Sometimes you sign up for a race, and it’s not exactly close or within driving distance of your house. Great! So you might stay in a hotel, or with friends, or AirBnB. Maybe you are lucky and have family in the area. But traveling for races can be complicated, especially as the distance you have to travel, not only to get there, but as the race distance increases as well. What if you forgot something? Let’s try and prevent that scenario.
I travel a bunch for race, and it’s one of my personal favorite things to do in life; go to new places, see places I’d never see otherwise, trail or road. This could be an hour to hours on a plane. Have a plan in place, and an order to things ahead of time.
Let’s take this situation. You are traveling out to your first half marathon, and it’s a three hour drive away. First off, read read read the race website, know it, love it. Know what will be on course for you and what you will decide to use that the race provides and what you will bring with you instead. Does the race have an expo? Find out who’s there and what you could possible need while there. If you don’t need anything, have a look, but don’t stay on your feet and CERTAINLY don’t buy what you don’t need and don’t use anything from the expo on race day! I see this happen so often, especially with shoes of all things. The shoe brand might be new to you, and it may seem plush when you try them on, but you have no idea how that will feel under you at mile 8! Don’t do it. Expos are useful however because you can oftentimes find something there you may have forgotten. Head to the place you are going to stay for the race first and sort out everything on the floor or bed that you will be using for race day. Bonus points if you made a list and did this practice the week leading up to your race and maybe took a picture to make sure you didn’t actually forget anything. You’re essentially Santa, check you list twice.
A list is always useful, whether you use it or not, more than likely you will remember some of what you put down on paper. Make this list a week before the race. Make sure you can get what you need or have what you need a few days before leaving your home. Get gas in your car a few days before. Know if there are toll roads on your route. Plan 10-15 minutes for every stop in your schedule.
Check the weather, and know the area’s patterns, which if you aren’t traveling too far away most likely will be similar to where you live and bring contingency clothing in case the weather changes for the worse, you won’t regret it. I say this, but you could be well driving up to the mountains and altitude and weather could be far more unpredictable, that’s beyond the scope of this blog post for the moment! A key thing is to bring with you a throw-away poncho or just household garbage bag (the black kind that’s large and in charge!), and a pair of scissors. I’ve randomly needed scissors so often and most places just don’t have a pair laying around. Plastic is a GREAT insulator of heat, so if it’s a rainy start to the race and might even clear up later, don’t freeze at the start line, just wear the bag and toss it at the first aid station you are warm. Sometimes I bring a small grocery bag (sorry California) and use it under my hat to keep my head warm when I don’t want to wear a soaked beanie. Easy! Use the scissors to cut to you size and liking.
If your drive is longer than say 2 hours, make it a point to stop and shake the legs out every hour or so and stretch. Fluid can pool in the legs of some athletes. Toss on a pair of compression socks/sleeves. And HYDRATE! It’s so easy for time to escape when traveling. Bring a water bottle you are familiar with and make sure you have goals of how much to consume over the trip. Travel is not an excuse for you to become dehydrated. This should go without saying, but make sure you have reservations for your place of temporary residence long before you arrive and make sure it’s non-smoking if you’re not into that sort of thing. Most athletes aren’t smokers so I mention it did happen to me…a smoker room. Not fun.
Make sure you know race day parking and if you get a morning bag to put your things in ahead of time. Plan to be at the race at least 15 minutes before you think you need to be there. This is usual race day protocol, but you traveled too far to be late for your event.
More than likely you will not get a shower after the race and will most likely drive home afterwards. Have some wipes for yourself to clean off if you wish, and definitely bring another change of clothes. I suggest loose fitting clothes as your body will mostly likely be swollen from your hard efforts of the day. If it’s a new place, I usually like to get to the destination early or stay later just to see some of the sites. Check out the town’s website and get an idea of what you’d like to do when beforehand.
In a car, you can usually bring whatever you want, however much of it you want. There are no security lines, no baggage fees…But what if your race is far away, and you need to fly to get there? Things get far more complicated, but it doesn’t have to be stressful! New situation: you have a 50k trail race out in the desert out west. You’re from the east coast. There are a lot of things to consider even if you’ve done 50ks before. I will say, the more experience you have with a race distance, the easier things become, but the easier it will be for you to forget simple things.
