On the road again

People often express jealousy at the amount of travel I do. Between travelling to see potential and existing sponsors, talk to people and organisations about water, and give speeches, I’m often on and off planes. I’ve just arrived in New York City now, ready to begin my most epic challenge yet - in 5 days.

  Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

From an outside perspective, I can see how this looks amazing and fun. I get to go to amazing places, and meet absolutely incredible people. The experience is enriching and rewarding.

Except.

I’m trying to run around the world to raise awareness about our water crisis. That means I need to train, recover and rest. 

It’s a delicate balancing act, and one which my close friends, family and support team will tell you I don’t do well at all. I easily get distracted by all the great people I meet. I want to talk to everyone, and understand more about them and about the surroundings I find myself in. I want to learn more about the water aspects of wherever I am – the problems and solutions. And ultimately I’m so grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to travel, I don’t want to miss out on anything!

So I find myself eating later than I should, getting less sleep than I should, and recovering less than I should. It’s bad because it’s self sabotage. It affects my body’s performance, and ultimately that means it also impairs my ability to succeed in achieving my goals (you know – change the world and stuff!)

After recovering from my sacral fracture, I made a commitment to change this. It’s hard because it’s a set of mental habits and mindsets that are absolutely ingrained in me. It’s a long slow process, but I can see it happening, and I’m definitely better for it. By the way, so are all the other people around me who can see the benefits it reaps!

So how am I staying fit and healthy on the road? There are 4 things I focus on:

1. Hydration

This is absolutely key. Most of us know that flying is incredibly dehydrating. It’s easy to jump on a plane, eat some bad food and retreat to sleep behind an eye mask. We forget to drink – or at least drink enough – and by the time we get off the plane we’re dehydrated.

Hacks: I’m trying two super easy hacks. The first is to take my own bottle and ask for the flight attendants to fill it for me on board. I can easily keep track of how much (or usually how horrifyingly little) I’m drinking. I also try to toss in a few tabs of an electrolyte – tablets or powder you can pick up from most supermarkets. They take the edge off the water, and help to replace some of the salts and electrolytes.

2. Food

This is tricky. Most of you already know I’m vegetarian, so getting decent food on the plane is complicated. Plane food is usually pretty average, and airport options are usually fast and greasy. 

Hacks: There are a couple of things I’ve been trying out to solve this. The first? Carry my own food. Whether it’s healthy, all-natural muesli or protein bars, eggs I’ve pre-boiled myself, or a sandwich I’ve made and packaged up to take with me. None of the flight crew mind if you pull out your own snacks, and as long as it doesn’t involve trying to get liquids through security, you’ll be ok. A quick note on this – check before you try to get things like yoghurt or cans of food through security checks or you’ll have your carefully chosen food confiscated! 

Second: managing those business dinners and low points of the day when you’re jetlagged and just want something to snack on. I find the hardest part of business meals is the bread. By the time we sit down to eat, I’m usually starving. It’s later than I would normally eat, and I’m ready to eat the plate in front of me. So when that warm delicious bread is put down before me, I see my hand reaching out for it. I’ve asked my nutritionist about this as it’s something I want to solve. Filling up on white crunchy steaming hot bread seems like a great idea at the time, but five minutes later I regret it as I realise it had little of the nutritional value I need to keep going.

Apparently when we’re tired, our bodies and minds crave these types of simple sugars – even if we don’t eat them when we’re home. This is exacerbated with the type of exhaustion that comes from jetlag.

In an attempt to win the battle of Mina vs. Bread, I will firmly say no to the bread, or happily offer it to others, hoping that the tempting basket remains on the other side of the table away from my outstretched arm. I will drink water whenever I’m tempted by the bread (see hydration above!) and if everyone is ordering a starter, will get a salad or a soup to assuage my onslaught of hunger pangs and try to start to correct my blood sugar imbalance.

Usually as long as I can get through that first bit of the meal and get some food into me, I start making better food decisions.

A quick note – for me it’s the bread element of the carbs I need to steer clear of as I fill up on them rather than “real” food. For others it’s big bowls of pasta or chips – a highly tempting fuel but lacking the important nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to help your body adjust to new timezones and manage the stress of travel.

3. Sleep

This is really hard. Jetlag makes going to sleep tough and often waking up even tougher. 

Hacks: I religiously use my alarm clock to wake up, and always always leave the curtains open – even just a bit. It helps me to see where I am when I first open my eyes, and in a lot of places – watch the earth waking up. I rarely snooze, preferring to grab a pillow and spend a few minutes catching up on the news before emerging from the warmth of my bed to go training (see below).

For going to sleep – I make sure I keep to the pre-sleep routines I have at home. Whether it’s reading my book, listening to my meditation (I use Headspace) or doing my stretching (I use RomWod), I keep to it religiously. Helps to regain some semblance of normality at the end of the day, and get my mind to start the process of unwinding and preparing for sleep.

4. Training

One of the hardest things to manage on the road is training. I always travel for a purpose – meetings, conferences, speeches. This means long days of work that often start late and last well into dinner if I’m not careful.

Hacks: Careful is the operative word here. It’s really easy to get sidetracked by a jam-packed schedule that leaves no time to get to the gym or out for a run, swim, bike or cross training session. The only cure I’ve found for this is planning. 

Before leaving home, I check the gym. Most hotels have some form of gym these days, and knowing what and where that is (including opening hours!) is helpful in overcoming that initial hesitation of getting there. Removing all barriers to training when on the road is critical!

I also look online to find local run routes. You can find these by Googling “good run routes in xx” or some other simple search term. There’s also networks like Strava which have local options trodden by those who live there. In either case, running gives me an opportunity to get out and explore. As long as I have a local sim card and Google Maps, I can’t get lost – and I can find a whole lot more to see than I would if I kept my eyes shut and my head on my pillow!

Where I’m worried about my safety, the weather, or the air quality, I’ll stay in the gym on the treadmill. Not exactly so specific to my outdoors event, but better than nothing. My coach told me once – even if you don’t get your whole session in, or a perfect workout completed, you’ve done more than you would have if you’d done nothing.

I remember that every day I’m on the road.

Oh and yes – at the very least it’s easy to get in a bodyweight workout in your room – some core work on the floor just using a towel from the bathroom, some hip and glute strengthening work in your bare feet, and some arms using just a chair to do your dips. To supplement, I’ll often take my TRX bands and some therabands to use in case I want some toys to make life more variable, but I always have a few tricks up my sleeve. 

And always, always I remember one thing: #noexcuses