Training on Business Travel

Plane Taking OffI’ve been swamped with business travel recently, so my blogging activity had to be put on the back burner.  This makes this blog topic particularly apropos given that I crammed a bunch of training into these trips.

I had a quick three-day trip to Washington, DC, flew back much too early on a Thursday morning, and then I was out for a full-week trip to Boulder, CO.  Even though the DC trip involved a more distant venue, the Colorado trip really knocked it out of me.  My DC trip was for a board meeting and I had email access the whole time, so I didn’t fall too far behind with my regular work.  My Colorado trip, however, was for a conference.  Between two speaking engagements, constant networking, and helping support a booth, it was ridiculously busy and I only managed about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.  I’m a pretty high mileage flyer on Alaska Airlines and so about half of my trips are upgraded.  There’s nothing that an airline can do, however, to address the other aspects of business travel that are so awful.

Earlier this summer, I blogged about How I Travel and talked about different strategies that I use to minimize the impact of the travel process.  But I didn’t talk about how to modify my training while I am on travel.

Lower Expectations to Improve Performance

Despair Inc Poster "Underachievement: Because Soaring with the Eagles Requires So Much More Effort"

Both the heading and the poster are attributable to Despair, Inc., the multi-million dollar business dedicated to adding a bit of humor to our somewhat Type-A business culture.  What makes their products so funny, however, is their sarcastic wisdom.  In this case, it is spot on.  The goal of training while on business travel really is underachievement “because soaring with the eagles requires so much more effort.”

As my old coach used to tell me over and over again, “stress is stress”– your body’s nervous system (which ultimately controls everything) can’t tell the difference between racing a half-Ironman and flying a transatlantic redeye.  We underestimate the impact of business travel– even if you remove the obvious stresses of the security line and change of time zones, there is the undeniable stress of sitting in a cramped, vibrating box with a constant 80-decibel hum for 4-6 hours on end.  Add to that, the actual stress of the business event and the disruption of the normal routine.  These stresses only get worse as we get older.  I used to be able to manage them a lot easier when I was younger but now the stress of travel just kills me.

So how do you workout when you’re body and brain are already subjected to this kind of stress?  Easy.  Just do only recovery workouts.  In other words, keep your workouts entirely in zone 1 or low zone 2.  If you train based on heart rate, keep your heart rate well below 80% of the average heart rate that you can maintain in a 10-K.  If I’m looking at heart rate, I tend to be ultra-conservative as my heart rate response tends to get more sluggish with travel fatigue.

This makes perfect sense when you think about it.  All of the business travel stress that you’re body is undergoing is not all that different from a multi-day bike tour or race, as far as your nervous system and hormonal system are concerned. If you were on a multi-day bike tour and wanted to add a few runs, what kind of runs would you undertake?  Hard interval sets?  Maybe a tough lactate threshold workout?  No way!  The kind of running workouts would undoubtably be a slow jog, possibly with a few strides, and nothing more.  Even when I was younger and could do intervals on business travel, it was never worth it.  First, it made the overall impact of the trip too much to bear.  Simply put, the recovery costs were too high.  So it would take far longer to recover from a business trip and so my workouts for the next week suffered after I got back.  Second, even if I could do a hard workout, the quality of my workouts on business travel suffered.  I simply couldn’t hold the same power or speed for as long as when I was working out at home.  This means that I was barely getting any training benefits out of hard workouts on the road.  In economic terms, there’s much less value and much higher cost– better to save the hard workouts for before or after the trip.

Just Because You Can Do It Doesn’t Mean You Should Do It

I used to have a sheltie who thought he was a labrador retriever.  If you know you’re dog breeds, you’ll know what I mean: shelties tend towards the more refined, cautious side of life whereas labrador retrievers tend towards the goofier, more carefree side of life.  Whenever we took him outside, he would pick up a small stick, clump of dirt, dead animal, or anything else he could find– and start to chew.  I would immediately crouch down, reach inside his mouth and pull out his latest prize, and say, “Jeremy, just because you can eat it doesn’t mean you should eat it.”

Mary Smiling at 8000' on Mount LemmonMultisport athletes are a lot like my dog Jeremy.  We tend to find wildly inappropriate workouts and try to fit them into our lifestyle.  Sometimes, this can be a blast– like last year when I conned my friends Mary and Beth into riding up Mount Lemmon (reason: “because we were there”) the day after racing Duathlon Nationals.  But business travel is rarely one of those occasions.  Save the heroics for your vacations or training camps– not your business trips.  Even if you’re a youngster or you’re an older guy who is impervious to the effects of business travel, keep your tough workouts for when you get back because you’ll be able to perform so much better when you do.  Remember, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it.

Try to Workout Right After You Land

Having just warned you against heroics while on business travel, this next recommendation might seem a bit out-of-place, but I’ve always found it useful to get one of these easy effort workouts in after you land.  I usually try to slip in a easy 30-minute workout on my bike (I often travel with my bike– subject for an upcoming post) or, better yet, a nice run.  On one recent trip to DC, I landed at 9:00pm and still managed to get in a late-night eight-mile run (granted, I didn’t have to be up early the next morning).

While this kind of working out may seem to cross the border into “heroics,” it actually makes sense.  Flying long distances causes mild (or not so mild) edema that just makes everything feel sore.  A nice, gentle zone 1 run (bike ride is a second best alternative) does wonders to get the lymph system engaged and reduce a lot of that edema.  I find that I adjust to my new venue a lot more quickly if I slip in this kind of workout as soon as possible after landing.  Granted, running 8-miles in the middle of the night might not have been the best example of this kind of workout, but I still would have felt worse if I had not done it (I was in the middle of a big running build at the time).

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