One of the perks of being a professional athlete is that I get to travel while doing what I love: running. From trekking through the streets of Tokyo to tackling Kenya’s high-elevation trails, I’m able to explore new places while racking up steps.
But arriving at a destination feeling good isn’t second nature; it takes planning. I probably learned this most in 2015 when Ryan and I spent every other month in Ethiopia—24 hours of travel in each direction—while in the process of adopting our four daughters. Whether you’ve got a destination race on your calendar or just want to embrace fit travel and squeeze in some exercise on a work trip or vacation, below are my top tips for staying active, healthy, and motivated far away from home.
Fly in Compression Gear
Ever hopped off of a long flight and noticed your ankles were swollen to the size of your calves? You can avoid a case of travel cankles—brought on by blood pooling in your lower extremities during periods of inactivity—by wearing compression socks or, even better, full compression tights during long flights. The pressure gradient of these garments will keep the blood circulating upwards so your legs feeling fresher and more mobile when you land. Just make sure to take it easy during the first mile of your next run to give your muscles a chance to loosen up.
Embrace Long Layovers
If you’re looking at a few hours between connecting flights, make the most of it. Often on long layovers, I’ll wear or bring a set of running clothes and shoes in my carry-on bag and head outside for a run. Though getting outside of the airport can sometimes be a little dicey, most airports are in rural, open areas with quiet roads that are great for running; check beforehand. One of my favorite places in the world to run is a forest adjacent to Germany’s Frankfurt Airport, a main international hub.
Hydrate Early And Often
The air pressure inside a plane is probably lower than what you’re used to (unless you live in a high mountain town), which means your blood will be carrying less oxygen. As a result, hydration is particularly important. Bring an empty water bottle to fill up after security, and don’t be afraid to request refills after the beverage service ends.
Reset Your Sleep Cycle
One of the best ways to get acclimated to a new time zone is to spend as much time as possible out in the bright light of day—even if that means skipping a post-plane nap. I prepare for this on the flight. If it’s daytime at my destination, I let the sun in from my window seat and allow myself to stare at bright electronics. This also helps me arrive at my destination relatively tired, ensuring I get a good night’s sleep, helping to set up a healthy sleep cycle. I also make sure to check my Fitbit app in the morning to see how much time I was actually asleep and how restful my sleep was.
Carry On Essentials
I always bring my running shoes, Fitbit Ionic (and its charger), and a set of running clothes in my carry-on suitcase just in case my bags get lost en route. If I’m traveling to a race, I also bring a sports drink mix, race bottles, and any other race-day essentials. It’s also a good idea to pack some kind of tool for self massage, like a foam roller or lacrosse ball. You can loosen up your legs on your layover (if you’re not afraid of the stares!) or just wait until you’re at your destination.
Pack Quality Protein
It’s easy to find foods that are high in carbohydrates in airports and on the road, but it’s harder to find quality protein. I especially try to avoid cheap meat before big races because of the chance of getting food poisoning. Because it’s not always easy to find organic, grass-fed meat in restaurants, I travel with protein powder, protein bars, and canned salmon to supplement my meals and make sure I’m staying on top of my post-workout recovery.
Plot Routes in Advance
Before I land (or even book accommodation), I search a digital map for green areas, using satellite mode to look for paths and trails that may not be officially marked. If nothing obvious emerges, I reach out to a local runner or running store in the area to get recommendations (or crowd source it on social media as a last resort). I’ve made some lasting friendships from people volunteering to be my guide for a local run.
Embrace The Unknown
Part of the fun of running in a new place is you never quite know what to expect. Your workout may not go exactly as planned, so it’s important to set realistic expectations and embrace adventure. I recently completed 20 miles running around a one-mile park loop in Bangkok, Thailand. It was so packed with people that I felt like I was running in a video game with my main objective being not running into other players. I’ve run up a mountain in Ethiopia where villagers greeted me at the top and fed me mouthfuls of spicy stews by hand. And sure, I’ve also had some less-than-fun experiences, like getting cornered by a pack of rabid dogs in Guatemala. Still, each run is an opportunity to engage in a new place and culture (while getting in some steps) rather than just being an observer.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.