The other day I realised that in the last two years I have spent over ten weeks staying in various hotels, in both the UK and South America. Furthermore, given that I had been trying to accumulate as many miles as I could for the Chile Challenge, I managed to spend a fair bit of that time occupying their various gyms and training facilities, so although I am not quite yet Alan Partridge, I guess I am reasonably well versed in the game of hotel based training.
During the last fortnight I spent time in three different hotels around England for both work and leisure purposes (partly why I have not written on her in a while) and of course made sure I used the gym in each of them; however, I would not say each visit was entirely successful, partly through fault of my own but also due to other guests. So to help others avoid some of the same issues, I thought it was about time I published a quick guide to some of the Do’s and Don’ts of using a hotel’s leisure facilities:
Do – Make the most of the facilities. For me, having a fully equipped gym just metres from my bedroom door is like a kid having their own in-house sweet shop. Yes, my local club also opens at 6am, but realistically how often do I ever get there at that time? Exactly. But in a hotel you have fewer excuses: you are only a few minutes from the changing room, typically have extra time available in avoiding a commute, and (most importantly for a morning session) are likely to have someone making you a decent breakfast afterwards! Even better, you may be able to go more than once per day: in fact during my weeks in Chester and London last year I managed 20 visits in just 12 days, alternating between Groundhog Day 6am morning swims, followed by mid-evening gym time – Cashback!
Don’t – Expect too much from the equipment. It is always hard to guess what you are getting yourself in for when visiting a hotel gym for the first time, so be prepared for anything. Most places seem to describe themselves as ‘Healthclubs’, which can be vague and range from a five star joint with regular members and top of the range equipment to… well something a bit less exciting. Those without members which are purely designed for guests (particularly business focused hotels) tend to have the bare bones stuff they expect the average ad exec to make themselves feel better with when away from their families. Last night for example I was staying in a fairly plush place, but I have more equipment in my own shed than they had in the gym. On the upside there was a hell of a view from the top floor (note clever use of a mirror in the above photo of it), and what was there was in reasonable nick (most likely due to lack of usage). Unlike say, the one I used last week where the bar on the lat pull down machine fell on your head whenever you tried to change the weights! Also bare in mind many visitors will not train regularly so don’t know the unwritten gym rules, like not dropping weights on the floor, and putting them back in the rack after usage, and so on. So plan for the worst, and if the unexpected happens let it be a pleasant surprise!
Do – Bring separate kit bag. Yes might feel a bit OTT turning up for a one night stay with multiple bags, like you are Prince Akeem from Coming to America, but one more bag is always worth it. Why? Drying! Having spent all that time away last year I mastered the art of drying stuff in hotel bathrooms and radiators whilst away for a week at a time, but if you are following the maximisation rule above you need to be training right up to the last morning. This is even more important for one night stands, so to speak. Assuming you have a while between checking out and getting home, the last thing you want is your damp smelly kit from that morning (or even the night before) leaching chlorine or sweat onto your suits, jumpers and whatever else you have had with you. Plastic bags just don’t work. Having a proper kit bag to put it in just works, ok.
Don’t – Forget your kit. You might think the last point I made acts as a reasonable mitigant for this, but I had a real disaster last weekend. I had a carefully planned window between arriving at the hotel and going out for dinner to try out the hotel’s leisure facilities, but like so many best laid plans, it all went wrong. As I changed into my shorts and top I realised I had managed to bring two different right trainers. As in the right trainer from one pair, and the right trainer from a different (but fairly similar looking in a rush) set… Doh! Never one to give up on training I took a gambled that the hotel gym would be fairly quiet (see above) and went in without them. As expected there was only one other guy there, and he was a weights bro who hardly batted an eyelid at the crazy cardio kid who was just in his socks. I guess it is the sort of strange behaviour that lifters expect from us triathletes in general. Funnily enough I did actually get in quite a good session, although I would not recommend the treadmill (I went on in bare feet for extra grip) as the tread was a bit cheap and crap, and without any cushioning my ankles still ached a few days later.
Do – Respect other users in the pool. As I have written here before, I like to swim properly at my gym and expect others to do the same when using the lanes. As a general rule I only swim crawl, but I am conscious that in a hotel pool it is not always possible. Case in point, my hotel from last week (above), where I thought I would get in a cheeky 6am swim session. As soon as I saw the pool I realised this would not be a heavy session, given it was around 10 metres long, and had two jacuzzis at one end. I will leave it to your imagination to picture what a picture of it from above would look like. So I settled in with the other earlybirds for a gentle morning dip. But there it always one. You know the type: balding, all the gear, unnecessarily tight trunks for a hotel, first Porsche in the car park (probably), and so on. I was surprised he forgot his fins. And he decided it would be appropriate to do the splashiest front crawl right through the middle of everyone. Terrible technique, and complete disregard for other users, completely oblivious to the classic English tutting and head shaking going on around him. From a distance it sounded like he was dropping depth charges, and he could probably have located treasure at the bottom of the Pacific Trench, were the pool any more than 1 metre deep. Everyone else gradually got out to escape the waterboarding, although I managed to draw on my open water experience to outlast him, but it kind of put a downer on the session. Anyway, the point is, know your surroundings, and don’t be a selfish bastard for other users.
Don’t – Rely on the free towels. Despite the extra bag you might have with you, no one ever wants to bring their own towel to a hotel if it can be avoided, so most give you one when you get to the gym / pool. Now by all means make the most of them as they are of some use: perhaps to cover small shaving cuts or say, a face cloth for ants. I jest of course, buy they do always seem to be very small, geared more around being used to wipe down machines after use (fair enough), rather than to actually dry you off after a swim. I am not sure if this is to save the hotel money on laundry or some sort of in-joke on me, but every time I wrap myself in it, it reminds me of the scene with the hand towels in Starsky & Hutch…
Do – Get out and about. I know this is aimed at hotel gyms, but staying away from home gives you a fantastic opportunity to explore new parts of the world, specifically by going for a run. Yes, it is not always possible, and a number of my stays last year coincided with a combination of freezing cold and rainy weather with near permanent winter darkness, which is hardly conducive to exploring a new area. But when you can get out it makes it all worth it, as I showed last year with some of my blogs from places like Newquay and Bristol. That said, always take care when swimming in an outdoor pool in the desert – It might be pushing 40 degrees in the afternoon, but chances are it was negative overnight. Last time I tried that it was so cold I turned bright red and looked like I had been sunbathing too long. Or perhaps that tip is a bit too specific…