Triathlife With Jesse Thomas: Travel Smarter

The do’s and don’ts when hitting the road.

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The do’s and don’ts when hitting the road.

As I ran the last half mile in the lead of the 2012 Ironman 70.3 Poconos, I had one thought on my mind. It wasn’t the all-encompassing pain or the thrill of winning my first 70.3. It was the hope that I went fast enough to make my flight home.

After a disappointing 70.3 worlds result, my coach insisted that I get “back on the horse” and race again. Poconos was two weeks later, a wetsuit swim, hilly bike course and cool temps—it was perfect.

The only problem: It was my five-year wedding anniversary. And after a few months of “focus” on championship races, missing anniversary 5 isn’t an option if you want anniversary 6.

But my wife Lauren, being the supportive partner that she is, OK’ed my race on one condition—that I fly back to L.A. that night in time to make her family’s vacation. The only way to make that happen was a 3 p.m. flight out of Newark, N.J. Adding up the drive to the airport, rental car return, check-in, security, I had to be on the road by 11:45 a.m. Race start was 7 a.m. Gulp.

Luckily, after a solid race, I crossed the finish line just after 10:49 a.m. I took some deep breaths, did a quick interview, thanked the crowd, volunteers, my competitors and the organizers. 11:06 a.m. 39 minutes to go. I started my Strava (I am a triathlete) and I was on my way.

I ran the most uncomfortable mile of my life on sore legs carrying my enormous wetsuit/dry clothes bag to T2 (11:14), rode 3 miles with running shoes on top of clipped-in cycling shoes to my rental car and bike bag (11:33). I Mr. Miyagi’ed packing my bike bag, setting a personal record of 9 minutes and 54 seconds (11:43). I threw everything into my car, glanced at my watch, stopped and uploaded Strava. 11:46. Gotta go!

I ate Picky Bars and leftover Pop Chips as I drove. I ignored the awkward looks as I dropped off the rental car in my racing kit and put a T-shirt and shorts on over it while riding the rental car shuttle. I dashed to check-in, went through security and had just enough time before my cross-country flight to go to the bathroom, take off my kit and wipe myself down with paper towels and deodorant—what my wife calls a “whore’s bath.”

I made it to Santa Monica, had dinner with Lauren and her family, and celebrated my first 70.3 win. So it all turned out OK (except for the people who had to sit next to me on the plane).

Traveling for triathlon is always an adventure—sometimes more than you want it to be. In order to pull this particular feat off, I applied a lot of lessons from my triathlon traveling experience, such as packing extra food and planning many steps ahead. I also broke a lot of my own rules, such as give yourself extra time and NO race attire at the airport. Ironically, it was a mix of doing things right and wrong that made it all work out.

So whether you’re just trying to have a fun, safe trip or make a flight seven hours after the start of your half-Ironman, my readers and I have compiled a list of the best do’s and don’ts for triathlon travel.

RELATED: Traveling With Your Bike To A Triathlon

Always give yourself extra time. —@evertlamb
Triathletes are used to maximizing every second, so much so that we try to optimize the trip for minimum duration and avoid waiting at all costs. But whatever time you save in travel, you lose in life expectancy from the stress of potentially missing your flight, running to check in and being that jerk who has to ask people to cut in line because he arrived to the airport too late.

Book a room with a kitchen and full-sized fridge. —@ranaefrances
I always try to find a room with a kitchen. It not only saves me time, money and energy because I don’t have to go out to eat every meal, but it also ensures I can eat the stuff I’m used to to avoid race-day GI issues. I highly recommend or to rent a house with your family or fellow racers. It’s a super fun way enjoy the trip, feel more at home and enjoy the experience with others, which is what it’s all about anyway.

Book a hotel with a pool/gym, or close to pool/gym where you can purchase a short-term membership. —Jesse Edelsberg
A great resource to find a pool is I actually plan to NOT swim a day or two before my race because it’s usually logistically difficult to do so. You can practice this by hitting a hard pool session after a day or two out of the pool.

Identify a bike shop at the race city. —@vincehancock
This is a good “just in case” tip. I’ve needed bike work at one in 4–5 of my races for something that got stuck, broke or just went missing from TSA or the back of my car. It’s always good to have help available if possible.

Book a seat with easy bathroom access. —Alix Muenzberg
I definitely avoid seats close to the bathroom, but I always book aisle seats if possible to not annoy my row mates with my overhydrated bladder and random in-flight stretching, which looks dumb, but so does that guy asleep with his mouth wide open.

Shoes, pedals, helmet, saddle and race kit go in the carry-on bag. —@gallagher_pj
Probably smart, but I honestly don’t pack any of that stuff in my carry-on. I figure if my bike doesn’t make it, I’m mostly screwed anyway, so I might as well race in other crazy stuff and save myself the extra weight on my carry-ons. But to each their own!

I’ve almost missed flights by getting interrogated over CO2 cartridges.
—Darren Mounts

CO2 cartridges are a no-no and one of the biggest PITA of traveling. I’ve slipped mine through in toiletries bags, but probably best to leave them at home and not risk the TSA wrath.

Always have the wetsuit and goggles in your carry-on in case the plane crashes over the ocean. —@ElmarHeger


Pack with a soft case and/or ship your bike ahead of time.

TSA can wreak havoc on bikes. I’ve found that hard cases are harder for them to put back together correctly, and baggage handlers tend to treat them as the foundation of massive bag piles. If you go with a soft case, it’s less likely to get destroyed in my experience. Check out Ruster Sports Hen House to avoid bike fees, or ship your bike ahead of time using (see page 20).

For me it’s all about HQ sleep…If you need a good pillow, or white-noise machine to make new environments more “sleepable,” it can really reduce pre-race stress. —David Embree
Agreed. Sleep is KING, and you’ll be in a new environment, so anything helps. I always travel with earplugs, and yes, a sleep mask. I also use the app “White Noise” on my phone when necessary. Yes, I’m a princess. Now go away and let me sleep.

That’s it, guys! Hope these tips help you get the most out of your triathlon travel experience. Let me know what other tips or pitfalls you’ve discovered as well. Good luck!

More Triathlife with Jesse Thomas

Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) is a five-time Wildflower Long Course champion and the CEO of Picky Bars (

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