Nowadays, traveling for an Obstacle Course Race doesn’t mean just crossing a few state lines, it’s more likely to mean crossing a few time zones.
Whilst travel is part of the allure of distant races, the change in time can cause havoc with your body, and can genuinely affect your performance of the race that you are there for. In reality, jet lag is the combined effects of a long distance flight, and disrupting your normal sleep/wake/eat pattern by crossing several time zones quickly.
How can jet lag jeopardize your race?
The effects of jet lag include:
- Poor physical performance
- lack of energy
- lessened concentration
- poor mental performance
Personally when traveling long haul and crossing times zones I can end up so tired that I can feel physically sick and dizzy. You can see why these combined could seriously ruin your chances of not only a great performance, but even enjoying the race you have travelled so far to get to.
Having travelled a fair amount for work, often landing in the evening and needing to be up and raring to go the next day, I’ve learnt a few tricks about how to cope with jet lag…
As soon as you land, actually scrap that, even mid flight or earlier, change your watch to the local time of your destination. The sooner you acclimatize to your new schedule the better. Just cause it’s 2am at home, doesn’t change that it’s 7pm at your destination.
One of the biggest mistakes I see is people arriving and for the next two days saying “It’s 4 in the morning at home”. Buck up son! You’re not at home, and it doesn’t make a difference to you. Seriously, forget about that and be in your new time zone before you’re even there.
Stay awake until bedtime
If you want to ruin your trip, go to bed as soon as you land. Get comfy, snuggle down, have a nap… and wake up at 2.30am unable to sleep for the rest of the night.
But I’m guessing you don’t want to do that. If it’s early in the day, do what you need to perk up; have a coffee, a sugary drink. Something to give you a bit of pep to keep going till an early bedtime. (FYI, bedtime never happens before 9pm. In my world, 9pm is acceptable, anything before that is just asking for trouble, and that applies to everyday life). Make the most of the first day, have a good dinner, see a few casual sights. Don’t lounge about with nothing to do because you are just asking to fall asleep. If you’ve followed point one you’ve forgotten what time it is at home and you’re just having a slightly woozy day…
When it does come to bedtime, a nice bath, a good book, and a warm (de-caffeinated drink) will help you chill and get comfy.
Sunshine is your friend. That’s always true but especially with jet lag. Get outside and soak up the rays (although preferably not on a sun lounger). The sun helps to “trick” your body about what time it is, after all, don’t we all feel more tired in winter when the nights draw in so early?
Don’t drink alcohol & Do stay hydrated
It should go without saying but some peoples travel routine seems to include copious amounts of the hard stuff. Not in the airport, not on the plane, and not until you’ve adjusted to your new time zone…stay away from the booze!
More so than ever you want to stay hydrated. Travel with a refillable bottle which you can fill at an airport after security (either at a fountain, or a cafe will do it for free) and keep it filled during the flight. There’s nothing worse than a thimble full of water every few hours.
Sleep on the flight
When I travel a lot I use flights as a way to catch up on sleep. I’ve become an expert at dropping off at take off and waking up at landing. This is ideal for shorter flights, but for longer ones it’s slightly more complicated. Ideally you want to get your meal, maybe watch a movie, but you do want to aim for a good chunk of sleep.
If not provided, an eye mask is key, and personally I prefer to fall asleep listening to music rather than wearing earplugs, but do whatever works for you. If you’re traveling economy you may not be provided with a pillow or blanket, so dress comfy, I find loose hoodies are great in-flight clothes, easy to take on and off as you get hot and cold, without flailing around in limited space.
If you don’t want to be disturbed then let the cabin crew know, as sometimes they will wake you for meals unless you tell them.
Don’t do the math
If you want to feel even worse, add up how long you’ve been awake. Once you think “It’s been 36 hours since I slept in a bed” you will immediately suffer.
Pretend to yourself you got up that morning, have had a nap (the plane) and will be off to bed at bedtime. Ignore the time in between.
We all feel groggy after a flight. Personally I don’t travel long haul in make up. There’s no better way to feel yucky than having dry skin in old make up. A few things I always pack for my in flight bag are a toothbrush, face soap, moisturizer, and lip balm. Airplanes dry you out big time, even when taking on a lot of water, and lip salve is key.
Before you get the announcement for landing, get yourself to the teeny tiny bathroom and get fresh. Wash your face with lovely clean water, brush your teeth, and slather your face and hands in moisturizer. Being clean and (dare I say it??) moist… (yuck) will certainly help you feel more human.
With a big year ahead of us, seeing the 24Hour Enduros in Australia, the OCR World Championships in the UK, and World’s Toughest Mudder in the States, there’s plenty of huge races you need to be on top of your game for. Follow this advice and you may just have the edge on the competition.