The east coast is muggy, hot, and humid a lot of the time during the year, temperatures generally don’t vary much between day and nighttime. The desert is dry and hot, and the temperatures fluctuate drastically between day and night. Know the climate you will be presented with ahead of time and prepare your outfits for it. Arm sleeves or a light jacket or vest might be needed and then shed later in a drop bag, or if you won’t have access to drop bags or crew (and this is more specific to trail ultras here), something light you can carry that won’t bother you. Check your forecast and weather! Watch for patterns. Look up data on the internet for the area in past years, climate data is free and easily found.
Number one rule. DO NOT LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT YOUR ID OR PASSPORT.
Generally I do not advise that those traveling by air just bring a carry-on bag, as things become way more complicated with liquids, and things they don’t want carried on planes, not to mention lack of space and perhaps sacrificing what you would have brought if you had space potentially making your race more uncomfortable in the long run. Hah, long run. See what I did there? No? Anyway, I suggest footing the bill of the checked bag for 1) space, and 2) not worrying about what might not make it past TSA security. I typically will organize a suitcase with all race gear a few days before (not allowed to use them on any last minute runs) to one side. Bring more clothes than you think you will need. As above, lists are so important. Make one with the aid stations and how you are going to go through the race with the stuff you have. The stuff you have already. Nothing new! Unless you forgot something. Look up local running stores in the place you are heading to in case there is no expo or in case your bag gets lost. This is the only advantage of just having a carry-on that I can think of is you know your bag probably won’t get lost (unless there is an overwhelming number of bags already in the overhead in which then they will make you check you carry on anyway). What I usually do is check my main bag and pack essentials I know I can’t race without in my carry-on bag.
Make sure you have transportation arranged before you land at your destination. Rental car? Cool. Lyft? Also cool. Family or friends driving you? Make sure you have all their contact info. Don’t plan on all flights landing at the right times either, planes are late too sometimes. Make sure you make flight arrangements with enough cushion time that it won’t in any way affect your race! Get there a day ahead of time to prevent this, in the least. Research ahead of time how long it will take to get from the place you are stay to the race location. Don’t look at the miles, look at the time it will take. Time and miles are not always the same thing. Mountain races will slow your travel time down a lot.
Food. This is a big one. You can do you, but prepared to have to eat out and eat quick at times, especially in airports, which by the way if traveling by plane, you should be bringing an empty water bottle through security! Never an excuse to not stay hydrated. It’s very difficult to find healthy places in airports. Plan to eat ahead of your flights and make plans to eat after your flight or bring some food with you on the plane if the ride is a long one. If you are renting out an AirBnB, you might have access to a kitchen. Hit up the old grocery down the street from where you are staying and do you. If you’re lazy like me, find a restaurant that’s local that’s fairly healthy and have your meal made for you. There is always a risk with this and your GI system not playing well. Knock on wood, I have yet to have an issue. Plan out how it will work best for you. You are the racer. You make the rules here.
A few last tips. If you are on a plane and it’s a long flight, over 90 minutes, make sure you get up and stretch. Yes, it may seem awkward as they try and squeeze us in smaller and smaller spaces (you can upgrade for 3 more whole inches of leg room for $25!!!), but it really is important. Do ankle swirlies, and if you’re short like me, you can get away with lifting your legs up to your chest without bothering anyone beside you (though bonus points if you are traveling with someone you know who happens to be in the seat next to you and can bother them without care), as compression can only help so much. Small calf raises will also help. Curl your toes and extend them. DRINK WATER. Have I mentioned staying hydrated? Ok. Just so we’re clear. Set an alarm to do these things at a regular interval so if you end up sleeping, you are still doing what you need to do.
Otherwise, have fun, explore the new area, see new things, take lots of pictures. It’s very exciting seeing new places especially through racing. If you are traveling with others, communication is key, don’t assume they know what you have planned. Hope this lil blog helps out and hit me up with any questions down below!