Last weekend was the Chicago Half marathon. It’s a great race which is scheduled perfectly for the Chicago Marathon which happens one month later. If you’ve never been to a big race expo, here are a few things you can expect to see, and a couple of tips to make the experience more enjoyable.
How to survive & thrive at a race expo
1. Pick-up your packet first. You will be inundated with people trying to pull you to their booths to talk to you. Don’t be swayed by the free samples or the great race they want to tell you about. Your primary goal is to get your number and packet. Ignore all else until you get that. This is the only thing you have to do, so get it done & off your mind. The rest of the expo will be more enjoyable.
2. Check your number & shirt size. Catching mistakes at the expo is much better than finding out later there is a problem. Make sure your name is on your number. Also, check the shirt they just gave you. Often the size will be wrong or there might be a smudge or tear or some other problem with it. If you discover this after you’ve left, there’s not much you can do about it.
3. Seek out the samples. One of my favorite things about race expos is trying all the free samples of nutrition bars, sports drinks, yogurt, and anything else that’s there. At the Chicago Marathon expo you can find samples of beer & chilli. Just the thing you want the day before joggling a marathon. At smaller races, samples are a bit more sparse. However, you can almost always expect at least a Powerbar stand or a Gatorade booth. These companies go where the runners are, no matter how few there might be. Getting your packet before going through the expo is also good because you’ll have a bag in which you can put your free samples.
4. Don’t get caught talking. Feel free to talk to vendors who have things that interest you but try to avoid spending too much time. When a charity group starts telling you about their cause, it’s easy to spend 15 or 20 minutes just being polite and listening. Unfortunately, you’ll miss the rest of the show. You should quickly race through each aisle, avoid eye contact and make note of anything you want to see more of. Then go back through more slowly stopping only at the things you really want to see. Getting extra samples is frowned on but not prohibited.
5. Vendor variety. Here are the things you might find at an expo. Some are interesting. Some are perplexing. Some are just complete nonsense.
- Charities – They want to get you to run for them and raise money.
- Other races – They want you to sign up for their race.
- Food brands – Gatorade, Powerade, Powerbar, Cliff bar, etc.
- Sponsors – Race sponsors almost always have a booth.
- Running gear – You can find some good deals on running clothes if you look.
- Chiropractors – Lots of people pushing this woo. I try to avoid them.
- Massage – Usually tied in with a chiropractor but not always. The free massages are nice
- Running clubs – They go where the runners are
- Magazines – Runners World is a mainstay but there are others.
Overall, I like expos. They make you feel like you’re part of a running community. They also help make it seem like the race is a bit bigger deal than it would be otherwise. If you’ve never been to one, you have to go. The best one I’ve ever attended was the LaSalle Bank Shamrock Shuffle 8K expo. Lots of free stuff!