IT’S RACE WEEK! Literally, this is the week I fly to Morocco to run the Marrakech Marathon, and I’m getting excited. Race week is always a mix of excitement and anxiety for me (and probably many others); when you also add in the aspect of travel and being in a new or unfamiliar place, these emotions can be exponentially greater. I am a fairly seasoned traveller and while I am always a bit on edge when trying to catch flights and navigate my way through a new place, I’m pretty comfortable in general, more just looking forward to what adventures await. I completely understand that people who do not travel regularly – especially to foreign destinations – may experience high levels of stress that can decrease the overall enjoyment of the trip.
So one of my biggest ‘secrets’ of successful race-cations is to be prepared. And the week leading up to your departure, whether it is by car, plane or train, is one of the most critical times in ensuring you are ready for the trip – and your race.
Like any race – local or far away – it is important to go through your best race-week practices:
- complete your planned runs to stretch your legs and give yourself the confidence (mentally) that you are ready for the race
- ensure you are properly hydrated this week
- eat healthy meals and snack so you are fueled properly for the race
- study the race course map and be aware of the locations of the water stops, electrolyte/sports drinks, and food stops
But destination running has another element that you need to consider: packing. Packing for your experience can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of the trip and the race; if you forget something, it can most certainly throw a wrench into your planned outings while increasing your stress levels unnecessarily while you try to problem solve in an unfamiliar place. I have been on trips where I forgot my favourite running shorts, didn’t bring running socks at all, or didn’t print a copy of my registration for packet pick up. None of these was a disaster and they were fixed relatively quickly, but that is not always possible to do depending on where you are travelling. So yes, this blog is dedicated to helping avoid some packing pitfalls that can mess up your vacation – and your race. (Most of these will apply to any travel transportation scenario, but because I travel by airplane, they will focus on this mode of transportation.)
Race day needs
I always start with what I need for race day. In my head, the reason I’m travelling is to have a good time running, so I definitely want my race day experience to go as planned. And that means I need to ensure I have everything for race day. Think of this as a race-week ‘flat runner’ that you put out several days in advance. By doing this before you put your stuff in the suitcase, you can go through your checklist of what is needed for the run.
- clothes (shirt, sports bra, shorts/skirt/pants, socks)
- running belt
- headphones (don’t forget your charger)
- back bib
- KT tape
- Garmin (and charger)
- throw away clothes/items
- gloves, hat, headband, etc if needed for cold weather
One added thing to consider is whether you need to take your own nutrition (gels, electrolyte drinks, etc), which is something that you may want to do if the event is providing something with which you are not familiar. This is especially true when running in another country, where things may be very different than what you are used to. If you forget, you may not be able to find you preferred item(s) – and that can cause unnecessary stress! Pack it to ensure you have it.
Oh and always, always, ALWAYS take your race day kit with you in a carry-on bag. You will be extremely stressed out if your checked bag gets lost, and all your running clothes/shoes are inside it. I have known people to whom this has happened, and it really makes it difficult to relax and enjoy the trip until your items are delivered to you – if they make it at all before race morning!
Documentation and money
Here is my short list of what to pack here:
- passport (or other ID needed)
- printed list of travel itinerary
- printed race confirmation
- other confirmations as needed – hotels, transfers, receipts, etc
- credit cards (call your card company before you leave to let them know you are travelling!)
- cash – amount depends on how long you are going and where you will be headed; having cash in hand will allow you to exchange money for local currency. Always try to get some smaller denominations of the local currency to be used for tips and purchase of incidentals!
If you can get some of the currency used at your destination in advance of your trip, it is a great idea. That will allow you to avoid the money exchange booths at your point of entry, which usually gives a pretty unfavourable rate compared to other exchange places/banks located elsewhere.
Clothing – non running clothes, that is
Take a look at the weather where you are headed. Read up on cultural traditions for your destination. Make sure you know what types of clothes would be comfortable and appropriate for you to wear when you are not running. For example, in Morocco, women typically wear clothing that covers their legs and arms. So to somewhat blend in and not call attention to myself (and also respect their culture), I have chosen to bring jeans and a couple long sleeve shirts to wear. I also am looking to buy a scarf to wear when out in public. It will hopefully help avoid unwanted attention.
In all honesty, I pay a lot less attention to this part of packing, as I figure I can always re-wear clothes or buy new ones in a pinch. I definitely focus my attention on race-day needs, my passport/money, and personal items for the trip.
Your personal items can be a wide range of things – from reading material to special soap you need to use for your skin. Lay it all out and mentally go through what you typically use every day to ensure you have likely packed it all.
- If you are flying and planning to check a bag, put all your liquids/gels in the checked bag to make things easier for security check points at the airport.
- If you are only taking a carry on bag, only take travel size items and ensure they meet the 3-1-1 rule: liquids and gels are 3.4 oz or less; they fit in ONE quart-size clear plastic bag; one bag per person. Have these handy to pull out for screening at security check points.
- If you are travelling to another country, be sure you have the correct converter for charging devices.
- I cannot stress it enough, make sure you have your chargers for your watch, phone, headphones, etc. Forgetting a charger is a surefire way to start your run (and your vacation) in a bad mood!
- Don’t forget any medication. I am sure to pack some Tylenol and my Immodium whenever I travel for a race! And this is definitely something to put in your carry on. If you have a prescription medication, it’s also a good idea to take the prescription with you.
- Ladies, take whatever menstrual products you may need, as you never know what is/is not available at your destination.
- Leave any expensive or flashy jewellery at home (again, I try to not draw attention to myself where possible).
- Remember your reading materials, iPads/devices and other entertainment you like to have available.
Look, there is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to pack for a race-cation, but I have found that by organising things in advance helps reduce the likelihood that I will be scrambling to buy a replacement item on my journey, an activity that can be frustrating, expensive and fruitless on occasion. I’m always happy to hear of other tips and great ideas to get a race-cation off to a successful start! Please feel free to share your best practices in the comments!