Van life, and any extended travel, offers some awesome opportunities for training, whether you are a runner, hiker, climber, or BASE jumper (because let’s be honest, everyone has stood at the edge of a cliff or tall building and wondered what it would be like to leap into the void with just a squirrel suit). But being on the road poses some challenges which, while easily remedied, can create hang-ups and injuries if not addressed. While there are a huge range of outdoor sports practiced by home-based athletes and van-lifers alike, I will focus here on running, as it is my first love and area of expertise. That being said, many of these principles and tips translate over to every sport, so don’t leave just yet, you rock rats!
It may sound pretty obvious, but sleep and nutrition are super important for good recovery from any rigorous training, and are really easy to eschew on long hauls. Driving until very late or all night, dining on Snicker’s, milkshakes and other convenience store delicacies, and sitting squarely on your ass for ten hours at a time are great ways to make your body very unhappy. Every once and a while these situations are unavoidable, but do your very best not to make them a habit. Shoot for setting aside 9 hours for stopping to sleep, so that you have time after you stop and in the morning to do your thing and still get enough shut-eye.
Not every camper rig has a fancy built-in stove and fridge, but that shouldn’t stop you from cooking up a gourmet feast while abroad. Carrying nutritious ingredients such as fresh fruits and vegetables or cuts of meat doesn’t have to require a cooler or a fridge if you don’t have one. Stock up before any forays into really remote areas or long through-hikes, but for the most part you won’t be too far from a grocery store and can buy perishables the day of or before you need. I’ve got a dual-burner Coleman camp stove that runs off small propane tanks you can get at most gas stations and any outdoor store, and it works better than my stove top at home. Plus, there’s a unique sense of awesomeness sitting down to a plate of seared salmon and roasted veggies in some primeval forest hundreds miles from the nearest McDonald’s.
Here’s some of the recovery tools and gear I always travel with:
- Foam roller
- Rubber ice bag— you can always get ice from a gas station or your cooler, if you need it, and this is a great way to carry it around for hours afterwards without leaking and leaving everything you own soaking wet
- Lacrosse ball. Your very own trigger point self-massage.
- The Stick
- Kinesiology tape. Learn how to use it. Mueller Tape works the best. It can be really helpful for some nagging injuries, and works better than moleskin for blisters.
- Any vitamins or supplements you take. I will never take a multivitamin, the body isn’t designed to use a mega-dose of every nutrient known to mankind, but I take an iron supplement and fish oil every day.
- A watch. I have a GPS watch, but only use it for workouts and tempos, so I don’t drive myself crazy trying to push it on easy runs. Just a simple Timex will do.
- Compression socks. Not sure how much these actually help recovery, but they are great of running in cold weather to keeps those legs warm.
- I always make sure I have gloves. This isn’t a big deal for some people when the temperature gets chilly, but my hands quickly turn into painful, throbbing icicles when the thermometer drops below 45 degrees.
- Rain jacket. I don’t mind running in the rain when it’s warm, but it sure does make a 40 degree downpour much more bearable.
More than once, I’ve acquired some nasty nagging little injuries from the unavoidable tightness that comes from sitting in one spot for an extended period of time. There are a couple of trouble spots that are common than others, and I’ll address each one below and what to do about them.
- The classic: Runner’s knee
- Symptom: sudden or gradual pain on around the edge of the kneecap
- How to Fix it: Most likely, all that sitting has shut off your stabilizing muscles in your hip, causing your knees to buckle inward as you run. Take breaks throughout the day and do sets of 20 clam shells. To help make sure the correct muscles are firing, touch the side of your hip with your fingers as you do the exercises. Any hip stabilizing exercises will also help to prevent this, such as single-leg squats
- IT band syndrom
- Symptoms: nagging or sharp pain on the lateral (outer) side of your knee
- How to fix it: the cause again here is probably the same as what is described above, just manifesting itself in different ways. Make sure to do those hip stabilizing exercises, but it’s also important for this to keep everything in those quads and hips from being tight. Make it a priority to stretch the hip flexors, as they are the first thing that will tighten up and can put strain on your quads and, consequently, your knees. I ALWAYS make sure to stretch hip flexors and quads throughout the day when I’m doing a long stint of driving.
- Lower back pain/Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
- No matter what you do, if you sit for a long time, you are going to shift more weight to one side of your body. The uneven strain can get the muscles in your lower back really tight on one side. Take your lacrosse ball and roll on it up and down both sides of your spine, spending extra time on the areas that are super tight. You don’t want things to get so tight that it messes with your sacroiliac joint, the intricate network of ligaments between your pelvis and sacrum at the base of your spine. I always lay down and stretch my knee across my chest after sitting for a while, driving or not. Many times I’ll get a nice pop that lets me know my sacrum is once again moving as it should.