Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Packing Blunders

I’ve made at least 200 trips to various races.  It only takes me a few minutes to make a packing list for any trip.  I can also pack fairly quickly.  I can throw most things together in about 10 minutes.  With so much practice packing for races, you might think I always have what I need.  You’d be wrong.  Over the years, I’ve made some serious packing blunders.  So far, I’ve been able to overcome most of them.  Here are some of my worst mistakes.


What’s the last piece of running gear you’d want to forget?  Shoes!  You can replace just about anything else, but what would you do if you didn’t have your running shoes?  I found out in 1992, when I arrived in Duluth for Grandma’s Marathon.  When I unpacked the car, I discovered I had left my running shoes at home.  I remembered to pack them.  I just didn’t get all the bags loaded into the car.

We were staying with my sister Betty.  There wasn’t time to drive home to retrieve my shoes, but Betty took us to a mall that had a running store.  They carried my model of shoes, but they didn’t have my size.  I had to buy a pair of shoes that was a half size too big.

I had a copy of Galloway’s Book on Running with me.  There’s a section that illustrates various lacing methods.  I found a lacing method for keeping your heal snug in shoes that are too large.  It worked.  I had extra room in the toe box, but my heels stayed in place.

You’re not supposed to run a race in new pairs of shoes, but I didn’t have any problems.  I set a PR that day.  I didn’t even have any blisters.  Knowing how to adjust my laces kept a packing blunder from turning in a race day disaster.


How can you forget to pack something as basic as running shorts?  I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t trust weather forecasts.  The only way to cover all the bases is to pack clothes for everything from cold and wet to hot and humid.  When you’re packing a wide variety of running clothes, it’s easy to omit something and not notice.

In 2013, I went to Michigan for the Ann Arbor Marathon.  After picking up my race packet, I started organizing my race clothes.  I like to do this the day before the race, so I don’t have to look for things in the morning.  I couldn’t find my running shorts.  After going through everything in my suitcase, I finally went back to the expo.  Fortunately, it was just across the street from my hotel.

I couldn’t find any shorts I liked at the expo.  As luck would have it, the expo was inside a shopping mall, the there was a sporting goods store with running shorts.  They weren’t exactly like the shorts I usually run in, but at least they fit.  I ran the race in a new pair of shorts.  Once again, I had a good race.  Taking the time to organize my clothes before the stores closed gave me enough time to overcome another packing error..


I always have a packing list, so how do I forget to pack things?  In my haste to pack quickly, I often pack a dozen things at once and then cross them all off my picking list.  Sometimes I cross something off my list because I thought I packed it, but I really didn’t.

That’s probably what happened with the shorts in Ann Arbor.  It’s also what happened when I showed up in Utah last year for the Antelope Island Buffalo Run 50K.  When I started organizing my clothes for the race, I discovered I didn’t pack a T-shirt.  Fortunately, I received a suitable T-shirt at packet pickup.  I don’t like to wear a race shirt until I’ve earned it by finishing the race, but I made an exception for this race.


In 2012, I went to Portland for the Firecracker Quadzilla.  I packed all the clothes I needed to run four marathons.  That included four brand new pairs of socks.  The third race was clear across town from my hotel.  I drove to the race wearing my street shoes.  I changed into running shoes after I got there.

I had the right shoes, but I forgot to grab a pair of socks.  The socks I was wearing were my everyday socks.  The running socks were back at the hotel, and I didn’t have time to go back and get them.  Running in my everyday socks probably would result in bad blisters.  Running without socks would have been worse.  Then my feet would be slipping around in my shoes.  Worse yet, I had another race the next day.  If I developed bad blisters in this race, I’d also have painful feet the next day.

Another runner came to my rescue.  I was able to borrow a pair of socks from Tom Craven.  They fit OK, and I didn’t develop any blisters.  The next day, I remembered to bring my own socks.

Timing Chip

Driving to a race wearing my everyday shoes is something I used to do all the time.  I used to arrive early enough that I could change shoes and socks before the race.  At the Antelope Island Buffalo Run, I got burned.  I discovered that my running shoes weren’t in the car.  My everyday shoes, however, were actually the same model of shoes.  They were somewhat well worn, but in a pinch I could race in them.

I got ready for the race and went to check in.  Then I realized I had another problem.  My timing chip was already attached to the running shoes I left at the hotel.  D’oh!  There wasn’t enough time to go back and get them.  If I tried, I’d get stuck in traffic trying to get back onto the island.

If this was a large race, I’d be screwed.  No chip, no time, no finish.  Fortunately, it was a small enough race that I was able to talk to the race director.  No problem. I wasn’t the first person to forget their chip.  He said to yell “NO CHIP” to the timers when I crossed the finish line.  They recorded my time manually, and I got an official result.

I was supposed to turn in my chip after finishing the race.  I couldn’t do that, because the chip was at the hotel, and it was a significant drive.  The expo was held at a local running store that sponsors the race.  The RD told me I could return the chip there.  It wasn’t far from my hotel, so I stopped by later in the day to return my chip.

Cold Weather Gear

I mentioned that I learned the hard way to pack for any kind of weather.  I learned that lesson at the 1988 St. Louis Marathon.  The weather took an unexpected turn.  A cold front moved through St. Louis the night before the race, bringing cold temperatures and wet snow.  It was the first time I traveled out of state for a race, and I didn’t have any clothes for those conditions.

