As you all may or may not know, I love to combine running and travel (hence the blog name if you were wondering). Out of the 48 half marathons (in 46 states), 1 marathon, 10k, 10 miler, 15k, and three 5k’s I’ve run over the years, only the 5k’s, 10k, and 15k have been local. I’ve traveled more than 2 hours from my home to every single other race and for most races I traveled far enough that I needed to spend the night before the race. That means by now I’ve found what works and what doesn’t work when traveling to a race, at least for me.
I’ve previously published a post on What’s in my Racing (Running) Bag? but there’s so much more to preparing for a destination race or racecation than just what to bring. As I also mentioned in this post on packing a bag for a race, it’s huge if you don’t have to check your bag with the airline if you’re flying to a race. Not only do you save money, more importantly you save time by not having to go to physically drop off your bag before your flight (just go straight to security then your gate) and wait at the baggage carousel after your flight, and you save yourself the stress of worrying about what to do if your running clothes don’t make it to your destination on time.
Even if you absolutely have to bring those four pairs of shoes, 5 dresses, and other clothes that you’ll probably only end up wearing half of and you do end up checking your bag with your airline, you can wear your running socks and shoes and the shirt you plan on racing in so at least you’ll have those things if your bag does get lost. Or another option is to put all of your racing gear in your carry-on bag and make sure the bag is small enough that it will fit under your seat on the plane so it doesn’t get gate-checked. This includes your running watch, belt, armband, earbuds, sunglasses, and hat or visor in addition to your shirt, sports bra, shorts or pants, and socks.
I also highly recommend running with your own hydration during the race if it’s going to be hot and/or a long distance (half marathon or longer). Honestly, I’m surprised more people don’t do this at races. I assume just about everyone trains with some form of hydration so why wouldn’t you want to run the race using what you train with? I guess maybe not everyone trains with hydration, though, or maybe they just don’t sweat as much as I do and don’t feel like they need to run with it. Also, if you run with gels or Gu be sure you put them in your liquids bag (each person is allowed 1 plastic quart-sized bag) because TSA counts them as liquids.
If it’s going to be cold the morning of your race, pack something you can discard just before the race starts like a mylar space blanket or old sweatshirt you needed to get rid of anyway. Those cheap thin gloves (Target sells them) and a Buff are great and barely take up any room in your carry-on and you can easily store them in a pocket or running belt when you warm up during the race. I recently heard of someone taking hand warmers to a cold race start and thought that was brilliant. Believe me, I wish I had this advice at some of my previous races where I was shivering in the cold waiting for the race to start. My advice is if you even remotely think it might be cold or chilly on race day, for instance if you’ll be running in a place where the weather often changes quickly, pack gloves, a warm hat, Buff, and tights or capris. I’ve been burned by summer races in the mountains before and have learned the hard way to do this.
On the flip side, if you’re going somewhere that it will be hot the day of your race, there are some special considerations to take into account. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend racing with your hydration of choice (I like Nuun), which is even more important on hot days. If you’re prone to chafing, be sure to bring your preferred product to prevent chafing (I like Body Glide, which you can find at local running and outdoor stores). I’m also a big fan of Arctic Cool products and their “Hydrofreeze X” technology. You can find athletic shirts, shorts, capris, hats, headbands, and cooling towels on their website and can also purchase bundles of products to save money.
After the race, if you plan on hanging out at the race finish, put a clean shirt, sports bra if you’re a woman, and pair of recovery sandals or other comfy shoes in a gear check bag and you’ll be glad you did. Sometimes races will offer free post-race showers at a nearby YMCA or hotel, which is fantastic if you have to check out of your hotel or Airbnb before you can get back to take a shower after the race, or if you just want to stay close to the race finish for a while before heading back. As long as you plan for this when you’re at home packing for the race, you’ll be prepared. I have a small towel that I bought in Peru that I wish I would have bought for travel years ago. It’s small enough that I can stuff it in my bag without it taking up much space at all but it’s big enough to dry off with after a quick shower. In short, these small, quick-drying towels are perfect to bring along to a racecation.
Traveling to a race doesn’t have to be stressful as long as you plan and are prepared before you ever leave your house. Make a list of all of the things you’ll need for your race plus everything you’ll need before and after the race, and check them off as you pack them. Start packing a couple to a few (depending on your stress level for this kind of thing) days before you’re supposed to leave to make sure you don’t forget anything. It’s also a good idea to lay out your “flat runner” on the floor so you can visualize everything you’ll be running with.
Have you traveled to a destination race or racecation? If so, do you enjoy them? If you’ve never traveled for a race, why not?
Thanks to some suggestions by regular followers, I’ve compiled a list of half marathons (most of which have marathons or other distances as well) in states that I’ve personally raced in. So far I’ve run 46 half marathons in 44 states so while my race history isn’t complete (sorry Delaware, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, New Mexico, and Minnesota), it’s pretty close to the full list. I’ll do an update when I get further along (maybe up to 47 states and again at 50 states).
I’m not going to list races that I either don’t recommend or races I ran that no longer exist. If you have a specific question about a state or race not listed here, feel free to ask. I realize recommendations are based on opinions, which means while I may not have enjoyed a race, perhaps someone else would like it and vice versa. Still, I feel like by now I have a pretty good feel for “good” races. Also, while not all of these races come recommended on Bibrave by people other than myself (yes, I checked each and every one of them) the vast majority of them are recommended on Bibrave (I think only maybe two on my list here were not reviewed on Bibrave). Finally, I’ll list them in order of when I ran them, not in order of personal preference. I’ll link to the race site first then to my blog post.
Hawaii-Kona Marathon, Half Marathon. My post is here: Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state. You can see it was only the second state I ran a half marathon in, before I even had the goal of running a half marathon in every state. My notes aren’t the greatest because it was so long ago and all I have to go on is the scrap book I started keeping for races. I think the fact that they’re having the 26th annual race in June 2019 says something. You’re basically running through paradise.
Indiana– Evansville Half Marathon. My post is here: Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state. Where is Evansville you may ask? It’s a small quintessential midwest town along the Ohio River in southern Indiana, about 2 hours from Louisville, Kentucky. I found a fun vibe to this race and absolutely loved it. Sure, I could have run the bigger race in Indianapolis but I doubt it would have had the same small-town vibe this one does, which I appreciate.
Kansas– Garmin Marathon and Half Marathon. My post is here: Garmin Marathon, Kansas-18th state. Good course on the border of Kansas and Missouri. As expected, Garmin puts on a great race and the race just seems to get better every year. The food is spectacular in Kansas City so it’s worth coming here just for that. Some of the other races in this area can be super hilly, and this one is not, which is another reason I chose this race.
Virginia– Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon. My post is here: Shamrock Marathon, Virginia-24th state. This is one fun race with tons of swag and very well organized. Don’t let the fact that it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend deter you if you’re not a big partier. Although you may hear some people on the streets the night before the race like I did, I didn’t find it to be a big deal. If you are a partier, you’ll have a great time! Just be sure to book your hotel well in advance because it’s a big race and many places sell out.
Rhode Island– Newport Marathon and Half Marathon. My post is here: Newport Marathon, Rhode Island- 26th State. Honestly, I don’t know how there aren’t any reviews for this race on Bibrave. Maybe because it’s in October and that doesn’t work for some people’s schedules or maybe because it’s in tiny little under-rated Rhode Island. Whatever the reason, I really enjoyed this race and recommend it.
Maine– Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon. My post is here: Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon, Maine, 31st state. Yes, it’s hot and yes, it’s hilly but the course is beautiful. Just go into it knowing you won’t PR unless you kill it at hot and hilly races. Do lots of hill repeats when you’re training for this race. I highly recommend working in some extra days after the race to check out the beautiful state of Maine.
South Dakota– Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon. My post is here: Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. This is one of my favorite half marathons ever. It’s a low-key race without much swag but one of the most scenic and fastest courses I’ve run. Fly into Rapid City, which is about an hour away, and drive your rental car all over South Dakota after the race. Just be sure you stay close-by the night before the race.
Arkansas– White River Marathon and Half Marathon. My post is here: White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state. This is the last half marathon I’ve run and it’s one of the fastest courses I’ve ever run. Admittedly Cotter isn’t not the easiest place to get to but just fly into Little Rock, Arkansas; Springfield, Missouri; or Branson, Missouri (compare prices) and get a rental car. This is a small, low-key race with tons of post-race food and some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. If you’re into race bling, the medal is enormous and race shirt is nice.
Runner-up: North Dakota– Bismarck Marathon and Half Marathon. My post is here: Bismarck Marathon, North Dakota-16th state. Why a runner-up you may ask? Well, to be completely honest, I didn’t care for Bismarck or the parts of North Dakota that we saw. I found the race to be pretty average; not bad per se but nothing special either. For those reasons, I’ll include it here. Like I said in my post on the race (link above), if you happen to find yourself in Bismarck and would like to knock off a race in North Dakota, this one’s not a bad one. Or, if you’re a 50-stater and need to run a race in North Dakota, this one will fit the bill.
Yes, there are several states not included here. As I said, some of the races I ran no longer exist and those that are still around are ones that I wouldn’t recommend. Have a question about a specific state and/or race? Feel free to ask! Have a comment about a particular state and/or race? Please share your thoughts!
As an adult, over the years I’ve run everything from a 5k to a marathon and everything in between. Mostly I’ve stuck with half marathons because of my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states and so far I’m up to 42 states. When I first started running races I just signed up for a local 5k, not really taking anything into account like weather, elevation or anything else course-related. It was hot since it was July 4th but the race wasn’t anything very memorable other than that.
Most people do like I do and just run a local 5k, sometimes coerced by friends so they may not put any thought into choosing the race. For a 5k, that’s probably fine unless it turns out the race is insanely hilly or has such difficult conditions that it turns you against running and/or racing. If you’ve run several 5k races and perhaps a 10k or two and would like to run your first half marathon, where do you start? I’ll go through the steps I go through as a kind of guideline.
There are several considerations for me when I’m choosing a half marathon to run. At this point since I don’t have many states left until I reach my goal of a half marathon in all 50 states so I have to be more thoughtful than I was early on in this journey. The most obvious thing I have to consider is where the half marathon is being held. If it’s in a state that I’ve already run a half marathon, I won’t run it. My wallet, legs, and time off from work are limited so I can’t afford to go twice. This might be different if I didn’t make every race a racecation, but I just don’t see the point in flying into a city the day before a race and flying out the evening of or day after a race. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most people, but I did want to throw that out there because everyone still has to decide if the location of the race would work for them.
Once I find a half marathon in a state, I’ll look at what part of the state the race is being held. If it looks like an interesting city or is within a reasonable drive to a city I’m interested in going to, I’ll consider it. There have been exceptions to this, however, like when I ran in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state. My daughter, who always goes to every race with me, has a friend who lives about 20 minutes from this race, and she had asked me a couple of years before I ran this race when her friend moved away from where we live if we could visit her sometime. I thought given the circumstances, it was meant to be for sure, so how could I turn down that one. Fortunately Dixville, New Hampshire is about a 3 hour drive to Montreal, so that’s where we spent the vacation part of our racecation.
Once I figure out if the location appeals to me, I’ll look at the time of year when the race is being held. As I said, my daughter always goes to races with me, and I don’t typically pull her out of school since we do spend more than a couple of days at these places. Fortunately, her school schedule has been flexible enough that I’ve been able to find races around the country on dates when she’s been on a school break. Some parents may think the only time to travel with school kids is during the summer, but there are many breaks throughout the year like spring break and Thanksgiving break for example. Some schools also have a fall break and other week-long breaks throughout the year, and others that are “year-round” have three-week-long breaks every 3 months spread over 12 months. If you’ll be going by yourself to the race or don’t have kids (or your kids won’t be going with you), it makes planning easier but I want to make sure I include that information for people who might want to bring family members along.
Another thing to consider when choosing a race and factoring in the time of year the race is held is your training schedule. If the race is in March, that means you’ll be running the bulk of your longest long runs in February. If you live in the deep south, that might be fine, but pretty much anywhere else and you’re likely to have some nasty weather to contend with in February. Likewise, if the race is in mid-to-late November, you’ll have some pretty nice running weather during your training schedule although the race itself could be pretty cold especially if it’s in a far northern state.
After the where and when are figured out, then comes the analysis of the race course. If a race advertises on its web page that it’s “the toughest half marathon” in the state, I’ll pass and you probably should too if it’s your first half marathon. Or if the race goes straight up a mountain, I’ll pass. I’ll check out the elevation and course on the race website then I’ll go to other places to get reviews from runners like Bib Rave and Race Raves. This isn’t to say I’ve never run a hilly race because I have many times over but when I have, at least I’ve known what I was getting myself into ahead of time.
Finally, I check logistics of flying or driving to the area. If I have two or more races for the same state that I’m comparing and one is significantly easier or cheaper to get to, and all other factors are similar, I’ll go with the one that’s easier or cheaper. Again, though, there have been exceptions to this, like when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state. I had to fly into Seattle then take a ferry to San Juan Island from Seattle, but the ferry was one of the most scenic ferries I’ve ever been on so it was totally worth the extra hassle of getting there, plus the San Juan Islands are absolutely gorgeous. I just allowed extra time to get to the island before the race in my planning.
