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
Honey Stinger Waffle Sampler (6-Pack)
These sweet honey-filled waffles feel indulgent but are packed with the energy you need to fuel prerace. From vanilla to salted caramel, there are six delicious flavors to choose from.
2. Spring Energy
Spring Energy Awesome Sauce (Vegan, 2-Pack)
“Some gels just really do a number on my stomach, or the flavors get too overwhelming in those late miles,” Roseann Gallo, a six-time marathoner and USATF and RRCA level 1 certified run coach for New York Road Runners, tells SELF. “Spring Energy uses real food—basmati rice, maple syrup, juice, cinnamon, vanilla, yams, and fruit—and all-natural ingredients to fuel athletes.” Plus, she says, they “honestly taste great.”
3. Honey Stinger Energy Gel
Honey Stinger Energy Gel Variety (16-Pack)
I first tried Honey Stinger Energy Gels while volunteering at the 2019 NYC Marathon Mile 12 water and fuel station. After making the mistake of not bringing any snacks for my long shift, I found myself reaching for the brightly colored honey packs and was pleasantly surprised by their sweet and delicious pomegranate flavor. Now I (mostly) use them for long runs and races, and I still can’t get enough of these gels.
4. HÜMA Chia Energy Gel
Huma Chia Energy Gel Variety (12-Pack)
Four-time marathoner Andie Orgando discovered her love for Hüma gels while looking up how to make her own gel. They include fruit purée and powdered chia seeds and “taste better than any other gel I’ve had,” she tells SELF. “They’re also super easy to carry in a hydration pack or pocket during a run. I typically bring them on vacation if I’m training or planning on running somewhere hot.”
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
Saltstick Caps (100-Pack)
“Saltstick Caps are my go-to during races because I’m a salty sweater,” five-time marathoner Jeanine Encizo tells SELF. “Adding the capsules as a part of my race fuel plan helps make sure I’m replenishing the sodium and other electrolytes I’m losing. Without them I tend to feel fatigued so much sooner.”
2. Tailwind Naked
Tailwind Endurance Fuel (50 Servings)
“I absolutely do not like the manufactured flavors of gels and drink mixes, so I’m thankful that Tailwind makes a ‘naked’ flavor,” says Gallo. “It’s the perfect blend of electrolytes and carbs to help fuel your run. Not having a weird aftertaste in my water is everything.”
3. Nuun Sport
Nuun Sport Electrolytes (10-Pack)
“I love Nuun Sport tablets because they’re super easy to travel with,” says Encizo. “I usually pop one in a bottle or glass of water in the days leading up to a marathon race because it helps make sure I’m hydrating properly with electrolytes.”
4. Nathan Speeddraw Plus Insulated Flask
Nathan Speeddraw Plus Insulated Flask
Like Dahl, I’m a big fan of handheld running water bottles, and this one—after the recommendation of many fellow marathon trainers—has been the best that I’ve found. It doesn’t leak and isn’t too large for my (very small) hands.
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
Spibelt Original Pocket Running Belt
This was the number one running belt that was recommended to me when I first started running, and I still won’t use anything else. The expandable pouch is big enough to accommodate my iPhone, keys, and all the fuel I need to race. I’m especially a fan of the adjustable belt that doesn’t move around when I run.
2. Nike Running Fanny Pack
Nike Slim Running Fanny Pack
Similar to the Spibelt, this running belt has just enough space to hold all your phone, fuel, and anything else you’ll need during and after your run.
3. Koala Clip
Koala Clip Original
“Armband phone holders don’t work for my skinny arms, so finding the Koala Clip was a godsend,” says Gallo. “[The Koala Clip] protects the phone from the weather and sweat and allows you to run hands-free! You can clip it to the front or back of your running bra or inside your tights, whatever works for you. It can accommodate credit cards, cash, and small keys as well. It doesn’t shift while running, and the magnetic clip keeps it in place.”
4. Lululemon Fast and Free Running Armband
Lululemon Fast and Free Running Armband
If you’re not a fan of belts wrapping around your waist, a running armband is also a great pick. This armband comes in two different sizes that are easy to adjust and fit to your arm.
