Updated: Jun 10, 2021
After a recent article on hidden performance killers I received multiple emails from followers asking about travel, some inquisitive and some informing me that I place too much importance on it.
As I return home on the 24 hour trip from Australia and as we start the race season in earnest, I thought I would make it clear again how much emphasis travel deserves in season planning. As we've seen athletes making two intercontinental trips before June, who by August will be asking themselves (again) 'where did my form go?'
At Trisutto for our professional athletes we place a limit on how many trips across the date line we make per season. It puts so much pressure on the immune system – one should be viewing the flights as equally stressful as a race. Indeed as a rule of thumb we count a long distance flight + race as the equivalent of 3 races.
Nearly all that train with us and listen to the advice seem to notice how in the later months of the season their form doesn’t fall away like in previous years.
It's not a coincidence. This was a lesson we learned in the early 90s of Aus triathlon. Australian athletes notoriously struggled bringing good form from Australia to the US / European World Cups. Many were on fire in Australia only to consistently flop overseas. Others the opposite.
Pioneers like Greg Welch and Michellie Jones were a couple of the first to overcome these problems by staying in two 'Home' bases for both seasons and avoiding the long haul traveling back and forwards. At Trisutto we've never forgotten it.
The Pros and WTS Circuit
The crushing effects of long haul flights are exhibited perfectly in the situation we see at the professional short course level. Where we now have deep performance lulls after Olympic cycles with the heavy hitters either ignoring the WTS series, or others being so destroyed from the travel schedule they need two years recovery.
The 2018 WTS Series. Completely disastrous for long term performance.
For those asking for opinions on 'form' and medal prospects ahead of 2020 Tokyo based off the WTS series in 2018. Never in the history of ITU racing has an athlete won the ITU World Championship and the Olympics in the same year. There's a reason for that and it won't be different in 2020 either. You cannot prepare properly for a major event with an official schedule that looks like it was put together by Carmen Sandiego. If the Brownlees, Spirig's and Jorgensen's of the sport recognise that, then it shouldn't be too much to explain to age group athletes either.
In terms of practical advice for our athletes and how one can avoid the pitfalls:
Firstly, we don’t do long, stressful races like an Ironman out of season if they include a big travel component. We do these at the end of our season only when we have had a minimum of 20 weeks of consistent work.
We also try to avoid backing up races early in the season even if no travel on planes is involved. We do this at the end of season also. Why? Because the mixture of travel, race and recovery when one doesn’t have a full base is a huge stress. If you are not fully recovered you might still get through these races 'OK', but after two the body starts to flatten and never gets back to peak.
It is often misdiagnosed as 'over training' when the real culprit is racing when not ready combined with too much travel. The outcome is the same – poor end of season performance.
I will finish by reiterating the same points I've made multiple times in person and print! If you can drive to a race within 5 hours DO NOT get on the plane.The amount of times I've heard “Sutto, it's only a 45 min flight” really does depress me.
Pulling the bike apart, packing it, towing it around the airport, getting on a 30,000 ft compression chamber to sit next to people who may be ill – to then putting the bike back together if it arrives and not broken is a stress even if a '45 minute' flight.
Take the time and plan your travel smartly.