“Argh. I can’t believe I forgot my ______!” (Insert watch, hat, BodyGlide or some other race day essential). Avoid this scenario with our packing list template, plus tips and to-do’s for traveling to races.
It seems inevitable that we will always forget something – sometimes something very trivial and other times something very important – when going on a trip. Even if we make a list, we may forget to include something. So I have tried to make a list so you won’t have to, along with some helpful hints about not just what to pack, but how.
This list is not meant to be comprehensive. Rather, it is meant to identify the most crucial and vitally necessary items you will need to bring to your event, and specifically to the starting line.
Before race day: plan for your trip
- Pack a lunch and snacks for the flight, drive and/or both. It is important not to skip a meal, especially in the final days before your event. This is particularly important if you have a long flight or an early flight where you might be tempted to skip breakfast.
- Pack a reusable water bottle. Whether you can’t get more than 4 oz. through airport security, you should sip on H2O during your trip — especially in dry airplane air.
- Wear local stuff, such as hats or shirts from your favorite local team or favorite road race. Let people know where you are from and represent your home town! These also make great conversation starters at the race expo, hotel, sightseeing, as well as during the race itself. On a side note, be sociable and say hello to other runners throughout race weekend. At a race, everybody is your friend. It is like a big extended family.
Pack your carry-on luggage with foresight
The chances that the airline would lose your bag with your race gear are remote – but why risk it? Pack the following in your carry-on luggage:
- Socks (tuck into shoes)
- Race shirt/singlet
- Race information packet, including number pick-up information
- Lunch (see above)
What to bring or wear to the start line (the bare minimum):
- Running socks (wicking, not cotton)
- Singlet representing your club, team, or hometown
- Race number and pins (pin race number to singlet or shorts the night before)
- Timing chip, if applicable (lace into running shoes the night before)
- Throwaway T-shirt, sweatshirt, or garbage bag
- Energy gels or bars
Other items to consider taking to the start line on race day:
- Hat (for sun, cold, or rain)
- Energy gels or bars
- Water/Sports drink with water bottle, belt, or pack
- Body Glide (to prevent chafing)
- Long- or short-sleeved running shirt (to wear under singlet if it is cold)
Put these post-race essentials in your “stash” bag to be checked, if the race provides it:
- Dry t-shirt/top and sports bra
- Dry socks
- Food you know you can tolerate, e.g., banana, bagel, nuts, Fig Newtons, cookies
The night before:
Keep one small- to medium-sized bag reserved for race day. As you pack before your trip, and as you pick up your bib number and other items, put the race day essentials (and only these items) into that bag. On race morning, no matter how groggy or tired you are, you will know that everything you need is in that one bag and you will not waste time or energy looking for, say, your sunglasses or, eek!, your bib. You can just pick up the bag and go. You will also lessen the risk of forgetting something.
At the start:
Even if the forecast predicts a warm day, it may be quite chilly as you wait at the starting line and even for the first few miles. This is why I recommend bringing a t-shirt or sweatshirt that you won’t mind throwing away once the race starts or a few miles into the race. A large garbage bag with holes for your head and arms is a great alternative and is considered quite fashionable at marathons.
Take this attitude and veteran’s racing knowledge into the race:
Don’t let race day adrenaline or race day nerves get the better of you. Stay relaxed at the start and run the first few miles very easily and slowly – even more slowly than what you think feels comfortable. Don’t line up too close to the front and don’t let the runners around you influence your pace. Run your own race.
When it comes to hydration, be ready to adjust to the conditions. If it is hot, humid, or both, try to drink more, but if the weather is cool and dry, you will not need as much. Let your thirst and your best judgment be your guide. Do not subscribe to a rigid formula, such as two cups at each fluid station, as the conditions and your own physiology may warrant a different strategy. If you miss a fluid station, don’t panic – there will be another one soon.
At the finish:
Plan ahead for your post-race. Put a dry shirt and dry socks into the bag you check at the start. Continue drinking and find something to eat, preferably “real food” high in carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients that is easy to digest, such as a bagel, a banana, nuts, some Fig Newtons or a yogurt. Try to find ice for your legs and get a massage.
Be Prepared To Be Flexible
Although it may be tempting to plan days in advance exactly what you will wear, drink, eat, etc., before, during, and after the race, and even if you have followed the lists above to the letter, fate may have other ideas. That is why I tell my runners to Be Prepared To Be Flexible. Have backup plans if the weather, course, lines, race logistics or other factors do not work exactly as you hoped or expected. But part of being flexible is also not flipping out if something does not go quite right. If you forget a shirt, or a hat, or your favorite gels, brush it off and make do without it (or buy a replacement at the race expo). Staying relaxed and remembering to have fun will get you to the finish line more assuredly than that silly baseball hat.