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Destination races are a wonderful aspect of triathlon. But aside from the usual hazards associated with travel, there are some important health risks to be aware of.
HAZARD: Environment adjustment. One of the first things to consider is how the destination’s environment differs from your home. If you live in a coastal area and are planning a race in the mountains, you’re going to face some challenges related to the altitude. Racing in a hot and humid destination when you normally race and train in a dry, cool environment could have important consequences—and not just on performance.
AVOID IT: Allow time for acclimation. The longer you can be in the environment before your race, the better your ability to perform will be. When I travel to a race, I try to arrange it so that the race is at the end of the trip. Note: If you have a preexisting health issue that doesn’t pose any problems when racing at home, don’t assume the same will be true at a remote event. Consult your physician to be sure.
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HAZARD: Acquired illnesses. This is more of an issue for those who fly to and from a race as the enclosed environment of an airplane lends itself well to the transmission of respiratory viruses. Athletes have more potential to get sick on the way home as the immune system is depressed after a period of prolonged exertion at high intensity.
AVOID IT: Frequent hand washing (carry a personal container of hand sanitizer) is the most effective means to prevent the spread of viruses.
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HAZARD: Water. The water purification process in some exotic locales may not be as thorough as it is at home.
AVOID IT: If there is any doubt, drink bottled water only. Avoid any ice in drinks and eat only fruit or vegetables that are peeled before serving.
HAZARD: Venous thromboembolic disease. Long periods of sitting causes blood to pool in the legs. Occasionally, this results in clots forming. Should these clots grow and propagate to larger veins in the thigh, they can break off and travel to the lungs, causing dire illness and even death. Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE) are rare but are known to occur more often in people whose veins have damage in their walls as a result of prolonged, high-intensity exertion.
AVOID IT: Ensure frequent periods of activity. Get up once an hour and move around. Another helpful measure is to wear compression clothing on the legs. While the use of these clothes has never been proven to enhance recovery, they do prevent venous pooling and likely may have an effect on the formation of DVT.
Despite the risks, destination racing is an enjoyable part of the triathlon experience. As always, a little thought and preparation can go a long way toward enhancing the fun and minimizing the risks.