I know a lot of runners like running big races like the ones at Disney World and Disneyland and the Rock ‘N’ Roll series races, but I’ve personally never had any interest in any of them. The Disney races despite being hugely popular have some serious drawbacks in my opinion such as 1) the inflated cost, 2) the ungodly hour the races begin, and 3) the crowds. Start time and cost of race registration are two other things to consider when figuring out what race you want to run. If a race states you will be bussed to the start at 4:30 a.m. but you simply don’t function let alone be in a pre-race state at that time, it may not be a good choice for you for your first half marathon.
The flip side of big races are smaller races. I personally prefer medium to small races for several reasons. Not only are there less people running the races so you don’t have to worry about being slowed down at the beginning, parking usually isn’t an issue so you may not have to be bussed to the start. If you’re the type of person who feeds off the energy of spectators, you likely won’t get that at small races, however. Sometimes you’ll often just get a shirt and medal at small races, too, so if you like getting lots of things at packet pickup, you’ll have to take this into consideration.
Finally, the biggest factor in choosing a race is why. Why do you want to run a half marathon in the first place? Many people could avoid disappointment after a race if they figure out why they want to run a race in the first place. Do you just want to have fun with your running friends? Do you want to run with a particular goal finish in mind? Do you want to see a specific part of the country and would love to experience a racecation? Do you feel pressure from other runners to run a half marathon? Obviously if you have some goal finish time in mind, you should be more picky in what race you choose than if you just want to hang out with your running friends and have fun at a race together.
In summary, major points to consider when choosing your first half marathon:
Where is the race? You need to factor in transportation and lodging costs.
When is the race? To factor in weather and family or work obligations.
What is the race course like?
Is this a big race with lots of runners or a smaller race with fewer runners?
What do you want to get out of running this race? If you don’t find a race that will address this, you might not have a good first race experience.
Now that I’m up to 41 states in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I can stand back and take a look at my experience so far. When I started running half marathons, I didn’t have this goal. In fact, I didn’t have the goal of one in each state until I had already ran a half marathon in several states. One day I just said, hey that would be a fun goal to run a half marathon in every state, and I just sort of fell into it from there.
Running a race in all 50 states takes a ton of time, energy, and money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, it will most likely take you many years to accomplish your goal. Of course, the longer the distance you plan on running, the more expensive it will be, but not hugely more. Yes, marathons cost more than 5k’s to register, but the real expense is in the airfare, lodging, gas, and food. These expenses will be the same regardless of the distance you are running.
If you don’t have support from your family and boss (assuming you work and have a family) you won’t be able to accomplish this goal. I’ll re-phrase that. If you don’t have support from your family and boss you won’t be able to accomplish this goal in a timely manner. If you only get one week of vacation time off work a year, it will be much harder to travel to races. Initially it may work and you can travel during holidays that you have paid time off, but eventually it will get harder and harder to find races when you have time off work, especially if you don’t enjoy running in northern states around Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example.
This goal also takes total commitment from family members because of the time and money involved. If your spouse isn’t on-board with this goal, instead of support you’ll get resentment and eventually your goal will deteriorate. My husband and daughter are my biggest running fans and they’ve seen first-hand how they’ve also benefited from my goal, by getting to travel to new states and have a fun family vacation. We’ve been to places that we probably never would have gone to, but have almost always been pleasantly surprised by the place. There have been a couple of places we were underwhelmed by, but we still managed to have a good time and make the most of it!
Having a goal to run a race in all 50 states also takes a huge amount of planning, especially when you get down to the final 15 or so states. Some states only have less than ten half marathons, which greatly limits when you can run them. Also, if you’re limited to a certain part of a state where you can run for whatever reason, that also limits when you can run those races. Your choices are also dictated by the distance you’re running. If you’re running 5k’s you will most likely have more options than if you’re running 10k’s simply because there are more 5k’s than 10k’s.
I’ve also found that many times the race I thought I would run (sometimes I’ll have a race in mind years in advance) just didn’t happen for various reasons and I ended up running an entirely different race. For example, I thought I would run the Tybee Island Half Marathon in Georgia and looked forward to it for years. The year I went to register for it there was some problem and the race director was thinking about canceling the race for that year. I could have waited to see what would happen but I didn’t want to take a chance and not be able to run it and have to scramble around to find another race at the last minute along with airfare, hotel, car rental, etc. so I signed up for Run the Reagan Half Marathon, a race near Atlanta. It was one of the worst half marathons I’ve ever ran and I regretted not just waiting until the next year for Tybee Island.
Sometimes even with the best intentions of planning, things (aka races) fall through. In the case of my race in Oregon, I thought I’d be running a small race in Eugene. I had already booked our airfare, hotels, and car rental but I just hadn’t paid my registration fee for the race yet. Since it was a small race with no incentive to sign up early (prices didn’t increase over time as they sometimes do), I just wasn’t in a hurry to sign up. My daughter was interested in running the 5k so I emailed the race director with a question about that, only to be told the entire event (half marathon and 5k) had been cancelled. Fortunately there was another half marathon that she told me about also in Eugene the day after the one I thought I would be running, so I signed up for that one on the spot and breathed a sigh of relief!
Beyond races being cancelled, flights are also often changed, delayed, or cancelled. I’ve had so many flight changes for races I was flying to, I learned early on to give myself a buffer of at least one day, if not two or more, depending on where I’m flying and what the flight times are. For example, for flights to big cities where there are multiple flights a day, a buffer of one day would be fine, but for flights to smaller cities and/or places where you have to connect through other cities, I would personally give at least two buffer days before the race, just in case something happens.
Although I feel like it’s probably too late at this point, I’ve wondered if maybe I should have joined the Fifty States Half Marathon Club. I’m just not sure I can justify the one-time $79 fee on top of either a 3 or 5 year membership fee. Since I’ve already ran 41 states, I’d have to pay for a 5 year dues membership. This might be well and good if I had another 25+ states to go but since I’ll hopefully be done in another few years, I just don’t think I would get enough out of it to justify joining now.
When I mention to people that I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, the one question I get asked by far the most is, “Have you ran a race in Hawaii yet?” I guess a lot of Americans are fascinated by Hawaii. No one has ever asked me, “Have you ran a race in Rhode Island yet?” even though that one was one of my favorites so far. Oh, and the answer is, “Yes, Hawaii was one of the first half marathons I ever ran, before I even had the goal of running one in every state.” You can read about that here if you’d like.
Finally, I’ve learned that if you run enough races, eventually you’ll win an age-group award. I’ve always considered myself a near-the-front middle of the pack racer (if that makes sense), usually finishing in the top quarter for my age group. I never thought I’d “win” a race as my mother used to always ask me when I spoke to her afterwards (she’d ask, “Did you win?”) but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to win first, second, and third in my age group at races in Missouri, New Hampshire, and Oregon, respectively.
