By guest author Lani Teshima, MLIS. Tech writer, copy editor, marathoner, traveler.
Like us, many of you love to combine your twin passions for running and travel. But with all the training that goes into preparing for race day, you’d rather not fret over your packing list. So we asked RaceRaves member and experienced traveling runner (or is that running traveler?) Lani Teshima for her tips & tricks on how to pack for a destination race weekend. Whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned travel runner, Lani’s five handy tips take the stress out of packing so you can focus your energy where it belongs — on the race itself.
Tip #1: Put all your race gear in your carry-on
The whole point of your trip is the race, and nothing will ruin your racecation faster than having the airlines lose your checked bag with all your race gear! Even if they eventually find it and return it to you, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it in time for the race. And it’s not worth the stress.
A packing list for your carry-on:
- All your race clothing: Set out your race-day wardrobe on your bed or the floor and check it from head to toe. Don’t forget things like the underwear you’ll wear for your race.
- Accessories: If you plan to race with things like earphones, race belt, watch or sunglasses, add these to your pile of clothes. To keep everything together, pack these into a gallon-sized reclosable plastic bag (unless you plan to wear them on your flight).
- Pack a small amount of medication that you may take during races. Medical experts recommend sticking to acetaminophen (Tylenol) for running; you can carry this in a travel-size container (just make sure it’s in an original travel pack or labeled clearly in your tiny reclosable baggy).
- If it’s going to be hot, you might also consider electrolyte tablets to replenish salt lost through sweating and to prevent cramping.
- If you’re used to a certain brand or flavor of fuel during a race, take it with you. Larger races with big expos will have pop-up stores that sell race fuel, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have your preferred flavor. (Editor’s note: And we don’t recommend trying anything new on race day!)
- Bonus Tip: If you’re taking gels with you, tuck them into your 3-1-1 toiletry kit — technically they’re liquids!
- Race details: These days, a lot of people carry all their information on their smartphones. But take a paper copy as well listing the location and hours of the race expo with directions, in case you run into technical issues with your phone or you don’t have good cell reception. Keep this information together with your flight and hotel information.
Tip #2: Try to pack as little as possible
There are entire books and websites devoted to how to travel lightly, but if your trip is focused on your race, you don’t need a whole lot more than your race gear. Focus on the essentials; it’s possible to travel with just your carry-on, and this will save a lot of time and money and allow you to use public transportation at your destination.
There’s no reason to carry full-size versions of your toiletries (which, being larger than a 3-ounce bottle, would require checking in) or a completely different set of outfits with extra pairs of shoes to wear each day.
The one item that takes up a lot of room in your luggage is shoes. Consider wearing your race shoes to travel in; that by itself will save a lot of space. You can always pack lighter footwear and switch to it at your destination so you can let your race shoes “rest” until race morning.
Bonus Tip: Plan to wear your race shirt (or race souvenir gear from the expo) as part of your weekend wardrobe, and that’s one less piece of clothing you have to pack!
Tip #3: Pay attention to the weather forecast
Race mornings can be chilly, so you may want to pack some pre-race throwaways like old sweats. One easily packable item is a mylar/foil space blanket. Some races give away space blankets, usually at the finish line; fold these up and save them for your next race. If you have older sweats or sweaters, you can wear them on race morning and throw them away right before the race starts. Some races, like the Walt Disney World Marathon, collect these items of clothing to donate to a local shelter.
Speaking of the WDW Marathon, this year an unexpected cold front came through during race weekend, catching a lot of participants unprepared. Many people wound up purchasing cold-weather gear at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). Although these make great souvenirs, runners could’ve saved a few bucks if they’d packed their gloves, knit hats and tights in their carry-on.
Bonus Tip: Don’t just check the weather for your race. Keep an eye out for any unexpected weather changes that might affect your travel, like the weather at your connecting flight’s airport. And if you’re planning on swooping in a day before the race and can’t afford flight delays, consider paying a little more for a nonstop flight.
Consider wearing an ID tag (a popular one for runners is the Road ID tag, which you can wear as a dog tag, wristband, or on your shoelaces). Should anything happen during your trip, you want emergency personnel to be able to identify immediately who you are and who to contact.
You should also complete the emergency info on the back of your race bib. Without this info, and in case of a medical emergency when you cannot respond, medical personnel will not have a way to find out who to contact. This is true even if you have friends who are in the same race as you, since they might not be nearby to help.
Tip #5: Pack those handy dandies
There are some items you can pack that take up almost no room, but which will really make life easier on your destination race travels. These three regular household items are amazingly convenient:
- Shower caps: double as shoe covers. Any extra shoes or flip-flops you pack in your bag, put a shower cap around their soles. This keeps dirt out of your bag, lets the shoes continue to breathe, and doesn’t take up any more room (as a shoe bag would).
- Extra-large garbage bags. Wear them and they will cut down on the wind or give you a place to sit on the ground before a race. Just poke a hole for your head (and maybe your arms). Instant windbreaker!
- Ziploc bags in various sizes:
- Most snack-size bags are large enough to fit smartphones. Unless you have a water-resistant model, keeping it in a snack bag will prevent it from getting wet from your sweat if you carry it during your race. Snack-size bags are also good for holding things like Tylenol.
- Use gallon-size bags to store your stinky, sweaty race gear after you’re done. Just roll your gear into small bundles when you put it in the resealable bag, and squish the bag down to burp all the extra air out. This will keep your bag from smelling like a gym locker, too. You can also use a gallon-size bag to keep dirty socks and underwear separated from the rest of your clothes.
- If you’re able to find two-gallon storage baggies, these work great for packing clothes (take them for both clean and dirty clothes, but use a marker to identify which bag contains what). Just make sure to squish these down and burp them before sealing, to keep things tight and compact in your carry-on.
- You can always use a quart-size bag as your 3-1-1 toiletry bag for your flight.
Consider packing these other handy items as well:
- For longer flights, wear compression socks to help keep the blood circulating in your legs (and make sure to stand up periodically, as well as do some leg stretches and twirl your ankles while seated).
- A lacrosse ball makes a handy (and easily packable, if painful) massage tool.
How to start packing?
Well before your trip, lay out the bag you plan on using and, as you remember, pack any race-day items you won’t need before your trip. You’ll still go through everything in this bag again as you start to actually pack your luggage, but this is a practical way to reduce your chances of forgetting something. If you wind up with so much stuff that it won’t all fit in your carry-on, lay everything out on your bed and make sure you aren’t taking extras that are unnecessary (for example, if you’re taking a windbreaker and a cap, leave the umbrella at home). Just remember: you’re an adult with a credit card. If you find you forgot something important, you should be able to pick it up at your destination.
Happy travels and happy running!
(Updated June 19, 2019; originally published April 24, 2018.)
About our guest contributor
Lani Teshima has been running off and on for decades, but has really taken to running in the past six years, completing 13 half marathons, 7 marathons, a 50K, and South Africa’s famed Comrades Marathon (90K) last year. This year, she’s upped the mileage even more, with a 24-hour race and four 50ks. Most of them are trail races these days, although she returned to run the Boston Marathon this year for the third time (including last year, where runners battled hypothermia in cold, rainy and windy conditions — so she knows a thing or two about being prepared!). When she’s not running or traveling to races, she works as a technical writer for a large software company.
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