Spring-break stories are usually comedies—fun times somewhere warm with friends. But as a runner, if you don’t spend time thinking about how you should adapt your training, it could become a zombie horror instead. Only in this story, you are the zombie.
That limp? Maybe that’s a hip injury from travel time spent hunched for hours in a middle seat. The stiff movements? Lethargy from lack of sleep and hydration. The craving for brains? Everyone knows brains are the best cure for a hangover.
Fortunately, you can get an antidote to the travel-induced zombie contagion by planning ahead and thinking about traveling and training.
Whether traveling by plane, train or automobile, long trips are one of the quickest ways to heavy legs. We all know the feeling—the day after a drive, the alarm goes off and your legs feel like six pounds of mashed potatoes in a two-pound sack. How can you prevent mashed-potato quads?
Compression: Many runners swear by compression gear (socks and/or tights). A 2016 review study in the journal Sports Medicine found that wearing compression after activity was associated with a small reduction in muscle damage and inflammation (with no statistically significant performance changes). But there was a large reduction in perceived soreness.
Essentially, compression can improve circulation in some people by increasing the velocity and volume of blood flow back to the heart. While sitting for extended periods, especially on long flights, lack of movement and pressure differences can cause fluid build-up in the legs. That not only can contribute to feelings of fatigue, it can also be associated with deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)—blood clotting that can cause extreme discomfort and occasionally death. So a little bit of compression can make a big difference for some athletes during travel.
Keep Moving: While traveling, try to keep the circulation train chugging by moving when you can. A good guideline is to do a short walk every hour or two. If that’s impossible, do foot circles, bring your knee to your chest, and perform other practical movements every 30 to 60 minutes. It may make you feel a bit fresher, and, even if that’s just placebo, it’ll make strangers less likely to want to sit in that empty seat next to you.
Hydration and Self-Care: There is no set routine recommended by researchers for travel, but top pro-runner and writer Lauren Fleshman’s jetlag-avoidance tips are practiced by many top pros who race overseas. The summary: hydrate (she says 8 ounces fluid per 45 minutes), sleep when you can, keep simple carbs in check and reset your body clock to your destination as soon as you start your journey. That might not work for everyone.
My wife, Megan, has a thimble-sized bladder. The hydration tips would probably not be good for her unless she could reserve her seat in the bathroom. But, for most people, they are a great template.
Should you add electrolytes to your water while traveling? Lots of factors determine how well fluid is absorbed by the digestive tract, including caloric content and osmality (concentration of a solution), as outlined in this 2015 article in the journal Nutrition Reviews. So consider adding some electrolytes to your water (but not too much) to enhance hydration during travel.
Reset Your Body: When you get to your destination, I recommend athletes have a mental-reset period. It will help manage stress and possibly improve how your legs feel. In a perfect world, start with a 20-to-30-minute walk. For some, an ice bath at the hotel does the trick (while studies like this one from March 2018 in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research rarely show much benefit, some athletes swear by it). If you don’t feel like being “that person” that hogs the hotel ice bucket, some athletes like elevating their legs against the wall for 10 to 20 minutes. It might help, and, even if it doesn’t, it gives you time to take the “before” picture for your spring-break pedicure.
Mobility: Finally, each day while traveling, focus on mobility work, rather than hard aerobic work. Easy jogs are good; hard workouts after sitting like a pretzel for hours often end poorly. Instead, in addition to relaxed running, prioritize exercises that improve range of motion and promote circulation, like Coach Jay Johnson’s lunge matrix, leg swings and myrtle routine.
During spring break (and all the time), your body is talking to you, just in a foreign language you need to learn to decode. Pay attention to what your body is saying, especially during travel, and you can get fluent in your body’s language.
Less Intensity: Usually, that means backing off the structured intensity entirely during travel. The body doesn’t think in mileage or workouts, it thinks in terms of stress. Since travel and vacation can be stressful, adjust your mileage and workouts to keep things balanced. If your trip is shorter than five days, I recommend avoiding workouts or long runs entirely. Instead, run easy and do some relaxed strides.
Adjust for Weather: Taking a chill pill and washing it down with some loose juice is especially important if you are going somewhere warm. As your body adapts to warmer temperatures, your heart rate will go up significantly during exercise, making your usual easy pace feel harder. When in doubt, slow it down. The goal should be to keep the aerobic train chugging without getting derailed, not to speed up training during the time off work.
Self-Care: As always, the little things outside of running are the big things that keep you healthy and strong. Keep up your pre- and post-run routines (or start a new one if you have slacked off). Pack a foam roller, and if you can’t, many hotel ice buckets or large water bottles can work in a pinch. Don’t drink too much of the fun stuff; drink enough of the boring stuff. Everything in moderation, especially when it comes to double-shot martinis and extra-large bloomin’ onions.
Patience: Finally, and most importantly, practice patience. Be patient with your body as it adapts to the trip, your friends or family as they adapt to your weirdness about running, your bowels as they refuse to let go for a few days (or refuse to stop letting go for a few days if you get some bad seafood). The first goal of spring-break training is health; the second goal is enjoying the experience and making memories. Only after that should you think about fitness.
Focus on the adventure you’re on. Future adventures can wait for a week or two.
David Roche runs for HOKA One One and NATHAN, and works with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play.