What questions do you all have about running a half marathon or even a different distance race in all 50 states? Are any of you running a race in all 50 states or considering it?
Similar to “What’s in my Family’s Luggage” post, I thought I’d write one up on what I pack for a race. Since I’m currently on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and am up to 41 states, I have been packing a bag for a race for many years now. The contents of my pre-race bag have certainly changed as I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for me.
To begin with, let me just re-iterate how much I love my packing cubes from ebags. I have the 3 piece set and love them so much I bought more for my daughter. If you are new to my blog, you may not be aware that my family and I never check a bag with an airline. Also, since I’m down to the last 9 states, there will be no more driving to a half marathon for me. I’ve already driven to all of ones that are within driving distance from my house and I’m not into cross-country driving before a half marathon.
I’ve always been able to condense all of my running gear except for my shoes, which I always wear on the airplane to the race, into a medium-sized packing cube. Almost always I’ll be running once or twice before the race as well, so I’ll also pack another running shirt, sports bra, socks, and shorts or other weather-appropriate bottoms in the cube.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is in my running packing cube specifically for a half marathon?
1. I always pack at least one sports bra and pair of socks, regardless of the weather and time of year. I learned the hard way at my half marathon in Missoula, Montana to pack a long-sleeve shirt and capris or pants even if it’s July and you think there’s no way you’ll need to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeves if you’re headed somewhere north of where you live. I consider these things my basics. I’ve been buying Zensah sports bras lately and really like them so I’m packing one of those for my next race. For socks, I’m packing Zensah Grit socks. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Arctic Cool that I reviewed and you can read that here if you’d like. My shorts are from Under Armour. The shorts and shirt obviously would be different if I was headed to a cooler race.
2. I always pack my running watch and charger. I’ve had multiple Garmins and more recently a TomTom over the years, but this is one piece of gear that’s always gone with me to my races.
3. I always pack sunglasses and a running hat. I’ll decide on the morning of the race if I actually wear the sunglasses and hat, depending on how sunny/hot/cold it is going to be.
4. In more recent years I’ve started running races with my Nathan running belt. It’s got holders for two bottles, which I like better than ones that have a spot for one big bottle. I run all my races fueled by Nuun carried by me and have found that just works better for me. No surprises on what you’re going to get at aid stations, and if it’s going to settle well with you, and even better, no slowing down at aid stations to grab a cup and try to not slosh it all over yourself while still swallowing a few drops. Speaking of fuel, I also like Honey Stinger waffles. I have a finicky stomach on race day but I usually don’t have a hard time getting these down.
5. Also in more recent years, I’ve been running races with my phone and armband. After one race where the finish was an absolute mad house and I had trouble finding my husband and daughter because there were so many people (even though we agreed to meet in a specific spot ahead of time), I started just running with my phone for all races.
6. I always wear my running shoes to races where I have to fly to, so those don’t go in my packing cubes. My latest pair for long runs is the Newton Fate II, which you can buy directly from Newton here and I see currently they’re on sale. It looks like the Fate III’s are out now. Not sure if I’ll stick with Newton or switch brands. I’m debating switching brands just to mix things up.
7. I also have two things for after a race. The first one is compression socks. These are fantastic for long flights, whether or not you’re running a race. When you’re on a long flight, the blood in your legs tends to pool unless you get up and walk around the plane a lot, so compression socks help with circulation in your legs. I personally like ones from Zensah and you can buy them here. The rule of thumb when it comes to compression products is if they’re easy to put on and pull off, they’re not tight enough. These things should be difficult to put on and feel like a bit of a struggle, but in the end it’s worth it.
The second thing I have for after a race is new to me, but one I’m very excited about. I’ve just discovered Oofos sandals (thank you, Paula!) and couldn’t be more excited about a pair of sandals. If you haven’t discovered Oofos yet, they’re supposed to be great for recovery after running or just being on your feet all day. You can tell they’re supremely different than most other flip-flop type sandals the second you put them on. The support they give to your feet is incredible. I can see why they’re so popular with runners.
So that’s everything. I feel like I’ve packed a bag for a half marathon so many times by now I barely even have to think about what I need to bring. It does make it a bit less stressful when packing at least.
Also, I have an affiliate link through ebags for $30 off your next order if you sign up for emails here. I don’t often pass along links for ebags on my blog, but if you follow me on twitter @runningtotravel, I’ll sometimes post links there for discounts when they come along. I love their stuff, but I don’t want to seem like I’m too pushy (I wouldn’t be a very good salesperson).
What running gear or clothes do you all really like for half marathons or marathons? Any recommendations?
If you follow my blog, you probably know that I’m a huge advocate of traveling light so I don’t have to check a bag with airlines. As a family of three, we haven’t checked a bag since our daughter was old enough to carry her own luggage, many years ago. We’ve gone on multiple 3-week vacations around the world without checking a bag. I’ve gotten asked many times how we manage to do this. The key is to only bring a week’s worth of clothes at the most and do a load of laundry mid-way on your vacation.
There are several advantages to not checking luggage with airlines, the most obvious being the money it saves you from not having to pay a baggage fee with airlines but there are other advantages as well. I’m in the process of running a half marathon in all 50 states, and over the years we’ve flown 3 or 4 times a year for races (in addition to flying to other places purely for vacations vs. racecations). By having all of my running clothes and gear on the plane with me, I don’t ever have to worry about my suitcase getting lost and not having those things for the race. The first time I flew to a race without checking luggage, I remember what peace of mind it gave me to know I would have all of my running things with me and there was no way my things were getting lost before the race.
Having your carry-on luggage on the plane with you also has other perks. I remember being on a flight that was the absolute coldest I’ve ever been on in my life. It felt like I was at a ski resort instead of sitting on an airplane. I was able to pull out several articles of clothing to layer-on and keep me warm, and I was so thankful to be able to do that. I’ve also pulled out sweaters from my carry-on in freezing airports on more than one occasion.
But I don’t want to lug around all of my stuff, you say! Trust me, you get used to it. I always tell myself I really just have to carry my bag through the airport and from the airport to the rental car once I get to my destination. It’s really not that bad. Besides, with the size and weight limitations on carry-ons from airlines, it’s not like you’re going to be lugging around 100 pounds or anything crazy anyway. Speaking of carry-on rules, many airlines limit carry-on luggage to 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches ((22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Some airlines do allow slightly bigger but some have even greater restrictions, so you should always check the airline you’re flying with in advance.
Since most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal bag, I always have my Patagonia backpack with handles and a cross-body strap for my carry-on bag and a backpack for my personal bag. I use the cross-body strap so I can still have a backpack on my back. Since my carry-on is a soft (i.e. flexible) material instead of hard-shell, I’ve always been able to stuff it on the plane, even small planes. My daughter recently asked for her own Patagonia carry-on like mine to replace her small roller bag, so she also has that plus sometimes a backpack but sometimes she’s been able to pack everything in her carry-on and didn’t need a backpack. You can buy the Patagonia Headway MLC from eBags here.
