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!

Drop it Like a Squat

This April, I’m getting Buff and Bendy with my new challenge. Friday’s skill is the squat. Squats are great for runners, helping us to develop power and control in the big muscles in our legs. To get even more runner-friendly squatting power, consider doing your squats on a wobbly surface, like a Bosu, inflatable disc, or even a towel.

Check out my YouTube channel for more great tips!

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Dr. Rachel’s Running Tips!

If you’ve been keeping up with the Buff and Bendy Challenge, you’ll notice that we’ve added tons of instructional videos to the YouTube channel. What’s missing? Awesome running tips. Today, we’re highlighting running form and talking about how to run with the most efficient form. Check it out here (running form video)

Or, visit me on YouTube and clicking on the Buff and Bendy Playlist. Stay tuned – more great videos are coming!

Buff and Bendy Running

Hey, That’s My Arm!

I love MarathonFoto. I am grateful to them and their camera crews for sitting on the sidelines of races in the heat, cold, snow, wind, and rain for hours just to captures pictures of runners who zip by without a thank you. I am grateful to those people who sit on a curb from 5am until well after noon just to snap some pictures. I am sure it’s a tough job. I certainly don’t want to do it. But, there’s one thing that the MarathonFoto photographers consistently do that drives me crazy – call it my race photo pet peeve if you will –  they cut obvious groups off in pictures.

I’ve now run several races as part of a couple or a group – and made it obvious I was part of a duo or a small group. Yet, in the vast majority of MarathonFoto pictures, they only capture part of the group. I don’t think it’s unclear that my comrades and I are together. We wear obviously matching costumes, hold hands, run extremely close together, etc. To no avail. MarathonFoto captures one and half of us. Every. Single. Time. I understand that runners are moving quickly and there are lots of us, but I’ve walked several races with mom where we were not only moving not zipping along at a 6-minute mile, but were also the only athletes around.

Take for example, this recent race with my mom. Completely matching outfits. Running side by side.

Half of mom

My mom has the same image as part of hers, but with just half of my arm in it. When we were looking at the images, I said, “Hey, that’s my arm”. My arm has a starring role in my mom’s race photos. It’s dark, so I give them credit on that one. However…

Mom's arm

Most of the time I don’t end up buying the images. The whole point of wearing matching outfits, holding hands, and doing a race together is to have pictures together – not a picture of my mom’s arm and me doing a race together.

Just for fun, here are a few more classics.

Half of AmyGreat shot of 35167 – too bad my whole friend (with whom I’m holding hands) didn’t make it. Close, though.

Mom's legAnd here’s me and my mom’s leg about to cross the finish line. Yay!

As funny as these shots are, wouldn’t it be nice to have ones with us both in them? I think so. Of course, until I pick up the camera myself, I can’t complain. It’s a tough job and someone has to do it – one and a half runners at a time.

April Challenge: Buff & Bendy

Looking for an amazing April challenge to jump start your fitness, or to add a little spice to your usual routine? My friend from Bikram Yoga Downtown Hartford and I devised a great one for you – lots of variety and lots of yoga. I love it and you will too! Not local to the Hartford, Connecticut area? No worries! Print out the challenge board and keep track of your progress! Join me on my Facebook page for updates, motivation, and more!

Buff and BendyHere’s the calendar as a PDF for those of you who want to join the challenge! Buff and Bendy Calendar

Review: Drip Drop ORS

If you’ve been a long time follower of this blog, you’ll know that I reviewed Drip Drop ORS a while back. I enjoyed Drip Drop in its original Lemon flavor. Recently, the nice folks at Drip Drop contacted me and asked me to review their latest creation, a berry flavored version of the classic ORS.

Drip Drop is an interesting company – evolving not from a beverage company but from a desire to provide an effective rehydration solution for medial uses. The developer hoped to create an effective hydration solution to help solve the crisis of dehydration in developing nations. Through scientific testing, their product line was developed. The sports drink is an extension of their mission to provide great-tasting hydration to everyone.

In the years since my last review, Drip Drop has grown. Now used by the US Special Forces and a variety of elite athletes, its profile as a company and as a hydration solution has evolved. Drip Drop is now available across the country in most Walgreens stores and is becoming a preferred electrolyte drink.

