How to Race in a Radically Different Time Zone from Your Own

by Amy VanTassel

Someone once said (was it Confucius?) that to properly adapt to a new time zone, you need one restful day in your new location per every hour difference. Ergo, if you’re heading for the Gold Coast of Australia, with a nine hour difference, you should arrive nine days in advance to get a shot at adaptation. For athletes attempting to actually compete abroad, it should probably be even more.

  CBCG friends Rachel McBride and Steph Corker traveling to compete in Ironman World Championships, 2018

CBCG friends Rachel McBride and Steph Corker traveling to compete in Ironman World Championships, 2018

Not every athlete, however, has the luxury of showing up on site several weeks in advance. So, as CBCG athlete and five-time participant at CBCG Camps Don Geddes discovered, there are strategic ways to prep for races abroad. The strategies begin at home, well in advance to flying overseas.

“Before I left for Worlds in Australia, I read an article from University of a Sydney professor, Steve Simpson. Since the time difference to Portland was seven hours behind, I had already started staying up a bit later every night, but after I read this research I committed to practicing the following:

  CBCG athlete Don Geddes at the 2018 ITU Age Group Standard Distance Worlds in Australia

CBCG athlete Don Geddes at the 2018 ITU Age Group Standard Distance Worlds in Australia

1. I began going to bed 90 minutes later every day until I was staying up until 3-4 AM, ultimately getting up around 11 AM - 12 PM in Portland.  

2. My drastically later wake up time put me in sync for a 4 AM wake up in Australia, which was pretty much in line with my wake up time on race day. 

3. I started doing my workouts close to when my actual race times would be - real time in Australia. Since I had a late wave start of 8:23 AM, that meant shifting my workouts to 3-4 PM. 

4. In turn, I needed to adjust meal times by having lunch around 4 or 5 PM, and dinner around 8:30.

5. To shake out the stiffness and cobwebs for sitting so long on the 14-hour flight I opted for the formal Aquathon offered to all competitors, which was a 750 meter swim and 5k run the day after arriving. I felt this was really helpful as it let test the water and shake out the legs. Doubtful that a similar event is available for other races, at least I recommend discussing your shakeout routine upon arrival with your coach. 

Don ended up 3rd American in his age group that Sunday, in the triathlon!  He has clinched multiple PR’s and impressive podia positions in his time working under CBCG head coach Chris Bagg, which is principally due to his diligence and perseverance as a world-class triathlete.

  Geddes on his way to 3rd American and 15th in his Age Group in Australia

Geddes on his way to 3rd American and 15th in his Age Group in Australia

We at CBCG recognize that such adjustments may be relatively easier for Don, or any athlete who doesn’t hold-down a 9-5 career, but there should be some universal takeaways from his experience. So, in addition to Don’s above sage list of tactics, we offer some general rules-of-thumb for anyone planning to race in a significantly different time zone:

1. Talk to your coach. Whether or not you can get ready in terms of training and fitness, it’s half the battle to ensure you can realistically thwart for the ramifications of jet lag. The best-trained athletes in the world are no good if they’re not acclimatized, so ensure you can meet the afncdd requirements to set yourself up for success for your dream race on the other side of the planet. Your coach can help.

2. Talk to your family. If you’re combining racing with a family adventure, which is a fantastic idea, let’s make sure you’re not throwing them under the bus. If you’re phasing into a new time zone, so should they, at least a little. If they cannot phase-in at least some degree of sleep change, you’ve got to consider the impact on both your racing, and/or their vacation.

3. At least do something. Again, if you’re all, like, “Yeah, must be nice to get to go travel a few weeks in advance, but I gotta work!” at least practice some behaviors while still holding-down your day job. Going to bed just a littler earlier or later, depending on the location, will do wonders. And then controlling your sleep on the flight and upon your arrival will be key, which many people don’t realize is largely controlled by other daily practices...

Eating and training closer and closer to your global race time will be increasingly valuable, so check out Don’s advice and the article he engendered. Talk to you coach and fam, an consider if traveling to Nice, France for 70.3 World Champs or something similar is right for you!

  CBCG head coach Chris Bagg waiting for a train in Strasborg

CBCG head coach Chris Bagg waiting for a train in Strasborg