My husband recently down-sized from an already small carry-on bag to an even smaller roller carry-on bag. He also has a backpack for his laptop and other electronics, but he’s debated several times if he should leave his laptop at home so he wouldn’t have to lug it around (I doubt he’d ever leave it behind, though).
One of my husband’s new favorite things for travel has been a 100% Merino wool shirt I got him from Amazon. Wool is great for travel because it absorbs odor from sweat so you can literally wear it for days without it stinking. He even wore it on multiple days in Charleston, South Carolina in August when it was hot and humid with no smell. That was definitely a test for this shirt! Find the shirt here on Amazon.
I also am a huge advocate of rolling my clothes and using packing cubes. I like the 3-piece set of packing cubes from eBags, which you can buy here.
OK. So you have your carry-on bag and your packing cubes. Now you just need to fill the packing cubes. The great thing about the 3-piece set is you can use the bigger one for shirts, pants, undies, socks, and a small pair of shoes. The medium-sized one is great for when I’m traveling to a half-marathon and I can fit all of my running clothes and gear in that cube. If I’m not going to a race, I’ll use it for my swim suit and a couple of pair of athletic clothes for runs or working out in, or I’ve used it for things like warm hats, gloves, and a fleece jacket for layering if we’re going somewhere cold. The small cube can be used for beauty products or snacks for travel days or undies and swim wear if you don’t have enough room in your larger cube. The point is, you can categorize your clothes and things so that when you reach your destination, it makes unpacking and finding things much easier.
That covers the larger carry-on. As I mentioned, my husband and I also carry a backpack, and our daughter sometimes carries one. In my backpack, I have my tablet, my camera, cell phone, a paperback book (I’m old-school), medications, my baggie of liquids each 100 ml or less, headphones, snacks, and water bottle. My husband has his laptop, cell phone, sometimes a couple of paperback books, earbuds, snacks, baggie of liquids 100 ml or less, and water bottle.
And that’s it! Nothing complicated, just your basics really with some specifics but nothing crazy.
Here’s a simple break-down:
Patagonia Headway MLC carry-on for me and one for my daughter, roller carry-on for my husband
3-piece set of packing cubes typically containing:
1 pair of pants (if cold) or 2 pair of shorts (if warm)
Water bottle holder & bottles, running watch & charger, cell phone arm band, Nuun, snacks for race if running a half marathon
Snacks (usually nuts, dried fruit, crackers, sometimes jerky, cereal bars)
Small pair of shoes (slip-ons or flip-flops)
quart-size ziplock bag with liquid toiletries, each 100 ml or less
1 or 2 paperback books
On the plane, I’ll wear a shirt with a lightweight cardigan-type sweater or hoodie, my most comfortable jeans, and my running shoes. If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also wear my winter coat and have my scarf, hat, and gloves in the pockets or stuffed in my backpack. I always wear my most bulky clothes and shoes on the plane, to save room for smaller items in my bag.
What about you guys? What do you like to travel with? Anything you’d never travel without?
I spent the first 22 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up in the southern part of the state and got my undergrad degree in the northern part at West Virginia University. It’s fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of the state and spent my fair share doing mostly outdoors activities.
I’ve gone skiing and/or tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort and Snowshoe Mountain (I hate skiing so I am not a skier now but love tubing). I’ve gone whitewater rafting many times down the New River. I’ve gone hiking in most of the state parks throughout the state. I’ve been to the capital, Charleston, for many different occasions. I’ve gone camping throughout the northern and southern parts of the state. However, I had never spent any time in the second-largest city in West Virginia, Huntington, until recently.
Even though Huntington is the second-largest city by population in West Virginia, it’s still pretty small by most standards, coming in just under 50,000 people. The entire population of WV isn’t even 2 million but it does have more people than 12 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve mentioned all of the outdoor activities I’ve done throughout WV, and it’s no surprise since outdoor activities are what drive most tourists to the state.
I was going to Huntington to run a half marathon, though, as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia would be my 43rd half marathon in my 41st state. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to go hiking all over the place the day before a race. What on earth is there to do in Huntington besides go to Ritter Park, the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor? There’s also the Huntington Museum of Art, but again, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on my feet before the race. We were heading back home after the race on Sunday, so it’s not like we could go after the race.
Heritage Farm is a good way to spend a couple of hours especially if you have kids and/or are a history buff. In early November it was beautiful with all of the trees in full display of yellows, reds, and greens. There are eight museums, a blacksmith shop where you can see a blacksmith in action, an artisan center full of skilled tradespeople such as a quilter and a potter, Maker Space is full of hands-on activities and pop culture trivia displays through the years, a homestead site, a hands-on outdoor play space where kids can learn about simple machines, a cafe, church, gift shop, and petting zoo. Being a huge animal lover, the animals were my daughter’s favorite part of the farm. She especially loved the bunny who had a rooster friend with her. Apparently this rabbit and rooster were best friends and the rooster watched out for the rabbit. We also took a wagon ride around the farm and saw lots of unique animals. Although we didn’t stay overnight at the farm, you can stay overnight in one of a few log cabins or even a train caboose.
Besides finding things to do that didn’t involve tons of time on my feet, finding a hotel was a bit difficult as well simply because of the limited options. I wanted to find a pet-friendly place but the only one I could find was Towne Place Suites with a $100 non-refundable pet fee. For just a weekend, I could board my dog with a sitter near my home for less than that and she already knew the people who would be watching her. My new puppy was going to be watched by her foster mom who rescued her. Still, this seemed like pretty much the only “decent” hotel in the area, so I made reservations at Towne Place Suites. When I looked on Airbnb, there weren’t great options near Marshall University, where the race was, but if you’re not limited by that, there are definitely more options. Towne Place Suites turned out to be quiet and in a good location, not more than about 10 minutes from most things in the area, so it was a good choice for us.
Unless you’re driving into the area, it’s not very easy to fly into Huntington. There aren’t many direct flights into/out of Huntington Tri-State Airport. Unless you’re coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, or St. Petersburg, Florida, you’ll have to make multiple stops to get to Huntington. In some ways it’s easier to just fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, which has considerably more flights than those into Huntington, get a rental car, and drive one hour to Huntington. I would venture flights into Yeager are cheaper than flights into Huntington as well but I haven’t priced them. This is of course no different from transportation to/from any small town in the US. Any time you can fly into a bigger city and drive to your destination, it’s cheaper and Huntington is no different.