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
Garmin Forerunner 245 GPS Running Smartwatch
Garmin runners are a team favorite for the North Brooklyn Runners. The Forerunner 245 is slightly more affordable than some of Garmin’s other more advanced models, but it still has enough metrics to accurately track pace and record your route via GPS to show off your race afterward.
2. Coros Apex Pro GPS Watch
Coros Apex Pro Premium Multisport GPS Watch
A fitness watch that athletes swear by, the Coros Apex Pro GPS watch packs in a lot of battery life that will last you through even the longest of races (calling all ultramarathoners). It has a durable and easy-to-use touchscreen that makes using it mid-run even easier.
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
Saucony Endorphin Speed 3
Encizo specifically likes the Saucony Endorphin Speed because they have “great bounce, are nylon plated, but [are] less expensive than the Pro counterparts.”
2. Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
Look down at any starting line and you’re bound to see runners sporting the flashy, colorful Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% 2. The winner of SELF’s 2022 Sneaker Awards for best racing shoe, they’re a fan favorite for a reason: They’re soft, springy, and super lightweight.
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
Old Navy Performance Ankle Socks (6-Pack)
“Old Navy Athletic Performance Ankle Socks are my racing choice,” Encizo says. “They’re so comfortable and are cushioned in all the right spots.”
2. CEP The Run Low Cut Socks 4.0
Cep The Run Low Cut Socks 4.0
If you want to splurge, the Run Low Cut Socks from CEP are another great option. They offer a little more compression along the arch of the foot and sit a little further up the ankle to prevent any blisters or rubbing from the back of your shoes.
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
Hyperice Normatec Go
Dahl swears by bringing her Normatec Go portable compression boots when traveling for races. Although she once brought the full-size boots for her and her husband, the Gos are much more travel-friendly. I can personally vouch for this and have brought mine on shorter trips so I can always recover on the go.
2. Tiger Tail Portable Roller
Tiger Tail Massage Stick Portable Roller (18 in.)
Other seasoned destination racers swear by bringing a portable foam roller with them. Papageorge specifically recommends purchasing a handheld roller like a TigerTail, which perfectly fits inside any suitcase.
3. Lululemon Release and Recover Ball Set
Lululemon Release and Recover Ball Set
I bring these recovery balls with me everywhere. They are compact enough to fit in even the smallest of carry-on bags and are great for releasing muscle tension that can arise from any type of travel. The lightweight balls come in three different sizes, each perfect for targeting muscles in your shoulders, feet, and everything in between. (Trust me, there is no better feeling than rolling your feet on one of these after a race.)
4. Dr Teal’s Epsom Salt Travel Pack
Dr Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt & Foaming Bath Oil Sampler Gift Set
There’s nothing like soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath after pounding pavement during a road race. It’s my preferred form of recovery, and I always try to hunt down Epsom salts at my local drug store or bring a travel-friendly pack with me in my suitcase.
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
Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm
A SELF favorite, the Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm is the secret to preventing painful chafing from sweaty long runs. Best of all, it comes in a small portable stick that’s great for sticking in your carry-on.
2. Supergoop! Play Everyday Lotion
Supergoop! Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50
Supergoop’s Play lotion is another SELF favorite. I personally love that it’s meant for both your face and body, making it a multipurpose tool so you have one less thing to pack. I won’t be caught on any run without protecting my skin with this sun lotion: Its light formula quickly soaks into your skin and never runs into your eyes when you sweat.
3. Goodr Running Sunglasses
Goodr A Ginger’s Soul Sunglasses
These affordable sunglasses were made for being active. Their nonslip coating helps them stay on your face even in the hottest temps.
4. HotHands Hand Warmers
Hothands Hand Warmer Value Pack (10-Pack)
One year, while gathered around trying to stay warm before the New York City Marathon, one of my fellow running club members handed me her HotHands disposable hand warmers as she left to depart for her wave. I thought it was genius, and it instantly helped warm me up. Papageorge also swears by them and brings them on every race that she travels to.