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Trail Tips

Creatively Desperate Ways to Train While Traveling

Many of us have had training disrupted by travel. While our time and patience might be sacrificed, our active lives don’t have to be.

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“Um, what are you doing?”

I paused, partway down the plane’s aisle, after pushing a 300-pound service cart between rows of idle bodies. When I looked back, one of my fellow flight attendants was leaning against a seat, raising an eyebrow and giving me the same peculiar look the passengers already had.

Once upon a time, I’d heard that the effort it took to push an airplane cart down 140 feet of aisle twice, while flying seven-and-a-half miles above the ground, was equivalent to running a mile. Farfetched? Probably, but as a flight attendant with more time spent above ground than on it, it would be about the only “mile” I’d get in that day, and I was desperate.

I made it only three feet, but just as I was about to resume my seat in the back galley, another idea struck me. In the lavatory, with only about a foot’s width of space between the toilet and the door, I began three sets of 25 squats, in my uniform dress, simultaneously working on my balance whenever turbulence hit.

Many of us have had lives and training disrupted by travel, whether it’s the occasional delayed flight or frequent trips for work. While our time and patience might be sacrificed, our active lives don’t have to be.

Here are several odd tactics trail runners have used to get in their training.

Dodging the Crowd

Ian Sharman, winner of the Leadville Trail 100 in 2013 and 2015 and Head Coach at SharmanUltra.com, has run all over the world and raced in at least 30 countries. When in busy cities with nothing but crowded streets, Sharman uses the mass of people to work on agility and balance, mimicking the challenges of trail running.

“It’s kind of fun as long as you can avoid being annoying and getting in people’s way,” he says. “Speeding up and slowing down, ducking and weaving into small gaps in the crowd—I used to do this on my long weekend runs, and it was usually more enjoyable than taking detours along boring roads next to cars.”

Airport Miles

Fred Woods of Yucaipa, California, travels about once every five weeks for his job at a software company, and has not missed a day of running since January 1, 2015. An avid trail runner who has his sights set on the Nanny Goat 24-hour trail race, in Riverside, California, this May, Woods won’t let anything stop him from getting a run in.

“One night, I was flying into the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and was supposed to arrive about 6:20 p.m.,” he recalls. “However, after delayed connections, being diverted to Dulles Airport and more holding delays, we didn’t land until past 11:30 p.m. I got off the plane quickly, headed for the outside of the terminal and slowly started running, with my computer, backpack, jeans, leather dress shoes and a polo shirt.”

Woods passed the drop-off area and the taxi waiting area, and instead ran to a parking area before doubling back.

“It was about 1.1 miles. I got some strange looks, but nobody stopped me,” he says. “I was glad I was able to keep my running streak alive.”

Elizabeth Back, a priest at Calvary Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky, who travels by air once a month for conferences, utilizes her extended stops in airports in more than one way.

A marathoner who is training for her first trail race this fall, Back once purchased a one-day pass to an airline club and slipped into a roped-off room to execute an entire yoga workout.

“I always brought my yoga mat and learned to never check my luggage so I could change from workouts,” she says.

Additionally, Back has often rented a luggage cart so she could push it up and down the terminal before boarding her flight, and once even recruited another passenger to run stairs through the airport with her during a delay, going until they were drenched with sweat.

Chris Field, a marathoner and trail runner from College Station, Texas, also takes advantage of long layovers. Since founding the Mercy Project, a nonprofit organization working to end child slavery in Ghana, he has flown around 500,000 miles over the past five-and-a-half years.

Once, while waiting for a connection in JFK after an overnight flight from Africa, Field snuck into the back room of a lounge, moved all the chairs to the middle and ran 85 laps around the 25-by-30-foot space, switching directions every 15 laps.

“It was terrible and awesome,” he says. “But there was a beer table right around the corner!”

Related: No Mountains? No Problem. How to Train for Trails in the Heart of the City

Hotel Aerobics

Scott Melchior is on the road five days a week from March to October, and travels up to 150 days a year as a consultant; yet, he manages 30 to 60 miles a week to train for 50Ks.

During a business trip in Connecticut, a massive snowstorm prevented any sort of outdoor training for his upcoming 10-mile trail race. Though he has run a 20-miler on a treadmill before—transitioning from one machine to another every 45 minutes as each automatically shut off—this time he opted for repeats up the 10 flights of the hotel stairs. He had barely begun when a security guard asked if he was a guest of the hotel, and what exactly he was doing in the stairwell.

“I’m not sure he fully grasped that I was sober and of sound mind, because he asked me to return to my room,” he says. “I mean, who actually runs stairs for fun?”

Luckily, Melchior has another effective strength training method: late-night and early-morning one-legged squats and lunges, hugging a hotel ottoman for added weight.

Another devoted trail runner and traveler, Amy Peacock knows all about run-ins with security. A registered nurse in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and a professional-services manager for a medical-record company, she normally travels at least twice per month for work, and about once every three months for trail races.

While training for an Ironman last year, Peacock hooked her TRX—a portable suspension training tool for bodyweight exercises—over her hotel door, determined to get in a workout. Shortly after, a security guard began hassling her through the door to take it down.

“He refused to show his ID through the peep hole, so I was absolutely not taking it down until I was done,” she says. “He actually got belligerent, so I called the front desk to voice my displeasure, and, after he left, it took me all of 10 minutes to finish my workout. I will admit to peeking up and down the hallway when I finally opened the door to see if he was waiting to pounce at me!”

No stairs, treadmills or TRX? No problem. William Steele, the cross-country coach for Wilmington University in Delaware and a traveling logistics coordinator for a construction-equipment company, once used a makeshift “track” loop in a parking garage in Boston to train for the Ugly Mudder, a 7.25-mile trail run in Pennsylvania.

It was 16 degrees, sleeting, snowing and raining all day, and the hotel didn’t have an exercise room,” he says. “I did 40-by-200-meter repeats, timing it out on my watch, and just went for it.”

For added strength workouts, Steele likes to wear his 40-pound backpack while running up the downward escalator, as well doing air squats, lunges, burpees, push-ups, planks and repeat jumps on a hotel chair.

“I don’t usually go for a certain distance while traveling,” he says. I just look for something fun or exciting I can do in a certain amount of time.”