Mar 25, 2022 5 min read

You Always Remember Your First Race Expo

You Always Remember Your First Race Expo
Photo by Robert Linder / Unsplash

I recently ran my first half-marathon — the Rock & Roll Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. To be honest, running 13.1 miles is a big deal for me! But the expo before the race was pretty awesome. Hosted at the convention center attached to RFK Stadium, the expo featured over 100 booths and had a fun atmosphere — with music and entertainment from various sponsors throughout. Even though this expo was for runners, I think anyone would enjoy the expo for a similar event. In fact, here are some cool things I learned about running expos.

Pick up your bib and maybe some new gear.

Now that you've decided to register for a race, it's time to get excited about the expo. Running expos are like candy stores for runners, with all kinds of free samples and deals on running gear. Additionally, these are the places where you receive your bib number and race packet.

While this may sound straightforward enough, there are a few things to know before you visit your first running expo:

  • Don't forget your bib number at home! You'll need it in order to run the race.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes—you'll be doing a lot of walking around. (You can also buy new running clothes and shoes at the expo.)
  • Bring cash or credit cards so you can buy snacks from vendors or make purchases at booths during the show.

Size up the competition

Now that you've done your research and found a race, it's time to attend the expo! This is where you pick up your bib, t-shirt, swag bags and more. But that's not all...

The expo can be kind of overwhelming. It seems like there are a million booths and things to see. You'll find food vendors, examples of running gear and other products, training programs for runners at every level imaginable, and much more. It can be tempting to go from booth to booth getting as many free samples as possible (and trust me—you'll want to eat light that day because they're often giving out pizza or energy bars with enough calories for a whole week).

If you visit the expo with friends who are also running in the race, it can make for a fun afternoon or evening. But if you go by yourself or only with people who are not interested in trying out all the new shoes or signing up for another marathon on the spot, going alone can make hanging around one of those tables tempting you into new sneakers feel lonely and stressful. So think carefully about whether you want some company at an expo.

Get some free stuff

All those freebies can be used the day of the race or before. You can get free energy drinks, gels, and snacks to help you through the race. You can get free running gear and magazines that allow you to learn about other races in your area. And you might even get some info about health and fitness for runners to help you improve your overall performance.

Get to know the sponsor brand's reps and staff

The representatives and staff for each race are there to help you with questions about the course, parking, packet pickup and any problems that may come up with your registration. Having this information available is helpful if you have any concerns about the course or how long it might take you to finish. If you have any questions about the event, ask them! They are friendly people who want to make sure you have a good experience at their race.

Check out all the latest running gear and technology in one place

It’s a great way to get a feel for what’s new in running gear and technology. Running shoes are constantly evolving, and it can be hard to keep up with all of the latest styles, colors, and features. Running expos are one of the best places to try on new running shoes, speak directly with company representatives, and take advantage of show discounts.

Clothing is another area where runners are always striving for the newest look or feature. It can be tempting to buy clothes online because of cost savings or convenience; however, it’s important that you actually try clothes on before buying them! You don’t want to spend your race suffering from chafing or dealing with a shirt that won’t stay tucked in.

Companies will also bring their latest GPS watches and wearable tech gadgets to expos: heart rate monitors, activity trackers… you name it! If you haven’t tried some of this stuff out yet, now is your chance!

There are often samples of the latest nutrition products at expos as well. If you have any fears about fueling during your race (a marathon is 26.2 miles!), you can use an expo as a practice session—try out new foods before race day so that there aren’t any surprises along the way.

Check in

When checking in, you will need to present your ID and/or confirmation email. Look for the signs directing you to check in. Volunteers will be available to help you find where this is. If possible, arrive early and bring everything with you so that you can get through the line quickly. If it's too late for that, don't panic! The organizers want to make sure everyone has a great race day experience, so they'll work with you as best as they can.

During check-in, your bib number will be assigned to you by the volunteers working there if it isn't already printed on your registration forms or ID card. It's important that this is visible on the front of your shirt throughout the entire race.

Grab your race packet, number and shirt(s)

Once you've registered for the race, you'll need to pick up your race packet (this is what it's called!), number, and shirt(s), if applicable. The expo usually offers a lot more than just these items; however, the above are what you absolutely need to pick up in order to participate in a running event. In addition to these things, it's common for expos to offer other services as well, such as free massages or taping. You may also receive sponsor brochures and coupons from various companies--these are usually given out at booths manned by enthusiastic employees who want you to buy their product.

Shop for running clothes and shoes or accessories you forgot or that you need.

  • At the Expo, you can also shop for running clothes and shoes or accessories you forgot or that you need. Many expos have multiple stores selling a variety of items including race shirts, shorts, socks, jackets and other items. Some of these are official race merchandise. In addition to buying new clothes for your run/race, another option is buying some used running clothes at the expo since some companies sell gently used clothing to support a charity.

Meet other thousands of runners before the race (and cheer them on after)

No matter how many miles a week you’re running, you’ll probably find yourself in the same boat as the rest of the runners. Everyone will be excited to talk about their training, their goals for the race, and everything else that goes along with running your first marathon. This is a great way to meet people who may end up becoming friends or training partners too. Just make sure you don’t spend all day there—get out and see the city!

I am a middle-aged runner with aspirations of qualifying for the Boston Marathon in 2022.

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