Drip Drop

It worth note, as I said in my last review, that I dislike most salty-sweet electrolyte drinks. I generally don’t like salt and find most all sports drinks a disgusting combination of sweet and salty. Drip Drop is different. It doesn’t try to be sweet. It’s lightly flavored, but in a natural way, not in a “let’s dump in a ton of sugar to cover up the taste way”. The berry flavor Drip Drop is actually quite tasty. Drip Drop contains no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives and is 98% natural thanks to their proprietary blend of electrolytes and sugars. I enjoy knowing that I’m getting my hydration needs met, but without sugar, coloring, and flavors like “blue ice” added to my drink. The berry flavor is light, more cherry flavored than blueberry flavored and easy to drink. I enjoyed the flavor and found it refreshing. It actually tastes like berries, not sugar pretending to be berries.

Drip Drop is highly effective. I’ve used it during workouts, after workouts, and even when I had the flu. It’s easy to drink, gentle on my stomach, and provides effective hydration. I find that a relatively small amount works well for me and effectively prevents cramps, the first sign of dehydration for me. Given that Drip Drop is a powder that’s easily mixed in water, it’s easy to store, transport, and use on the go. I can slip one foil packet in my race supplies and mix in just what I need – a whole packet for a whole bottle of water, or smaller amounts for cups of water. It’s a great solution.

Overall, I enjoyed my sample of Drip Drop’s berry flavor and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a hydration drink that’s simple, effective, and has a fresh taste. Buy your own on Drip Drop’s site, or at an authorized retailer.

Race Recap: First Watch Sarasota

Now that mom’s a half marathoner, we’ve been on a quest to find interesting races that we can to together. Given that mom is a walker (granted, a fast one, but a walker), we are always searching for races that advertise as being walker-friendly, or that have a good cut off time suitable for walkers in interesting locations. In our quest to find interesting races that fit the criteria, we identified the FirstWatch Sarasota Half Marathon as a contender. Once we leaded about the area, we signed up immediately. A run over a bridge, on a key, and through stately homes, all ocean-front? Yes, please!

Mom and I decided that the best plan was to stay overnight in a hotel in Sarasota (terrible, I know) and enjoy the area before the half marathon. We found our place easily and set off to check out the area. It’s gorgeous. For those of you who haven’t been to Sarasota, look it up on a map. The whole city is right on the water, with keys along the coast. It’s amazing. The city also seems to enjoy art, as evidenced by the amazing art installations all along the city sidewalks.

art

After enjoying some time in the city, admiring the enormous statue of the kissing sailor, it was time for our early bed time. Race morning dawned early, with clear skies and crisp air. It was approximately 68 degrees at race start, perfect racing conditions. Mom and I snapped a few quick pictures, then set off.

Before Sarasota

The course went along Route 41, the waterfront main drag and immediately headed out toward the Ringling Bridge. The view over the bridge was amazing – stately homes, bobbing boats, and water as far as the eye could see. Next, the course wound through St. Armand’s Circle, the little shopping area and center of St. Armand’s Key. It was lovely, old Florida style. Next, it was back up and over the bridge. By this time the sun was up and the day was bright and clear. The course continued back along the main drag, past several well-staffed aid stations, and right past the Ringling art museum. It’s a funny pink building nestled in the midst of a small neighborhood. The neighborhood was an eclectic mix of beach cottages, vacation homes, and lovely waterfront mansions, complete with their associated compound behind firmly closed gates. Each section of the neighborhood had its own little park, all of them water front. As we wound through the homes and past the parks, we were treated to great views and friendly spectators. About halfway through the neighborhood, we passed a fabulous art deco school. Sadly, I wasn’t fast enough to snap a picture, but it was a great piece of Florida architecture. The neighborhood section was calm, quiet, and shady. All along the way we encountered great characters – only in Florida does a race marshall bring his own parrot.

Parrot

Once out of the neighborhood, it was just another mile or two to the finish line. Both mom and I loved the course. It was perhaps the best designed course I’ve ever run. It was just perfect. The hills were manageable, even for Floridians, the views spectacular, and the shady neighborhood positioned at just the right spot. There were cheering fans, great water stops, and friendly people all along the way.

At the finish line, volunteers greeted us with our medals (a lovely abstract dolphin) and water. There was a huge finish line party with a live band and tents on the water’s edge. Perhaps the only thing not wonderful about the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon was the post-race food. It was not good at all. There were bagels (plain and raisin), a few muffins that looked like they wilted in the heat, and a disgusting-looking melted yogurt parfait. There were lots of parfaits left over. The yogurt was warm and runny and even these starving half marathoners couldn’t bring ourselves to eat it.

It’s worth note that the race really was walker friendly. Mom and I were far from the last walkers and the spectators and water stop volunteers were cheerful, plentiful, and happy to see us. We enjoyed all the same amenities as runners. I felt welcomed and encouraged as a walker.

