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Take it from Brian Metzler—a four-time Ironman and former editor in chief of Competitor magazine who has traveled to more than 30 countries to compete in triathlons, marathons, ultra-distance trail races, and adventure races: You’ve got to live each trip to its fullest.
Travel is a many-splendored thing. No matter if you’re heading near or far—a city across the country or to a notable overseas locale—traveling can take you outside of your comfort zone and help you appreciate what life is about in a different place. It can also give you a new perspective on your own existence—both as a triathlete and as a human being—that, as Twain says, just isn’t possible by doing brick workouts and local races in your hometown.
The key to being an open-minded traveler is approaching your trip with a respectful mindset for the destination’s local people, culture, customs, and environment.
When you’re traveling to a race—especially an event in a different country—remember that the journey is the destination, not the finish line, a flawless race, an age-group podium finish, or a five-star hotel. Those are potentially lifelong memories, but there’s more to it than that. Before, during, and after the race, remind yourself to take in the local sights and sounds, and enjoy the simple moments for what they are.
If you’re visiting a new place for a race, it’s hard not to be a gawky tourist. But you can have a richer experience by immersing yourself in little ways. Talk to the locals as much as you can—especially your fellow competitors—and you’ll find that the passion for triathlon in similar places and maybe even more hard-fought among locals. Taking in a tour of the local sites and historical attractions might seem entirely touristy, but the knowledge gained will add another facet of your appreciative immersion. The people, history, architecture, mountains, rivers, forests, and sunsets are what will make a place unique and worth remembering.
This doesn’t mean giving money to panhandlers, but it should mean tipping waiters, cab drivers, and other service workers—especially, if you’re in a culture not accustomed to such gratuities. When I go overseas, I often travel with older running shoes and apparel so I can give it away. That doesn’t make me philanthropic, but giving shoes and gear to fellow athletes who need it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Eat Local Cuisine
No triathlete in their right mind should try exotic foods with unknown levels of spiciness, aftertaste, or gastric corruption in the days before a race. But consider visiting a local grocery store for basic items like bread, coffee, pastries, fruit, vegetables, and other healthy snacks. If you’re planning a post-race feast or celebration, find out which restaurants are favorites among locals, and you’re likely to have a much different (and probably less expensive) culinary adventure. In both cases, you’ll experience different textures, flavors, and scents, and get a glimpse of the indigenous food culture.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad