How To: Travel to a Race

I love travel and I enjoy traveling to destination races. If you’re been following along, you’ll see that I run practically everywhere I go and I’ve been all across the country for races. I get a lot of questions about how to travel to a race. Specifically, what runners can and should pack to ensure race-day success is a source of confusion. Here are a few of my best travel tips for runners.

What can I carry on? Tips for air travel.

Bring a small roller or a stick. You can carry on your Stick. You might get some questions from the TSA about the Stick and it’s purpose, but you can bring it in carry on luggage. The travel size Stick is perfect. It fits in standard roll aboard bags and can be placed along the supports in the back of the bag, or on the side of the bag for limited TSA scrutiny. The TSA might ask to see it (and one agent once asked to try it), but generally, it passes without a problem. Another option is a travel sized roller, such as a the Grid travel roller by Trigger Point. The travel Grid roller fits easily in a carry on bag, and is easy to pack around. This one generally results in more questions from the TSA, but putting it in a visible spot in my carry on has resulted in easy passes through security. I use my travel roller to roll out as soon as I get to my destination and again before and after each run. Rolling helps loosen muscles that have tightened from travel.

Gels count as liquids, gels, and aerosols. If you’re flying, they’re subject to the 3-1-1 rules. This means you’ll have to put your gels in your checked baggage, or in a quart size resealable baggie in your carry on. Remember to take it out when passing through security for separate inspection. Chews, and things that are the consistency of gummy bears or jelly beans (think Clif Blocks, Sport Beans) are not a liquid, gel, or aerosol and can be carried normally, as you would any other food. They do not need to be separately inspected.

Body Glide can be carried on separately like deodorant – it isn’t a liquid, gel, or aerosol, so feel free to bring the big stick.

You’re allowed to bring food for your personal consumption. Bring your snacks, race day bars, and any food you like. As long as it doesn’t look like your important protein bars, you’ll be fine through security.

If you’re planning to bring a hydration belt or handheld bottle, make inspection easy for the TSA to speed time at security. Be sure the bottles are empty and separate them from the belt if possible. Remove the caps from the bottles so that it’s clear the bottles are empty. I bag my bottles and caps in a resealable gallon size baggie so that can just grab one bag and toss it in a bin. It also ensures that I don’t lose a cap along the way.

After the race, the easiest way to transport your medal home is around your neck. Just take it off at the security checkpoint and put it in a bin. Think that’s uncool? Wrap your medal in a napkin or sock and place it somewhere accessible in your carry on. If you’ve traveled to a big race and practically everyone in the airport is a runner, you’ll be safe to leave the medal in the carry on. The TSA will be familiar with its size and shape. If you’re traveling from a smaller race, or aren’t sure, remove the medal from the bag and place it in a bin to be separately scanned by the medal detector. Don’t be surprised if the TSA officer asks to see the medal and offers you congratulations. If you’ve earned multiple medals, like during runDisney challenges (Dopey or Goofy), keep your medals separate. A big stack of metal is going to attract TSA attention. Separate the medals into separate wrappings and lay them out in a row in the bin for xray inspection.

General packing tips.

Wear your running shoes. That way, you ensure they make it to the destination with you. Not only are they the most important, they’re also the hardest to replace on short notice in an unfamiliar area.

Before your race, experiment with different combinations of gels, hydration drinks, and  foods. You’ll be in an unfamiliar area and may find yourself without your familiar foods, gels, and drinks. If you have more than one go-to solution for fueling, you’ll be much more likely to find what you need. Believe me, it’s very difficult to find a specific flavor or a particular brand of gel at a small race expo. Know what works for you, and what will do in a pinch.

Bring Immodium or other product for digestive upset. You never know when you might need it.

Bring ear plugs, an eye mask, and a sleeping pill. All hotels aren’t equally quiet or comfortable. Be ready.

Consider wearing compression calf sleeves or socks during travel. Not only will the compression provide relief for stiff legs, but it will lessen lower leg swelling and discomfort. Some also say that wearing compression socks or calf sleeves reduces the risk of blood clots during air travel.

Pack your race day outfit together. I use two gallon resealable baggies for this. I put everything I need for my race in one baggie, label it, and zip it up. Then, I pack a second, back up baggie that includes a second full race outfit and associated accessories. Finally, a pack a third baggie that includes incidentals I might need like a rain shell, or a warmer option. I never assume the weather forecast is right and bring extras. This technique ensures that you have everything you need handy when you need it – and that you don’t have to think about it early in the morning. It’s also especially good for multiple race events, Ragnars, and other overnight relays like Hood to Coast or Reach the Beach. Once you’re done with your race, just pop the sweaty clothes back in the baggie and zip it up. Perfect to avoid contaminating the rest of your luggage.

Be sure to pack something else to wear immediately after the race. While you may use the race’s gear check, not having to sort though all your luggage to find something is a wonderful thing.

Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water during your travel. Pack your own snacks so you don’t have to rely on fatty or salty travel snacks.

If you’re traveling internationally, plan ahead for how you will use your cell phone, charge your devices, and eat your meals.

Bring hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and extra paper towels. Sanitize your hands before eating and use wet wipes to clean your travel area.

If possible, travel to the race location before the actual race. Take the route you will take before the race. Estimate and record how long it takes to get there, get organized, and get ready. Look around. Find landmarks, parking, and other important necessities.

Bring small accessories you wouldn’t mind throwing away in case it’s cooler than anticipated. I buy magic gloves (the stretchy cotton kind) in bulk and toss them once I warm up. I also like to use socks as throw away arm warmers. Get some knee high socks and cut the toes off. Instant arm warmers. Finally, a black trash bag makes a great cape/blanket/seat cover in bad weather. I always have one with me.

Finally, remember that luggage gets lost. Make sure your race day essentials are snug in the overhead bin, or in a bag near you.

Looking for a list of things to bring for a relay, race, or other endurance event? Check out my packing list.

Happy travels!

Planes, Training, and Automobiles

The last month or so has been crazy! I’ve been traveling all over and getting in lots of fabulous fall races. As my whirlwind month winds down, I’m reflecting on the good, the bad, and the training.

It all started the last week in September with the back-to-back races. On Saturday, I ran the West Hartford Relay. The West Hartford Relay is a local event that lets teams of runners run through the pretty neighborhoods is West Hartford. Never one to pass up an opportunity to run and hang out with my running friends, I happily joined team Lululemon Athletica. We had a great time and enjoyed some lovely fall weather. Sunday was the Rock N Roll Providence Half Marathon. I had a great time, got a shiny new PR, and enjoyed Providence. This was the race I had planned as my peak race, so I was thrilled to know that my training was successful. My race went well and I felt fit and strong throughout the race.

The very next weekend I paced the Wineglass Half Marathon in upstate New York. I had an amazing time, met fun new running friends, and drove 12 hours in a 2-day period. I tried Air BnB for the first time (cool, I recommend it), and even ran in an impromptu local 5k.

Columbus Day weekend in Connecticut means Hartford Marathon. Cementing my crazy-lady status with non-running friends, I changed my registration at the expo from half marathon to marathon (!).

Marathon upgrade

I made the change for lots of reasons. Mostly, I just wanted to run the marathon. I had been considering it since I decided to train with a friend running it as her first marathon. I went through the 16/17 mile run with her in my prep for Providence and felt fit. I knew that I could finish the marathon and, in a fit of impulse, signed up for it. I had so much fun that I was probably bordering on manic. I was the runner no one wants to be with at mile 20 (“we’re running a marathon – how amazing is that?!!?!?!?!?!?”). Everything I said and did had lots of extra exclamation points. I joyfully trotted across the finish line and felt so amazing I annoyed those around me (“aren’t marathons amazing!!”) for days to come.

Hartford Marathon 2013 finish

The next week it was off to Portland, Oregon for a work trip. Portland was lovely and a true running city, so I got in lots of miles and some good recovery/training for my next events.

After a few days at home, it was off to Florida for mom’s first half marathon – an adventure and a great experience. I ran a few miles, but mostly walked with mom. I enjoy every moment we spend exercising together and considered all the miles of walking great time on my feet training. I made it home in time to celebrate Halloween and worked on getting organized again.

Halloween dog costume

Last weekend, I ran the Commercial Services by Glass America Half Marathon put on by my friend at Ocean State Multisport. It was my first real fall race, with temperatures in the low 40s and a steady, chilling mist. Having just returned from Florida, I was frozen throughout the race. It was a the first hint that my racing season might be coming to a close. That motivated me to enjoy the race and the New England scenery. As usual, the event was well organized, and carefully planned. The course wound through neighborhoods and farmland, over bridges, and past fields cleared for winter. Gary and his team always do a great job – the volunteers are plentiful and friendly and the race course is well marked and nicely planned. Local police drive the route repeatedly, keeping motorists attentive. I struggled in the race, but had fun and was fairly pleased with my finish. Gary greeted finishers with pizza, fruit, and Kind bars (my favorite!).

For those of you keeping track that’s 7 races in 5 weeks. I admit it, it’s crazy. There’s just one more to go. When I get back from this work trip (yes, I’m on a plane as I write this), I will run the Harrisburg Marathon to close my season. It’s been a great season, but I think I’m ready for some rest, time at home, and a return to normal training.

Ragnar Cape Cod 2013

You know what’s fun? Cruising around in a van with five friends on Cape Cod, one of whom occasionally hops out to run. That’s the basic premise behind Ragnar Relays and I love them!