Dining options are about what you might expect in a small town in West Virginia. There are tons of fast-food and chain restaurants, but it is possible to find local places to eat. We had lunch at River and Rail Bakery, where we planned on having lunch and getting something from the bakery to take with us for later. While our lunches weren’t bad but nothing great, the options for dessert were flat-out disappointing. My daughter and I didn’t get anything for dessert and we were given our money back for the cheesecake my husband bought because it was so bad. We later had dinner at La Famiglia, which was by far the best meal of our weekend in Huntington. My daughter and I had handmade pasta and meatballs and it was delicious and the perfect pre-race dinner. After the half marathon, we had lunch at Surin of Thailand, which I later found out is a small chain in the south with six other locations. It was standard Thai fare so it was good but not the best Thai food I’ve ever had.
After our lunch, it was time to head back home. For others looking to extend their stay a bit in West Virginia, there are several places within a relatively short drive from Huntington. If you want a bigger city with more options, Lexington, Kentucky is only two hours away and is filled with fun things to do. This would also be an option for flights into the area, but you would have a bit longer of a drive than from Charleston. There are also many state parks around the Huntington and Charleston area great for hiking and camping.
When is the best time to visit West Virginia? Really anytime, depending on what you’d like to do. You can go skiing in the winter, hiking and camping in the spring, fall, and summer (of course you could go in the winter as well; that’s just not my thing personally), and whitewater rafting and zip lining in the summer. Another interesting place to visit is The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, about three hours from Huntington. You can just go here for the day but really there’s so much to do here it would be better to spend the night if it’s in your budget. There’s everything from a golf course, spa, casino, tree-top canopy tours, fishing, afternoon tea and other fine dining options, bowling, off-road tours, and even a declassified bunker tour, just to name a few. If you’re interested in planning your next vacation to West Virginia, this website is a good tool to help you get started. I’d also be happy to answer any questions any of you might have.
This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia was my 41st state.
I grew up in West Virginia and went on to get my bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University, so I spent the first 22 years of my life in the state. Surprised that I waited all the way until my 41st state to run a half marathon here? If you knew just how hilly mountainous the state is, you’d understand. The entire state lies within the Appalachian Mountains, which means you’re hard-pressed to find an area with enough flat sections to run a half marathon that’s not super-hilly. In my opinion, a half marathon is hard enough without having to run up and down a mountain along the way.
For years I also put off running a half marathon in Colorado because of the elevation. That race was every bit as difficult as I thought it would be, but I did it when I ran the Boulder Rez Half Marathon. After that race, I thought I could easily tackle a half marathon in West Virginia, which should be much easier because the Appalachian Mountains are much smaller than the Rocky Mountains. As I mentioned, I was looking for something fairly flat, at least by West Virginia standards. I also wanted a place fairly easy to get to, that I could drive to within a reasonable time. In my mind, that pretty much left a race in either Charleston or Huntington, since both cities run along rivers and are relatively flat.
Enter the Marshall University Marathon and Half Marathon. Marshall University is in Huntington, a small town of about 45,000 people, in the southern part of the state near Ohio and Kentucky. There is a small airport here, but you’d probably be better off flying into Charleston, the capital, about an hour away, and driving a rental car to Huntington.
2017 was the 14th year for the marathon, so I thought it should be well-organized and most likely a good match for me. The only wild card was the weather. I remember trick-or-treating in my hometown in West Virginia wearing a heavy winter coat many Halloweens as a kid, and seeing snow in October wasn’t unusual. Since moving to North Carolina many years ago, I’ve become a weather wimp, especially when it comes to cold weather. The week of the race, the weather forecast for Huntington changed from a chance of thunderstorms the morning of the race to rain the day before, to no rain on race day, and back to 61% chance of rain at 8:00 a.m. during the race. So I had no idea what the weather was going to be like during the race.
Packet pickup was offered both Friday and Saturday (no race-day pickup) and was easy and efficient. Half marathoners received a short-sleeve technical shirt and marathoners got that in addition to an Asics jacket (half marathoners could purchase a jacket). People running the 5k got a cotton short-sleeve shirt. There wasn’t really much else in the packet other than a map of Marshall University and written instructions for the race. There was a WV magazine, which I flipped through, but that’s all there was and I was glad really. I always think it’s a waste to get a bunch of junk no one wants anyway in your packet.
Despite the not-so-great weather predictions for the race, what happened in reality was near-perfect racing weather (for me, anyway; probably a bit warm for most other people). The low Saturday night was 57 F, which is 17 degrees warmer than it was this time last year in Huntington. Although it was overcast and looked like it could rain any second, it stayed completely dry the entire morning. Hurray! So I ran the course with temperatures in the low 60’s and overcast.
The course was extremely flat by West Virginia standards. When I tried to look at course information on the website, I was unable to get a real feel for the elevation and how many hills there were on the course. When we tried to drive the course the day before the race, we were unable to because of all of the one-way streets and the fact that the course veered onto running/walking paths a few times. In the course description it said there was only one small hill and I was so happy I could have cried when I saw it was indeed a small hill, by anyone’s standards, and there were no more hills on the rest of the course. A flat half marathon in West Virginia is almost unheard of, but somehow I managed to find it.
Volunteers along the course were great and there were plenty of aid stations with water and Gatorade and port-a-johns. There were spurts where there were people cheering on runners and I thought crowd support was pretty good given the race is in a relatively small town. The best parts of the course were where it ran along the river and on the running/walking path in Ritter Park. With the trees in full peak time for autumn foliage, it was beautiful seeing all of the bright red, orange, and yellow leaves everywhere.
The finish in the football stadium was awesome. There were volunteers handing out footballs near the end, so you could finish running with a football if you wanted, which I did of course. The footballs were ours to keep too. It’s definitely one of the more unique things I’ve received from a race. The medals were on the small side, but they were individualized for each race, the marathon, half marathon, and 5k. Food at the finish was hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, chocolate milk, cookies, bananas, and water. I was nauseous prior to and during the first hour of the race, so all I felt like eating after the race was a banana and I drank some chocolate milk.
I did have a mishap the morning of the race. When I was filling one of my small water bottles that fit into my waist-pack for races with Nuun, I noticed I seemed to be spilling some of it, then I noticed there was a gash in my bottle. I grabbed the bottle and salvaged what I could by pouring it into my full-size water bottle I had been using for the weekend (and it was empty, fortunately). I decided I would just chug that immediately before the race started then hand the empty bottle off to my husband and run with just one small bottle of Nuun instead of my usual two small bottles. Although there was water and Gatorade on the course, I prefer to run with my own Nuun for races. However, I didn’t even finish the bottle of Nuun I was running with, so it turned out fine in the end. I still have no idea how my bottle got such a large cut in it, though. Fortunately these Nathan bottles are easy to find and replace.
