They say that they best way to see a new city is by foot, so what better way to do that than by signing up to run a race somewhere new? A few years ago, I decided to use races as an excuse to see the world, and have traveled to three international races, and one here in the United States. I discovered my new favorite city, Vancouver, when I traveled to the SeaWheeze Half Marathon. I also learned at the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya that that running alongside wild animals is as scary and as exhilarating as it sounds.
But traveling for a race has its challenges, especially when it comes down to what goes in your suitcase. Ultimately, you need to pack all of your race day essentials, right down to the very last gel. At the same time, you need to bring anything else you might need to explore the city.
Before I get into all the specific items you need to pack, here's an important piece of advice: Pack everything you might need—right down to the hair tie—in your carry-on luggage. Be prepared to pack both a carry-on and a checked bag if you need the extra space for anything you won't need on your run. Why? Imagine this: You’ve been training for months, and you have your perfectly broken-in running shoes packed neatly in your checked luggage—and when you land in your race city, you learn that your bag didn't make it there with the rest of your flight. Now you have to face the starting line in brand-new running shoes, making you prone to blisters,
Besides your clothes and shoes, here's a quick rundown of what to pack, including what you might overlook, so you can be sure to have a stress-free race (and vacation).
Comfortable walking shoes
In addition to your race sneaks, you’ll need a comfortable, supportive pair of kicks that you can wear around town. You don’t want to suffer through your race with sore arches and achy legs because you were stuck with unsupportive shoes in the days leading up to the race. You might not want to bring your high heels at all—no matter how comfortable they are—but you could benefit from podiatrist-recommended sandals and fashion sneakers.
Wrestling into a pair of compression socks can feel like a workout in and of itself, but after your race, you’re going to want to put in the extra effort to slide them on your feet. A study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that runners who wore compression socks in the 48 hours following a marathon performed better on a treadmill test than those who didn’t, which means that the sock-wearing runners had improved functional recovery. Additionally, since you’ll likely be in a car or cramped into an airplane to get to and from your race, you could benefit from the increased circulation. This pair from Vitalsox ($20-$35; amazon.com) covers your entire foot up to beneath your knee, and comes in a host of vibrant colors.
An empty water bottle
It’s vital to stay hydrated in the days leading up to and after your race—but you already knew that. If you’re traveling by air, you can bring an empty water bottle with you and fill it up with water after you get through security. Beyond the flight, carry your water bottle with you everywhere.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that the low humidity levels in an airplan cabin (usually below 20%) can cause dehydration—but externally only. So while your skin and eyes may feel dry and itchy, there is no risk to your health. But if you do feel dehydrated, it’s probably because you’re not drinking enough water in the first place.
The fuel you need for your race
You spent months training for your big race and found the type of nutrition that works perfectly for you, so you want to make sure you’re equipped with what you need. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to find your favorite gels where you’re going (especially if you’re flying internationally or to a remote location).
Pack nutritious bites that you’re used to eating leading up to a big training run, as well as the foods you would like to eat the morning of the race. You shouldn’t change anything about your established routine for race day, so be sure to have the type of food that you can stomach. Having healthy snacks on hand are also useful for long plane rides or car drives when snack choices may otherwise be less-than-stellar. You can store these in your hotel room or your bag for easy access to nutrition while you’re on-the-go.
Gear for all the weather possibilities
Forecast says no rain? Great! Pack a raincoat anyway. You never know what Mother Nature will do on race day (or the days leading up to it), and you should pack anything you might need to make your trip as seamless as it can be. Overpacking is O.K.—for this one time in your life, do not feel guilty for packing too much for your race.
Eye mask and ear plugs
While you might not sleep too well the night before a race anyway, take precautions to make sure that nothing will disrupt the rest you do get. You won't know until you show up whether your hotel room faces the quiet courtyard or the noisy street, or if the guests down the hall will be having a rowdy party. (When I raced in Kenya, there were tree monkeys screaming outside my window throughout the night).
Foam roller and/or lacrosse ball
If you’re also bringing checked luggage, packing a foam roller is much easier than you might think. If you have one that is hollow, like this one from TriggerPoint ($40; amazon.com), you can stuff your clothes inside and not lose too much space in your bag.
You’ll want to be foam rolling in the days leading up to your race and immediately following it. Try these 5 foam foller moves that prevent pain and injury to make sure you stay healthy for race day.