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.