Taper tantrums—the tricks your mind and body play on you as you start decreasing miles the last weeks prior to a race—are not uncommon for runners, and destination races often only exemplify them. All the anxiety about making it to the starting line is elevated even more when you factor in transportation, time differences, language barriers, and (most importantly) remembering to pack all of your race essentials.
As a destination racer myself, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that there are a few things to keep in mind that can make traveling for races a little less stressful. And a lot of it comes down to bringing the right gear with you. But before you start thinking about what to pack, consider how you will be packing and traveling. Will you be traveling by plane and checking a bag, or packing lightly with only a carry-on or backpack? The space in your suitcase or bag is at a premium, and you want to make sure first and foremost that you have room for the essentials you’ll need on race day.
“If you’re checking a bag, bring your race-critical items like your running shoes, race kit, and nutrition in your carry-on,” Caitlin Papageorge, a 10-time destination racer, tells SELF. “Don’t risk being separated from them,” she says. So even if your checked bag doesn’t make it to your destination with you, you’d still have your race-day necessities at the ready.
What’s the running gear to pack for destination races?
As for what exactly makes up those race-day necessities? First, make a list, which can help make sure you don’t forget something vital. In general, destination-race must-haves will include prerace fuel, running shoes, and everything you need to recover (plus a few extra things you might not have thought of). Read on for some important things you’ll want to take with you so you can make it to your race’s starting line stress-free. Below are 26 of the best running gear picks for destination races, according to North Brooklyn Runners, a free, community-based running team based in northern Brooklyn.
Prerun and Race Fuel
“If you’re traveling internationally, keep in mind it may be difficult to find some of the things you’re used to,” says Papageorge. “Consider bringing single-serve packs of your favorite nut butter, instant oatmeal, or a granola bar.” For instance, if you always have a particular bar or type of oatmeal before a race, you may want to pack those along so you can replicate your regular breakfast.
This holds true for during the race too. Jennifer Herr-McKnight, a 13-time marathoner, recommends always bringing your preferred nutrition products, gels, and fluids. “I learned the hard way that expos in other countries may not have the same products we train with in the US,” Herr-McKnight says.
1. Honey Stinger Waffle
2. Spring Energy
3. Honey Stinger Energy Gel
4. HÜMA Chia Energy Gel
Hydration and Electrolytes
Whatever your distance, staying hydrated and taking in the proper amount of electrolytes is vital. You also can’t always trust that water tables will be on the course where you need them most. Melissa Dahl, a five-time marathoner, recommends always bringing the hydration tools—in her case, a water bottle—that make you feel most comfortable and prepared. She brings her “emotional support water bottle” with her to every race. “I forgot it on my way to the Philadelphia Marathon one year and totally freaked out,” Dahl tells SELF.
1. Saltstick Caps
2. Tailwind Naked
3. Nuun Sport
4. Nathan Speeddraw Plus Insulated Flask
There’s nothing worse than racing with your phone in your hand, which I can tell you from firsthand experience. I once forgot my beloved Spibelt after traveling to California for a race, and because I didn’t have pockets, I had to race while holding my phone during the first rain the state had in months. Don’t be me!
1. SPIBelt Running Belt
2. Nike Running Fanny Pack
3. Koala Clip
4. Lululemon Fast and Free Running Armband
If you’re using a GPS watch or other fitness tracker while you race, always remember to also bring its charger with you. After all, your watch won’t be of any help at the starting line if it’s already out of juice from your trip. “I never trust a fully charged watch when I travel,” two-time destination marathoner Erin Conlon tells SELF.
1. Garmin Forerunner 245
2. Coros Apex Pro GPS Watch
All of the destination racers who I spoke with emphasized the importance of remembering your racing shoes and bringing them in your carry-on. As for which ones? The best running shoes are super individualized. Check out our running shoe picks to find out which ones may work for you.
1. Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
2. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
After training all summer with one brand of running sock, I made the ultimate race-day mistake: trying something new. I soon had the unfortunate experience of discovering my shoes fit differently using a new type of sock and spent most of my race thinking about how uncomfortably my feet felt. Stick with the ones you love, and make sure you pack them!
1. Old Navy Athletic Performance Ankle Socks
2. CEP The Run Low Cut Socks 4.0
When racing in a different city or country, you don’t have the luxury of relaxing and recovering in the comfort of your own home. Whether you’re staying in an Airbnb or hotel, it’s essential to bring whatever you can to recover comfortably.
1. Hyperice Normatec Go
2. Tiger Tail Portable Roller
3. Lululemon Release and Recover Ball Set
4. Dr Teal’s Epsom Salt Travel Pack
The Little Things You Might Forget (and Be Thankful You Have)
You can train for months, carefully memorizing your course strategy, but sometimes it’s the little things that bring you comfort that ultimately get you to the finish line. Papageorge suggests that if you’re running a race before you travel, save your heat sheet. The disposable foil blanket protects you from the wind, rain, and helps maintain your body temperature. This handy tool could be a lifesaver at the start of your race to keep you warm and can easily be thrown away at the starting line. Then there are other small essentials important to stow in your carry-on, such as sunscreen, anti-chafe balm, sunglasses, and more.
1. Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm
2. Supergoop! Play Everyday Lotion
3. Goodr Running Sunglasses
4. HotHands Hand Warmers