the quality food your body needs along with electrolytes and a water bottle.
  • On a long flight, it’s okay to be “that triathlete”, the one who is decked out in compression. It works! Choose an aisle seat, get up, and walk around frequently. 
  • Disinfect with hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, or good old fashioned soap and water. Don’t be shy, it’s your health and race day; wipe it all down!
  • And remember to relax; this is fun!

Back to Ironman Cozumel. It all worked out.  Flights from LAX vs. San Diego got us there in 16 hours (all in the same day vs. two).  The affordable pricing for our amazing Mexican Hacienda offset the high price of the flights.   The Scicon bike case worked well and it was only $75 each way.  As for the food, turns our copious amounts of white rice is ideal pre-race food, and quite affordable.  Ironman Cozumel was a success for me with an AG win and Kona Qualification.  Post-race, we went all-in with the local scene enjoying street tacos and margaritas. And that’s the reason to pick a destination race!

D3 Coach Julie Dunkle knows that triathlon may be a hobby, but unlike other, more leisurely pursuits, you can’t go after it with a casual or “part-time” mindset and expect to be successful. Whether you aim to make it to Kona, or go after a PR, to get to that next level you owe it to yourself to be all in! Julie is a USAT Certified Coach and a US Masters Certified Swim Coach.

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