Overall, I loved this race. It helped me remember why I run half marathons and I truly enjoyed myself during this one. At the last two races I ran, in New Jersey and Utah, I really struggled during those races and didn’t really enjoy them because they felt more like a slog to the finish. I was so glad I chose this race for my one in West Virginia and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and well-organized marathon or half marathon in West Virginia. I later heard raving reviews from other runners about the full marathon as well, in case any of you are wondering.
My chip time was 2:00:55 (my A goal was 2:05, so I was thrilled with 2:00), and I finished 11th of 66 in my age group. I was the 93rd female out of 577. On a side note, my daughter ran the 5k and finished second in her age group, which is fantastic considering she was in the 19 and under group and she’s only 12! #proudmama
To me, an ideal racecation is a place where not only is the race a good one that’s a nice course and is well-organized but also has plenty of fun things to do after the race either in the same town or within driving distance. I’ve only ran races in the United States and so far have ran in 40 states, so although I haven’t been to every single state, I’ve been to most of what I would call the more popular states, with the exception of Alaska, which I plan on running next summer. Here are some of my favorite racecation places so far, in no particular order.
1). I thoroughly loved Vermont and even though the course was pretty challenging I even loved the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. The 27th annual Covered Bridges Half Marathon will be June 3, 2018, so obviously it’s been around for a while for a reason. I see there’s still a big hill in the course around mile 8, but don’t let that deter you. I’m not a big fan of hills unless they’re going down and I still loved this course when I ran it. You can find the race website here.
There is a race cap of 2300 runners and the race typically fills up within minutes of opening registration. After the race, you can tour maple syrup and cheese farms, and of course see the Quechee Gorge. There are tons of cute little Bed & Breakfasts where you can stay, most of which are in Woodstock.
2). Another place I highly recommend for a racecation is South Dakota. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon was one of my favorite races and I remember feeling so lucky to be running on such a beautiful course. Part of the reason this race holds a special place in my heart is probably because I also set a PR on the course, not something I would expect to do during a race in July. It is truly a downhill course with no big uphills to off-set going downhill, so that helped. It’s also not so steep that your legs are trashed by the end. Link to race website here.
After the race, there are plenty of things to do especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast. South Dakota is home to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Missouri River, Historic Deadwood, and Mount Rushmore (all of which my family and I visited and recommend). Travel South Dakota link
3). Hawaii is one of those states that people always ask “Have you ran a race in Hawaii?” when I tell them I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states. Not only have I ran one there, it was one of the first half marathons I ever ran. The Kona Half Marathon is a race I still fondly remember even though it was many years ago. The 25th annual race (website here) will be held June 16, 2018 so it’s almost been around as long as the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Vermont. The marathon starts at 5:30 am and the half starts at 6:00 am so you at least have a good chance to be off the course before things really start to heat up. Being Hawaii, however, there always seems to be a cool breeze so it’s never unbearably hot.
For things to do on the Big Island, there’s something for everyone. If you just want to relax on the beach, there are plenty of gorgeous beaches to choose from. You can go snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, biking, and even bike down from Mauna Kea Summit after watching the sunrise over the volcano. One of my favorite US national parks is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is large enough you could spend a couple of days here.
4). Rhode Island is a state many people may not think of when they’re deciding where to go on a vacation, which is a shame really. Although it’s the smallest state in the United States, Rhode Island is full of beauty and things to do. Further, the Newport Half Marathon is a great race that I highly recommend and I’m not the only one raving about it. The 2016 Amica Newport Marathon was voted as the “Best Half Marathon” and “Best Race Swag” in the Northeast by Competitor Magazine. Here is the website for the race.
After the race, you can tour one of many mansions in Newport and walk along Cliff Walk to take in views of the ocean. Rhode Island is small enough that you can take several day trips to other quaint little towns from Newport. If you’re a history buff, you can tour Fort Adams. For the outdoors-lover, there are all kinds of trails and 400 miles of coastline to explore. Discover Newport site
5). The Kiawah Island Half Marathon is a race that came recommended to me early in my running days. It was my 4th state for running a half marathon and despite strong winds that day I was finally able to break the sub-2 hour barrier for the first time. The course is pancake flat, as you might imagine, based on the fact it is a barrier island in South Carolina, 25 miles from Charleston, and takes you past golf course communities and beaches. Most of the course goes through a private gated community so while you can’t see the course before the race, you feel like you get an insider’s view of an area you normally wouldn’t be able to see when you’re running on race day.
You can arrange for a variety of accommodations through the race website, ranging from the 5 star luxury hotel, The Sanctuary Hotel to villas and private homes. Of course you can also arrange your own accommodations either through Airbnb or at the Charleston Kiawah Island/Andell Inn. After the race, you can drive the short 45 minutes to Charleston and take in the sights and more importantly the delicious food in this hugely popular city. You can read about my family’s recent stay in Charleston here and here. If you’d rather go further south (about 2 hours), Savannah, Georgia is also a fun city with tons to do and some great restaurants that will satisfy any serious foodie.
There you have it- my top racecation destinations! Did any of them surprise you? Are you surprised I didn’t mention a place? What are your favorite places for racecations?
Racecation, while not in the dictionary (yet), is when you combine a race with a vacation. Racecations have become fairly common, especially with the longer distance races like the half marathon and marathon. Since I am running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to my 38th state, I have planned my fair share of racecations. Obviously I love racecations but I know many people may be anxious about running a race that’s far from where they live. If you’re one of those that’s on the fence about it, read on.
Why should you do a racecation?
If you choose your race within a reasonable drive of a scenic area, you can follow up a race with a fun vacation, a sort of celebration or party if you will. While you can do it in reverse, with the vacation first then the race at the end, I don’t advise that if at all avoidable. I have had a few racecations this way because of my daughter’s school schedule (she’s never missed a vacation, racecation or otherwise with my husband and me), or a holiday that I didn’t want to be traveling during, or some other logistical reason. One thing to know about my family’s vacations are they are rarely the kind where we lounge around in hammocks for half the day. We have active vacations that include hiking, swimming, taking walking tours, etc. Not exactly the kinds of things you want to be doing right before a race, though.
It’s not the best idea to follow up a week of hiking with running a half marathon or marathon, but it can be done. The best way to plan this kind of racecation where the race is at the end of your vacation is to make absolutely sure you stay off your feet as much as possible the day before your race (two days prior is even better). So if your race is at the end of your vacation, go hiking, swimming, playing with your kids outside but then watch a movie and lounge by the pool the day before your race.
Unless you are running a race in all 50 states, I would say just choose a place where you’ve always wanted to go (or go back to) and see if there’s a race at that place. If there is, do a little more research to see if it’s one that’s doable, which brings me to my next point.
