Travel Tips for Destination Races: Hotels, Packing, and Race Day Logistics

Sh*t! I forgot the ______.
Sh*t! I forgot the ______.

Every runner has their very own special prerace routine. Mine includes eating a turkey and cheese bagel sandwich and making sure I hit the bathroom at least three times before the gun goes off.

In theory our race routines sounds simple enough, but making sure everything goes right on race day is hard, even when you roll out of your own bed on race morning. If you need to travel to your race, just thinking about what to pack for a perfect race day can be downright scary!

So what are you to do when your race takes you on the road? Read this!

The key is to pre-plan so you can eliminate as many unknowns as you can.

Find a Place to Stay.

The very first thing I do, even before I sign up for a race is book a hotel! Here are my tips for booking the perfect hotel for a destination race:

1. Make sure to check the cancelation policy before forking over my credit card. Getting injured and having to bag a race is bad enough, but having to pay for a hotel you can’t use, literally adds insult to injury!

2. If possible, make sure the hotel is within walking distance to the start of the race (less than a mile). Staying so close eliminates the hassle of navigating the local public transportation system or trying to find parking. The closer the hotel is to the start, the longer you can stay in your warm room, which means less time on your feet and no bathroom lines.

The one exception to this is point to point courses. In this scenario I usually book the hotel closest to the finish line so that I can hobble somewhat quickly back to my hotel. It’s also easier to meet up with your running friends back at the hotel. When staying near the finish, I look for a hotel that has a shuttle to the race start nearby.

3. Request a fridge and a microwave in your room. This way you can make your pre-race breakfast in the comfort of your own room, wired with pre-race adrenaline at 4:30 A.M.

Prerace Meal

Several weeks before the race, I search OpenTable for an Italian restaurant close to my hotel and I make a reservation. This may seem unnecessary, but remember that carefully planned pre-race routine? Say you always eat pasta at 6 p.m. the night before a race. You waltz up to the local Italian restaurant around 5:45 and see that there is a large group of people wearing jeans with running shoes and race shirts talking loudly about paces and goals. Newsflash, you’re going to wait an hour or more to eat your pasta and that is not part of the plan!

What to Pack

Don't be afraid to bring too much stuff! It's ok!
Don’t be afraid to bring too much stuff! It’s ok!

I have been accused more than once of being an over-packer. I have also supplied, sports bras, throw away clothes, gloves, Vaseline, nuun, and more to fellow runners who forgot to pack something they needed.

I always pack in two stages:

1. In my suitcase, I put my regular clothes and toilet accessories.

2. Everything I need for race day goes in my trusty backpack.

This backpack is my carry on for the plane ride and on car trips sits on the floor by my feet. I wear the shoes I will be racing in and try not to let my backpack out of my sight.
So what exactly goes into my heavily protected backpack?

  • Bra
  • Hair accessories
  • Garmin and charger
  • Gels
  • spybelt
  • body glide
  • visor for rain
  • slightly heavier top layer if the temps are trending cold
  • Slightly lighter top layer if temps are trending hot
  • Throw away clothes including gloves to stay warm at the start
  • Race morning breakfast if worried you won’t be able to get it at your destination.
  • Earplugs, especially if staying with a travel companion.

Before packing, I lay out everything, from my bra down to my hair rubber bands and make a “flat runner” on my bed.  Then I lay out my throw away clothes and gloves. Once it’s all laid out, I take a picture and then pack everything in my bag. The picture comes into play when you panic because you can’t remember if you packed your favorite sports bra. Rather than unpacking everything, you simply check the picture. If there is room, I usually throw in an extra bra or pair of shorts and some safety pins just because I’m neurotic.

Once You Get There

1. Make sure you check the expo hours and the bib pickup policy. If I know my flight is going to be tight I make sure I have a backup plan for picking up my bib. Some races will not let anyone pick up your bib except you, so you may want to give yourself extra time.

2. While at the expo always get a map of the start and finish areas. Familiarize yourself with the start line and the corral system. Some of the larger races where security is a higher issue have separate entrances for each of the corrals.

3. Walk the route to the start so you know exactly how long it is going to take to get there. Same goes for if you are driving. Drive to the start area, find several parking options and make sure you figure out which streets will be shut down for the race. If you find that you lose your mind and your sense of direction after a race, write down the cross streets of your hotel so you can at least ask for directions.

4. Bring your breakfast with you or buy it at a local grocery store the night before. This is where the fridge and microwave in your room come in! For all of you coffee drinkers out there, please for the love of all things caffeine figure out where you are going to get that much needed cup of joe in the morning. If that’s the hotel lobby, great! If it’s the in room coffee maker, make sure you practice using it the night before. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ve seen the fear in my friends eyes when then think there is a chance they may not get their coffee before the race!

Traveling to races makes for an amazing experience, but being out of your element can make you more nervous. Avoid extra race morning jitters by pre-planning as much as you can before race morning!

Any other tips you destination racers want to share? 

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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  1. This is so so so wonderful. Even though my marathon this season is local, I’m going to follow the routine anyway! Laying out my stuff the night before ALWAYS helps.

  2. Great tips!

    I’ll add one – check that the correct number of pins are included in your packet before you leave the expo if you aren’t using a belt. When I went to pin my bib on for Twin Cities last year, I found that they had given me 3 safety pins and a paperclip. If I had been at home, it wouldn’t have been an issue because I have 500 million pins from past races. Luckily, the front desk had a sewing kit that included a teeny tiny pin.

  3. Safety pins is a must! I have had to call the front desk of a hotel, who calls housekeeping which results in one rusty safety pin they found in a desk drawer somewhere! And I lay my stuff out every night before a morning run. If I don’t it takes me 5 times as long to find everything!

  4. This is great compilation of ideas, many of which I have done but some I definitely need to start doing! Love the photo idea, this would definitely limit freak outs of things we think we forgot to pack (which happened to me at my goal marathon in September!).