Whether they like it or not, athletes often find themselves as frequent flyers. Racing overseas can look glamorous, but what people often don’t see on social media is the struggle of being cramped in an economy-class seat for 16 hours.
As one of the worlds top Ironman triathletes, Sarah Piampiano is no stranger to the struggles of long-distance travel and the impact it can have on performance. This is her routine for making the best out of her time 40,000ft in the sky.
Here the 8 things I think about (and in some cases failed on!) on a long journey:
An obvious tip and widely in practice in the world of travelers, but I cannot emphasize enough the importance of comfortable clothing. I typically wear my Saucony compression tights, a soft, loose-fitting t-shirt, and a pair of shoes (like my fav Saucony Jazz’s) that are easy to slip on and off. I also bring a sweatshirt and usually a jacket of some kind – you never know how hot or cold the planes will be, and when worse come to worse, using the clothing as an extra pillow is great!
I also bring a change of clothes in my carry on. After sitting in the same clothes in stale air for 30 hours, it is nice to put on something fresh and clean!
I have ALWAYS brought my own array of snacks with me to either replace or augment the food offered on the plane, but on this trip we brought it to a whole new level. Prior to my departure my nutritionist, Phil Goglia, created a detailed plan as to exactly what I would eat and when during my trip. When I read the plan, it looked like an incredible amount of food and frequent small meals, but he assured me that it would help with the body’s ability to cope with the travel, as well as retain an eating pattering similar to what I do when I am at home.
For my 28 hour journey I pre-packed the following: 7 hard boiled and peeled eggs; 5 “mashes” (1 mash = ¼ cup dry oats, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1 tbsp jam (only sweetened with fruit juice, not sugar), ¼ cup apple sauce all mixed together….sounds gross but is actually delicious!!); 1 lb grilled chicken cut up into slices; 2 cans of tuna mixed with hummus and veggies (modified tuna salad); 1.5 cups cooked rice and 1 medium sweet potato cooked in coconut oil; 1 large bag of carrot and celery sticks; 3 Justin’s single-serve Chocolate Hazelnut packets; 2 pears; 1 Clif Builder Max bar (Cookie Dough); 1 Clif Builder Bar (Cookies & Cream), 1 Clif Bar (Sierra Trail Mix)
When I prepared what I was supposed to eat I never thought I would get through it all. That is a lot of food! But…shockingly, I’ve never been so happy to have each and every meal. I’ve been hungry throughout the journey and rather than eating foods that only hurt my recovery, I’ve kept a plan I feel great about. And there is really nothing worse than being on a long flight and either starving and being cranky, or having access to food that isn’t great for you. Bottom line – on long flights plan ahead and don’t under-estimate how much food you might eat!
A pillar of travel for me and key to alleviating stress on your body. When I am awake, I strive to drink at least 1 water bottle of water with SOS Hydration every 45 minutes to 1 hour, which allows my body to absorb 3x more water than drinking water alone and limits trips to the bathroom.
Compression and recovery
I have a sensitive body and pretty much anything I do makes me swell. I eat too much junk food. I swell. I don’t move enough. I swell. I fly. I swell. I do an Ironman. I swell.
As a result I do whatever I can to help maximize blood flow and minimize the swelling and negative impact on my body. I always wear my Saucony Compression tights when I travel.
On this trip I have done a combination of other recovery and blood-flow-promoting things. First – I used my MarcPro almost continuously throughout the trip. The MarcPro is like electric-stimulation. You attach pads to your body and select the strength and frequency. It causes fast muscle contraction and helps to flush the lymphatic system. Second – I wear my Saucony Compression socks. And third, if I can (not always a possibility) I try to elevate my feet for at least some portion of the trip
Movement is another key one that I use in conjunction with my frequent trips to the bathroom and to bide time during layovers. Keeping the body moving is really important, so on every trip to the toilet, I do calf raises and stretch my quads, abductors and hamstrings. In my seat I have a small stretch band, and loop that around my knees and do some resisted leg movements. I have two lacrosse balls I use to massage my back and hamstrings in my seat. And during layovers I pull out my foam roller and roll like crazy. I also do my rehab exercises and glute, core and hamstring activation exercises. Don’t worry about the funny looks! Your body will thank you for it later!
When you fly, the best thing you can do is let yourself relax. I was laughing to myself earlier because I felt like a newborn baby on this trip. Pretty much my schedule has been, sleep, eat, toilet, sleep, eat, toilet, etc etc etc…flying is a perfect opportunity to try to get some extra rest and truly let your mind and body detach from the stresses of daily life.
Minimizing the white noise
You may not realize it or think about it, but that white noise you hear the entire plane flight is really hard on your body! It is a constant stimulant and doesn’t fully let your body relax. The best way to shut that out is through using noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs.
Access to the bathroom
Until I became a triathlete, I loved the window seat. I liked to be able to look out over where we were flying and liked being able to use the plane wall to rest my head. Nowadays, the aisle is the way to go! I have to get up so frequently to move my legs and use the toilet and refill my water bottle, the aisle is the best way to have easy access and avoid ticking off your seat mates.