How to deal with vacation time

One of the challenges that athletes may face when they have a job that requires travel, family vacations, or other reasons to travel, is that they have to spend days or weeks away from their normal training grounds and often away from their bike, pool, or good running routes. Sometimes you can’t train at all, or maybe you can, but all you have is a hotel gym and some running shoes. How do you cope with these challenges? Can you maybe even train effectively when you’re on the road? Well, here are a few thoughts.

Bullet points:

  • focus on intensity if you’re short on time
  • consider the hotel gym for an uphill treadmill run and/or weights
  • load up a little extra on higher volume and/or intensity training before the vacation (when you’ll presumably be getting extra recovery away from normal training)
  • don’t stress, but try to get in some training every other day if you can

A little more in depth:

First off, if you will actually have much more time to train while away from home, the trip is probably more of an opportunity than a limitation. Clearly, there’s no need to worry, and you’ll probably just plan ahead to make that week a little longer or harder than your normal routine at that point in your season. If you’re building your aerobic and strength foundations in the early season, then you might plan a higher volume week than normal. Or perhaps if you’re looking ahead to a stage race in 4-5 weeks, you might do a higher volume block of training that includes some high-intensity work as well. If you’re in the middle of the racing season, and intensity is the deciding factor in your races, and not endurance, then increasing volume wouldn’t be helpful and you should focus on race-specific intense workouts, probably the same as you would train at home. Just have fun and remember that your training should be specific to your goals.

On the other hand, if your trip away from home reduces your ability to train, then I wouldn’t necessarily get upset by the fact that you’re away from your bike for a few days or even a week or more. Likewise, it’s not the end of the world if you have to spend a whole day going to the airport, flying, and then driving to your destination on the other end, without any time to train that day… Just think of it as enforced recovery time. If you normally ride 2 hours every other day, or 1 hour every day, it can sometimes be disconcerting to athletes to think that they have to lose a few days of training, especially if they are already somewhat limited by their normal work/life/family routine. And, at the destination, sometimes athletes are really strapped for time while they’re at business meetings all day, and business dinners every night, or if they’re busy doing things with family during the bulk of their trip.

Well, given the fact that you may have the entirety of your trip off, the first and most important thing I would suggest doing before your trip is to do a small block of elevated intensity and/or volume if you can. If you’re traveling for the holidays in the middle of the off-season, then see if you can’t do a high-volume weekend right before your trip with 2 or 3 longer training sessions. If it’s in the middle of the season, then consider doing higher volume and intensity than normal, or if your competitive goals don’t rely on endurance and aerobic fitness so much as intensity, then just do normal training volume, but do a few workouts that are harder than normal right before your trip. If you go into your trip fatigued and thoroughly stressed from recent workouts, then regardless of necessity, you’d want to take some days off or easy traveling or not. Even on the day of your travel, if you have the day off and have an afternoon flight, for example, you could go out for a hard morning workout before you’re taken away from your bike or local training grounds.

Once you’re on your trip, it’s good to look into what options you’ll have while you’re gone and make a plan. If you’re busy all day at meetings or family events, then perhaps all you have the option to do is to get in some 30-45 minute sessions in the hotel gym or to go for some morning runs before your day gets started. If that’s the case, then consider your goals, where you’re at in your training, and what will be the best option for you at that time. Sometimes, just doing a light run, some core work, and a few weights will be great general conditioning as you build overall fitness early in the season. Maybe if you’re well into your preparatory training, you might get in a good warm-up and then do some moderate to heavy weights if gym work is already a part of your home routine. Or, perhaps if you’re getting close to the competitive part of your season and intensity is the priority, then consider using a treadmill or exercise bike to do some intervals at whatever intensities are relevant to your competitive goals. Or, sometimes more fun, you could find a good hill to run up or a stadium to do intervals on. Actually, for cyclists, uphill or stair running is one of the very best ways to cross-train for cycling, because you engage your muscles with similar speed and at similar angles to what you do while cycling. Flat running is great, but differs significantly in muscular recruitment patterns from bicycling.

If you have a bike shop near your destination, then maybe you can rent a bike for a day or two to get in some training, and even if you can only ride twice during a week-long vacation, that will make you feel much better when you come back and will mitigate or completely erase any training gains you would have lost if you took the week completely off. Or if biking is not an option, doing a few long hikes can be a great alternative to endurance cycling. I’ve definitely enjoyed trips where maybe I just rent a bike for a day and take it for an afternoon ride and a second ride the next morning before returning the bike, and just having 2 rides plus a few runs during a week away from home and I feel fine when I get back. Or, I also enjoy cranking up a hotel treadmill to 10% gradient and running at a comfortably quick pace for 20-30m plus a few weights. I know I got a workout that worked my aerobic system and maintained strength.

Ultimately, just think about how you think you can best make a few minor adjustments to your training before, during, or after the trip. Sometimes just adding an extra day before or a few extra miles the weekend before plus a few trips to the gym during the trip, and you won’t miss a beat. You can come home a little refreshed and ready to get back to your normal routine without any loss in fitness or good training sensations.