Do a Little Research on the Race
I have some websites I go to for choosing races. They are halfmarathons.net, runningintheusa.com, halfmarathonsearch.com, coolrunning.com for starters. If I’m looking for a specific race in a specific area, I would just google it and find information that way. Also remember that races come and go, so a link could be outdated. I signed up for a race that was last spring from a website that was outdated, only to find out the race had been canceled after I had already made my travel plans. In place of the canceled race I ended up running the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state. In my case, there was no way to know the website was outdated without contacting someone from the site and getting a response back, which fortunately happened to me. I think this is rare, however and it’s the only time something like this has happened to me.
Before you hit click to enter a race electronically, do some further research first to avoid disappointment or at least know what you’re getting yourself into. First see when the race is going to happen. Is it in Florida/Georgia/Mississippi/Texas/Louisiana in July or August? You should pass on that since that’s one of the hottest months in the south and you’d likely be miserable running anything longer than a 5k at the crack of dawn. Minnesota in February? No thank you. Personally I’m not a glutton for punishment. Rhode Island in October? Now you’re talking. Perfect weather and peak foliage for the leaves in the New England states.
Check out the day and time of the race. If it starts at 5:30 am and you can barely drag yourself out of bed to run at 8 am, you might want to think long and hard before signing up for an early-morning race, especially one that early. Remember, that’s start time, which means you’ll have to be up and at the race way before then. Also, if it happens to fall on a day when you or your family have plans, that won’t work for a race that’s in another state.
Click on the elevation chart (if there is one). If you despise running hills and this course is straight up a mountainside and back down, I wouldn’t advise running that. Or, conversely, if you really enjoy some small to moderate hills to break up a marathon and this course is pancake flat, it might not be the best choice. Often, there is no elevation chart or it’s misleading more often than not, de-emphasizing the hills along the course. That’s happened to me more than once where I checked out an elevation chart of a race, only to find it loaded with many more hills than I thought it would or the hills were much steeper than I thought they would be. All you can do is make the best of it if that happens.
Look at the race course. While it likely won’t mean much to you since it’s in a place you’re not familiar with, it’s still a good idea to see where you’ll be running. Sometimes you can gain a little insight like if you’ll be running past ocean views which will help pass the time and keep you preoccupied with the view.
Racecation Packing List
For a racecation, your packing list is a bit more complicated but doesn’t have to be daunting. Yes, weather is often unpredictable, more so in some parts of the country than others. My best advice is to pack for what you expect the weather to be like (shorts if it will be warm, pants if it will be cold) and then add in a couple of extra items “just in case.” For instance, if it’s supposed to be warm where you’re headed, pack shorts, short-sleeve shirt or tank top, and running capris or a long-sleeve shirt (your preference), just in case it’s cooler than predicted.
As a minimalist packer who hasn’t checked a bag with an airline in years (Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again), this may seem contradictory, but trust me, it works. I learned the hard way at Missoula Marathon, Montana-22nd state that the weather can change drastically the day before your race. Better to have an extra shirt or pair of pants than be miserable when running your race because you didn’t pack enough.
When I was packing for my Missoula racecation, I checked the weather for Missoula, Montana and the forecast called for warmer temperatures so I packed shorts. However, a cold front came in the day before the race and the weather the morning of the race was supposed to be much colder than predicted. I had to find a running store and attempt to find running pants during the middle of summer, which of course they did not have. Instead I had to squeeze into capris that were a size smaller than I normally would have bought and run a half marathon in clothes I hadn’t trained in. Normally you don’t want to run in anything you haven’t previously trained in but given the circumstances I felt it was a better option than freezing during the race.
Your packing list should include:
clothing (as mentioned in the previous paragraphs pack an extra item or two just in case but don’t pack more than one of the same item, such as two pair of shorts)- short-sleeve or long-sleeve shirt, shorts, capris, and/or pants, sports bra, socks, jacket and gloves if it will be cold
running belt and bottles (if used for races or at all)
running watch with adapter for charging
sports supplements (Gu, Gels, Nuun, etc.); don’t rely on whatever the race has if you currently train with something specific
wear your running shoes on the plane if you’re flying (pack one pair lightweight shoes); do this going to the race. Doesn’t really matter coming back home. This is really about worse-case scenario to me. My shoes are the one thing I really don’t want to be without.
Choosing a Place to Stay
I learned years ago to try to find a place to stay the night before the race (and also after the race unless you’re moving on to somewhere else for your vacation portion) that’s within walking distance of the race start. This saves you grief in a myriad of ways. For one, you can sleep in a bit longer instead of having to get up earlier to take a shuttle or drive to the start. Also, often a nearby hotel will have a code for runners staying there that will give you a discount. This information should be readily available on the race website. If it’s not, contact the race director for suggestions of where to stay the night before the race.
If you are going to stick around in the town where the race is after the race, it is nice to be able to go back to your hotel after the race and take a shower and nap rather than having to check out in a hurry to catch your flight back home. Even if the race is in a location that’s say a two hour drive from where you planned the vacation part of your racecation, you might want to stay in the city of the race for the night before and night of your race, before moving on.
If You’re Flying to Your Racecation
One thing to be aware of when you’re flying back home, I have been stopped twice at security for having my race medal in my carry-on luggage. If you check luggage, this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you don’t check luggage like me, this can be an issue. Believe it or not, I was stopped at Boston Logan Airport after the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon, Massachusetts- 29th state. I would have thought that of all places, the security staff at this airport would have seen a medal or two, with the Boston Marathon and all of those medals going through after the race. My bag was stopped and my family (and everyone else in line behind me) had to wait while the security person pulled out my bag, called for a supervisor, who didn’t respond for quite some time, then a supervisor finally came, pulled out my medal and verified that was the object they were looking at on the x-ray screen, and sent me on my way again.
This happened again at my most recent race in San Diego Silver Strand Half Marathon, California-38th state. I asked the security agent what I was supposed to do with it and he said, “Wear it around your neck proudly! You earned that medal!” I’m pretty sure it would have set off the alarms going through the metal detector, but I guess he meant put it in one of those small round containers for wallets and jewelry before I went through the scanner. Hopefully I’ll remember to do that the next time.
If you’ve never done a racecation before but have been thinking about it, my advice is to choose a race that’s about 2 or 3 hours from your house but somewhere you would actually like to spend a few days after the race (and the night before the race). This way you can drive to the race and not have to worry about the extra logistics that come with flying to a race but the drive won’t be too bad. Work your way up to farther ones from there once you feel more comfortable. Racecations definitely require more planning than running in local races, but I find them much more interesting and I’ve gotten to where I enjoy the planning that’s involved.
For those of you that have done or do racecations, what are some of your favorites? For those of you on the fence about doing a racecation, which one(s) seem most interesting to you?