A few friends thought Ragnar Cape Cod sounded like fun. I was quick to sign up, having loved Hood to Coast. The camaraderie, running fun, and adventure makes an overnight relay totally worth the lack of sleep. We planned and organized, rented vans and a house, and, finally, Ragnar was upon us. I packed using my super awesome Hood to Coast packing list and was ready to run the (slightly cooler) Cape Cod relay. I headed up to our rental house on the Cape the night before and met my team. Though I sort of knew most of the runners, it was pretty much a friend-of-a-friend situation and I had signed up to spend two days in a van with total strangers. Luckily, they were awesome and we became fast friends. Friday morning dawned bright and early, with Van 1 heading up the to start at Hull, MA.

Ragnar Cape Cod Course

It was freezing! We’re talking 45 degrees, cloudy, and 40 mile and hour winds. We underwent our safety check, flag distribution, and safety briefing and it was time for our first runner to start. Everyone else loaded into the van and I drove us to Exchange 1. Excellent. Ragnar was underway. I had 7 miles (which turned out to be 6.4 – the Rag Mag gave an update of the course that didn’t totally match what was online) of “very hard” running ahead of me. It turned out to be an amazing day to run. I loved it. I cruised along at a decent, but conservative, clip and finished my miles in what seemed like no time. I was having a great time!

Ragnar Leg 2

After my run, it was time to hop in the van and cruise around some more. There was singing along with the radio – our van had XM!

Ragnar Fun

Generally, we had a good time and made it to the first major exchange upbeat, happy, and bonded in the way only strangers trapped in a van together can bond. We decided on a trip to a nearby mall and dinner for our first van break. I bought gardening gloves because my hands were freezing. A teammate got some new tights. We were suited up, hydrated, and ready for dinner. A quick stop at a chain restaurant and we were back on the road. My view was pretty much the same.

Ragnar Van

Run two was a night run, so headlamp and vest were required. I suited up and headed out on a run that made our local runner shake his head. Never a good sign. I asked if it was flat and he snorted an evil laugh. Apparently there was some massive hill in the middle of my 6 miles. I got running and the course started going up around mile 2. “This isn’t so bad”, I thought. And then, in the distance, I saw the headlights way, way above me. As I got closer, I heard the steady stream of vans shifting into a lower gear, struggling to get up the hill with the cargo of runners. Let’s just say it isn’t terribly encouraging to know that vans are struggling to get up a hill you’re about to run. In the dark. I think the darkness might have helped. I couldn’t see how high or steep the hill was, only the tiny patch in front of me, so I put my head down and pushed up the hill. I passed a lot of people. Seeing their little blinking lights ahead was highly motivating and I cruised along into a town. After a quick run past some office buildings, my second run was done. Hooray! Time to sleep! Our van decided to head back to the house and sleep in our own (rental) beds and shower. It was a great idea. I plopped down in bed and was asleep right away. I got a whole hour of sleep. Actual, in-a-bed sleep. Then I woke up, took a hot shower, ate an apple, and got back in the van, ready to run.

My last run was supposed to be 5 miles, moderate. I was sore, but not terribly sore, so I trotted along and tried to focus on the rising sun. It was kind of pretty – being in the middle of nowhere and listening to the birds. I came up over a hill, and there was the exchange, 2 miles too early. My first thought was that I had blacked out. No. Not the case. My second thought was that I would just run through. There was no way my team would be there since I was only 20-something minutes into a much longer run. Imagine my surprise when I came up and found my teammate not only there, but ready and excited to run the extra two miles (making his leg 9!) that were added due to the change in exchange. I still don’t know why the exchange was moved, and I was a little sad I didn’t get my full mileage. Now that I’ve just written that I’m thinking – what a weirdo. I was sad to be shorted 2 miles in an overnight relay. I wanted to run more. Clearly I’m a crazy lady. Anyhow, I was overjoyed to be done.

Done with Ragnar

My team made a morning stop at the most amazing French bakery ever. We had what I refer to as the French Food Orgy. We were all so hungry, and so tired, we ate pastry like animals. It was amazing. Before we knew it, it was time to head to the finish line at Provincetown and climb the memorial to the pilgrims. It was a gorgeous day, a well-organized course, and an overall fun adventure. I had an amazing time, met great new friends, and ran a little. If you have 11 friends, two vans, and a weekend, run a Ragnar. It’s an amazing experience!


Ragnar on the Run

I’m writing from Van 1 in the midst of a Ragnar Relay. We are just about done with our second set of runs in Ragnar Cape Cod. A full review will come later, but here’s what I know so far:
– The difference between a “very hard” leg and a “hard” leg is indiscernible.
– I can get lost even with flashing lights identifying every turn.
– A kids’ meal burger will taste amazing for dinner but may be a source of regret later.
– It is possible to join a van with only one person you know and make fast friends with four strangers.
– Night time pictures have a cool Tron effect.

So, in sum, we are having a great time and enjoying a total adventure!