It was 33 degrees, with snow that melted on contact.  I wore a cotton shirt and cotton gloves that weren’t much help once they got wet.  I had a windbreaker, but it wasn’t waterproof.  I dropped out at the 14 mile mark, when I could no longer move the fingers in my right hand.  Since then, I’ve been less trusting of forecasts and less apt to travel light.  I’d rather bring it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Hot Weather Gear

The opposite extreme happened in 2000 at the Longest Day Marathon in Brookings, SD.  At the time, this race was held in mid-April.  The temperature was hovering right around freezing, with strong winds that made it feel much colder.  During the night, freezing rain coated the streets with ice. That’s OK.  I had ALL the cold weather gear.

Deb and I parked near the start and waited inside the car until it was almost time to start the race.  The other runners also waited in their cars.  Then I saw people gathering near the starting line.  The race director was making an announcement.

I didn’t realize it, but they came very close to cancelling the race.  The RD announced that the start was delayed by two hours.  Then he told us that we were going to run on an indoor track at South Dakota State University.  We went back to the hotel so I could change clothes.

Indoors, the temperature would be 70 degrees.  With over 100 runners on the track, it would keep getting warmer.  Also, the humidity inside the building would climb.  Instead of a cold weather race, it was now a hot weather race.  I had to figure out what to wear.

By dumb luck, I had a singlet.  I was originally planning to wear it on top of a warmer shirt, so I could pin my race bib to it.  I didn’t have shorts.  Again, I got lucky.  Deb had a pair of shorts that she was planning to use as a swim suit.  They were a bit small for me, but I was able to make do.

I had a surprisingly good race.  It probably helped that I was able to find suitable clothes.  I saw other runners who were badly overdressed.  I placed high enough to win a gift certificate at a local runner store.  I used it to buy a pair of tights.  I don’t know how many times I wore those tights in cold weather races, but it was quite a few.


I’ve never actually forgotten my watch, but in 1999 my watch battery died just before the start of the Chicago Marathon.  Ten minutes before the race, my watch was working fine.  A few minutes later, it went blank.

Before chip timing, your official time always included the time it took to reach the starting line after the gun went off.  In a large race, that could be a few minutes.  I always started my watch as
I crossed the line, so I would know my “real” time.  As luck would have it, this was the first race I did that used chip timing.  My official time was my “real” time.

I like to check my watch every mile and adjust my pace.  In Chicago, I was able to check my pace my reading the large digital clocks.  There was one above the starting line, so I knew how much time elapsed by the time I crossed the line.  They had clocks at every mile, so I had no trouble checking my pace.  They also had them every 5K.  Finally, they had clocks at the halfway mark, the finish line, and one mile to go.  In all, there were 38 digital clocks on that course.

Water Bottle

In trail races, you usually need to carry a bottle or two to have enough fluids to make it from one aid station to the next.  Some road races also expect runners to carry a bottle.  One time I forgot to bring one and didn’t realize it until the morning of the race.  The website said the aid stations wouldn’t have cups, so I was concerned.

When I arrived at the start, I asked the RD.  They actually had a few cups at the aid stations. They just didn’t have enough for everyone.  I couldn’t drink between aid stations, but at least I could drink occasionally.  That was enough.

It’s better to be lucky than to be good.

With the exception of the St. Louis Marathon, I’ve been able to overcome my packing blunders.  Sometimes I had help from friends.  Other times I just got lucky.  As they say, “It’s better to be lucky than to be good.”

It helps that I usually organize my gear the day before the race.  There are few things that can’t be replaced, but you might need to get to a store while it’s still open.

In May, the airline lost my suitcase while I was traveling to South Africa for the Comrades Marathon.  My bag caught up to me the next day, but I had to prepare for the possibility that I wouldn’t have it in time for the race.  As soon as I realized my bag was lost, I made a mental inventory of what running gear was in the missing bag.  Then I made backup plans.

  • Shoes:  My everyday shoes were the same model as my running shoes.  In a pinch, I could wear them for the race, just as I did last year for the Antelope Island Buffalo Run.
  • Socks:  I could buy a pair of socks at the expo.
  • Shorts:  My friend David offered to lend me a pair, but this is something else I could have bought at the expo.
  • Shirt:  I could wear my race T-shirt.
  • Hat:  The race rules prohibited wearing any gear with corporate logos.  They provided running hats for everyone.
  • Watch:  My everyday watch was a running watch.
  • Wrist band:  I like to wear a wrist band under my watch, so it doesn’t get sweaty.  I could make an exception.
  • Warm-up clothes.  The starting line was near my hotel, and it was a comfortable morning.  I didn’t need warm clothes before the start. I wanted to check a bag with warm clothes to wear after the race, but I could probably buy some cheap clothes locally.
  • Sunglasses:  I like to wear sunglasses to protect my eyes from UV exposure.  My hat had a brim, so I could get by without the sunglasses.
  • Sunblock.  I could but this locally.
  • Deodorant:  There was a sample in my race packet.
  • Fanny pack.  I was injured, so I wanted to carry a compression wrap in a fanny pack.  The wrap was in my carry-on bag, but the fanny pack was in my checked bag.  If I couldn’t find something suitable at the expo, I could probably find something in a store.

You can overcome almost any packing blunder if you discover it in time.  The key is to give yourself enough time to find a replacement.  Take inventory the day before the race, preferably before stores close.

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