Overall, I loved the First Watch Sarasota Half Marathon. Not only would I do it again, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a well designed course with great views. And though it’s hilly for Florida, anyone who conquers the bridge is rewarded with a great view.

Sarasota Half Marathon Elevation

Sarasota Half Marathon Elevation

Sarasota Half Marathon Course

Sarasota Half Marathon Course

 

Lions and Tigers and 8 Minute Miles

I rarely talk about pace here, mostly because it simply isn’t that important to me. Once upon a time I was much faster, but knee surgery happened and things are different now. Slowly and steadily, I’ve been working on my speed. I would love to get back to where I was pre-surgery, but that seems pretty far off sometimes. I’m older, living in a hillier climate, and, frankly, not in prime racing shape. But I’m getting faster. Lately, my biggest problem hasn’t been my speed. It’s been my brain.

8:20 used to be my long run pace. I love 8:20. It feels great. It’s easy and smooth and it’s my “happy pace”. I finally saw 8:20s in training last fall. Then, I hit 8:20s consistently in a half marathon. But every time I made it, I quickly lost it. It started with little tendrils of panic. I worried about being able to maintain the pace. Then, the voice in my head took over. In a matter of minutes, I went from running comfortably to full-on panic. I convinced myself that I couldn’t keep it up. I couldn’t run 8:20s for more than a mile no matter how easy it felt physically. No matter that I’d been running consistent 7s in my private training runs and hold it for a couple miles. Put me around people and I panicked.

Today, I ran a great local race. I set out with one goal – run below 8:20 average miles for the first 4.5 miles. Then, at the enormous hill at 4.6 miles, walk up the hill and ease my way to the finish line. The first mile started a little slow and that familiar feeling of panic set in. I prevailed over the voice in my head telling me I couldn’t and hit an 8:25 first mile. My second mile was 8:10. Going into the third mile I started to think. Physically, I felt great. I was easily running along, chatting off and on with a nice man near me. I was talking and running and feeling fine physically, but the mental part was a struggle. I spent the next mile trying to convince myself that if I could *talk* at an 8:20 pace I would be fine. And I was fine. I sailed through the third mile and into the fourth. I came upon some hills and ran them easily at 8:18. I made it to the foot of the big hill and could hardly believe it. My average pace was 8:22. Goal achieved, I eased my pace and floated to the finish line. I had broken the 8:30 barrier. Next up, a half marathon at 8:30 and a 5k in the 7s. Speedy former self, I’m coming for you.

Racing

My Life on the Road

It’s been a crazy time – I’m writing this post while sitting in the tenth airport I’ve been in in the past three weeks.

It all started with my amazing whirlwind trip to all lands Disney for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon and the Disney Marathon Weekend. That vacation was quickly followed up with two work-related trips. I haven’t been home on a Monday in a while. It’s a crazy time and it’s been wreaking havoc on my usual diet and exercise routine.

First off, work trips usually involve lots of snacks, mostly of the unhealthy variety.

Treats

Airport travel practically requires my favorite Starbucks refresher…and maybe the occasional treat.

Strabucks

I’ve also been spending much more time in airports than anticipated thanks to winter weather.

Cancelations

Eating healthy on the road is a challenge. I’m adding extra lettuce and pickles to my burgers and substituting veggies for every side I get in a restaurant (though Southerners have a strange definition of what constitutes a vegetable…but the macaroni and cheese *was* good). As I sit here in the airport, surrounded by pretzels, candy, and bad Chinese food, I keep thinking about apples. I would love a nice, crisp apple. It will be the first thing I eat when I get home.

All this travel also means I’ve had to get creative with my workouts. In addition to squeezing in a run whenever I can, I’ve developed some new airport fitness tricks. Yes, I’m that crazy lady doing squats at the gate. Hi. My name is Rachel and I do body weight exercises in the airport lounge.

My favorite airport workout is my terminal power hike. While waiting for a flight, pace back and forth through the terminal at top speed. Each round, switch suitcase carrying arms to ensure an even shoulder workout. I can usually get several rounds in before the TSA gets suspicious and I have to change the routine. Just last week I walked for over and hour back and forth through a construction area at the Dallas airport. It isn’t pretty or high-intensity, but it’s something. I’ve also experimented with some airport intervals – run to flight, walk around slow people, stop at gate to learn gate changed, run to next gate, repeat.

I love to travel, but I think I’m ready for a few nights in my own bed and a few runs through my usual neighborhood. Just one more trip to go until that dream becomes a reality. Until then, it’s time to fly.

Fly