How to Prepare for a Destination Race: A Timeline

The countdown is on!

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At your hometown race, things are fairly straightforward – you’re going to familiar places, seeing familiar faces, and waking up in your own bed on race morning. But at a destination race? All that gets checked at the gate. Destination racing is a great way to see a new place and challenge yourself on a new course, but it’s also complicated. Not only do we have to prepare for the race itself, but now we have to deal with logistics – how to get there, where to stay, how to schlep all our stuff (there’s so much stuff!). Whether traveling to the next state over or across the pond, for a sprint triathlon or a bucket-list Ironman, this traveling timeline will help you arrive to the starting line stress-free.

RELATED: Triathlete’s 2023 Race Guide

One Year Before (Or ASAP)

  • Set a realistic budget – how much are you able (and willing) to spend on race fees, transportation, lodging, food, and unexpected expenses? Do your research to see if the actual costs fall within your budget.
  • Check with those directly affected by this decision – are your spouse and kids on board with traveling to this destination? Does the timing of this race conflict with any major events at your job?
  • If you’re committed to the race, click the “register” button ASAP – some events sell out a year in advance.
  • Book your lodging, whether it’s a hotel room or vacation rental home. Reservations near the transition area and/or race course will fill quickly, as will the most affordable options in the area. It’s best to secure a reservation that is refundable, just in case an injury/illness or travel bans (as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic) thwart your plans to race.
  • Request time off from work well in advance of the event. Account for pre-race travel and post-race recovery in this request. Even if you are able to work remotely, don’t plan to work from the road – traveling can be stressful enough without trying to answer work e-mails at airports or discovering your hotel doesn’t have a reliable wifi connection.
  • Start a “Race” folder in your e-mail for all race- and travel-related documents, including receipts, reservations, and confirmation numbers.

Nine Months Before Your Destination Race

  • Check passport and/or drivers’ license for expiration dates and validity, and renew if needed. Many countries have explicit rules for passport validity, including a certain number of blank pages, or an expiration date valid for six months after the date of travel. Beginning May 2025, travelers in the United States will be required to show identification that meets REAL ID standards for domestic travel; not all states issue drivers’ licenses that are compliant with this rule.
  • Does your race require a membership to the host country’s triathlon federation? Confirm and purchase, if needed (most offer one-day memberships for destination racers).

Six Months Before Your Destination Race

  • Join Facebook groups and online forums (like Team Triathlete) centered around the event. In addition to meeting your fellow racers, you’ll likely get valuable insights from past finishers. These groups are a great place to ask questions on everything from bike gear selection to where to grab the best post-race burger.
  • Make arrangements for bike transport. Some races partner with bike shipping services, while others require individual athletes to make their own arrangements.
  • If flying to the destination, research routes, luggage/carry-on fees, and bike box policies (if flying with bikes). Set a price tracking alert through Google Flights, which will e-mail you when prices drop.
  • Make rental car reservation, if needed. Select a vehicle large enough to transport bike, gear bag, luggage, and all people traveling with you to the race.

Three Months Before Your Destination Race

  • If flying, lock in your flight. If traveling with a bike box, call the airline to discuss your oversized luggage (some flights, especially those on smaller regional planes have limited, first-come-first-served space for bikes).
  • If racing overseas, contact your health insurance company to inquire about international coverage. Many U.S. health insurance policies do not cover doctor or hospital visits while traveling abroad, necessitating the purchase of traveler’s insurance.
  • Check your destination’s rules and recommendations for vaccinations and/or prophylactic medications (i.e., anti-malarial drugs). Schedule appointments with your healthcare provider(s) accordingly.
  • Plan something fun for after the race, especially if traveling with a spouse or family (they’ve earned it).

One Month Before Your Destination Race

  • If driving, plot out route and any overnight stops along the way (if a multi-day trip). Account for delays from construction or heavy traffic in your travel time. Set a departure date and time.
  • Visit the race website and confirm your game plan for packet pick-up, bike drop-off, and transition bag drop. Note any rules related to parking or schedules for race-day shuttles.
  • If flying, download your airline’s app. Most use apps to send instant notification of any flight changes, track luggage, and help customers make reservation changes in response to delays or cancellations.
  • Call hotel or home rental to confirm reservation. This is also the time to make any special requests, such as a room on the ground floor of the hotel or an early check-in time.
  • If packing your bike in a bike box, do a practice pack and rebuild. Consult your local bike shop with any questions that arise during this process, so you are not stressed during the real thing.

RELATED: A Pro’s Guide to Packing and Traveling With Your Bike

One Week Before Your Destination Race

  • Set up travel alerts on your debit and credit cards to avoid fraud alerts and freezes on your finances.
  • Begin to shift your sleep schedule to that of your destination – if traveling west to east, start going to bed an hour earlier in anticipation of your new time zone.
  • If using a bike transport service, take bike to drop-off point.
  • Use Google Maps to locate a grocery store near your hotel or vacation rental to stock your lodging with familiar foods (nothing new on race week!).
  • Check weather forecast for race day. Pack accordingly, but include items that may come in handy should the forecast change (i.e., rain jacket or warm clothes for race morning). Use gallon bags or packing cubes to keep items organized.
  • Pack essential items for race day, such as wetsuit, bike shoes, kit, and goggles, in your carry-on – not your checked bag. Lost luggage is always stressful, but more so when it contains the critical gear that can make or break your race.
  • Print out all documents in your “Race” folder and place in your carry-on bag, along with your ID.

RELATED: How to Pack for a Destination Triathlon

Travel Day!

  • Hydrate! Whether flying or driving, you’ll want to stay on top of your fluid intake.
  • Traveling usually means a lot of sitting. Take frequent breaks to walk, stretch, and stay limber. Consider using a a mobility routine to keep your muscles and joints happy.
  • Wear a mask and carry hand sanitizer and wipes. Airplanes are notoriously germy, as are hotel rooms.
  • Travel can be stressful, so stay calm amidst the chaos. Download an audiobook, guided meditation, or chill playlist for your flight or drive.

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