How To Pack When Traveling to a Race


Tomorrow I depart for Boston, which means today is packing day. Packing my gear bag for race day is easily the most important part of my packing job for this coming weekend. Over the last few years I’ve traveled to quite a few races, and I’ve made my share of mistakes, so my race gear packing routine has been tightened by lots of trial and too much error:

  • When I traveled to Florida for my marathon, I put my energy gels in an outside zippered pocket on my checked luggage because I did not want to be hassled going through security with them in my carry-on. I used a TSA approved lock on the pocket, and I thought that would be enough. It wasn’t. At some point during the journey my luggage was crushed in a door, and the lock was ripped off. The compartment came unzipped, and my gels went bye-bye. Since I didn’t notice their absence early enough to replace them, I had to run the race without them, adding a layer of stress that I frankly could have done without for my first (and so far only) full marathon day. Lesson learned.
  • For one of our Philadelphia races, Thing 1 forgot to pack a key piece of her equipment, which she didn’t notice until 6 am the morning of the race. She wound up running a half marathon in a regular under-wire bra, rather than a far more comfortable sports bra. There was chaffing. Lesson learned.
  • I did a race in DC that wound up being in the cold drizzle, but I had forgotten to pack an outer shell. Lesson learned.
  • The Hub forgot to bring Glide to a hot, mid-summer half. Nipple chaffing is a real thing, people. Lesson learned.

I’ve learned that it is always better to pack a bit more than you may need than it is to pack too little, but as long as you catch your mistake the day before, you can usually buy what you need at the expo, though at a premium that I see as a Tax on Being Stupid. I have paid Stupid Tax for socks, belts, a running raincoat for Thing 1, and Glide.

This time, I aim to get it right. Here’s what I’ve put in my race weekend bag:

  • The shoes I’ve been training in. Though the expo is likely to feature lots of awesome new shoe styles, only a fool tackles race day in footwear that hasn’t been proven in training runs.
  • An outer shell. The forecast doesn’t call for rain, but I’ll be in Boston…and even in cities less known for their fickle weather, the forecast could change between when you pack and when you run.
  • Two different running outfits: one with shorts and a tank, and the other with capri-length pants and a tee-shirt. Though it is forecast to be warm at race time, indicating the shorter gear, that too may change. Also, in case you don’t know this, never run a half in the free event shirt or other clothing that you haven’t already used successfully. Like shoes, you want your gear to be tested and proven comfortable.
  • Two sports bras. I may decide to do a short run Saturday to stay loose, and I don’t want to then run Sunday in a sweaty bra (or damp, if I tried to wash it in the hotel sink).
  • Two pairs of socks (same as above)
  • Three gel packs. I probably only need one, maybe two, but I would prefer to have leftovers.
  • One recovery protein bar. Sometimes the finish line food just isn’t for me.
  • My running sunglasses.
  • A running belt which will hold my gels, my phone, and my bib.
  • Earbuds.
  • Glide, because chaffing is for amateurs.
  • Eos lip balm.
  • A few pony tail holders.
  • My runner id bracelet. I don’t really talk about it here (or anywhere) often, but I have a minor heart defect. This bracelet provides a phone number to call to get my medical data as well as contact info for The Hub. If anything terrible should happen, I want the first responders to have access to that information, and I’m not comfortable relying on the stuffed scrawled on the back of my bib for that.

I’m also bringing my phone loaded with running tunes and tracking apps, of course, but that won’t go in the gear bag. I will also probably throw a few small ziplock bags in there to protect my phone in case of rain day precipitation and a tube of NUUN tablets.

There are a few things I’m not bringing that I feel I should mention, as you may want to bring them to your own races:

  • My bulky training belt that holds water bottles. Though I bring water on my long runs, I am not going to do that race day. Those bottles add unnecessary weight when I think I can trust the race organizers to provide water. This is a calculated risk. I ran a race once where the volunteers didn’t show up for the later water stations, and the runners had to pour their own water, if and when we could find it. I hope that doesn’t happen Sunday.
  • Sunscreen. I hate running with sunscreen on. When I start sweating sunscreen, it makes my eyes sting. I don’t think the sun will be too bad during the run, which starts at 7:30. For races that start later in the day, though, it might be necessary.
  • A fun headband. Yeah, I want to feel pretty when I’m running, but I’ve never found one that stayed on my head past the third mile.
  • Registration forms, printed and signed. I’ve brought those with me to other races, but I haven’t been provided one for this event.

Now, the gear you bring may vary depending on the conditions you plan to run in. Maybe you need long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, or even a running jacket. Maybe you might want or need a hat or visor. Maybe the event calls for running in costume. The important thing is to put some thought into the conditions of the specific race and then pack accordingly.

And know that whatever you do, you’ll probably wind up picking something you forgot up at the Expo, but that’s OK, Stupid Tax and all. That’s in part what the expo is there for!

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