how to: navigate a race expo.


This past weekend, I ran (haha, I mean “ran”) the Disney Princess Half Marathon with my sister and friend. Since I was injured, I was looking forward to the race expo more than the actual race. Who isn’t? Everything’s shiny and new and money is no object in Disney. Duh. But expos are hectic, especially when the race has 19,000+ participants. You have to simultaneously make sure you see everything, don’t give in to purchasing six pairs of light-up underwear, and remember to pick up the things you actually need, like your race number and swag bag. Here are my best runnarounnd tips from years of navigating the race expos.

1. Get there early. I’ll give it to you straight — pre-ordering a t-shirt online doesn’t guarantee you the size you signed up for. Expos run out, and that still baffles me to this day. Get to the expo on the first day, and you won’t be walking away with a XXXXL.

2. Use the buddy bib retrieval system. If you can’t get there early, have a reliable friend pick up all your bib info and t-shirt. This is another foolproof way to get the size you paid for. 

3. Wait patiently in line for your number. You’re really excited, I KNOW, but giving everyone in front of you the death stare isn’t gonna get you to the front any faster.

4. Do your research. It’s very tough to not buy every piece of shiny everything at an expo, especially when the race is centered around Princeses. But expos don’t always have the lowest prices. Example: Nike usually only offers 10-15% off their clothes and shoes at expos, so if you can stand it, try stuff on at the expo, then purchase elsewhere.

5. Control yourself, girl, and set a budget. Expos are running stores on steroids. There are gadgets, dri-fit this and that, sweat-wicking everything, lamps for your head, fluorescent shoelaces, shoe inserts, strappy bras, massaging sticks (AKA torture devices), free samples. I WANT ALL THE SHOES. Give yourself an “expo budget” and only spend money on things you’ve had your eye on, things that are redic on sale (New Balance is sometimes notorious for this), and only things that cute Mr. Salesguy tells you you need. 

6. Look up. Vendor flags help serve as markers in the big rat maze that are the expo aisles. My sense of direction is totally thrown off in expos, so use them as markers so you know where you’ve already been and where you want to go. 

7. Go with another racer. Use the buddy system! Going with family members or friends that aren’t into the running thing are kill-joys. They don’t understand the hype and they beg to leave the whole time. Go with someone who is as mesmerized with new nuun flavors as you are.

8. Commemorative crap. Unless this is the kickoff year of a race, a special anniversary of some kind, or your first race ever, don’t buy the extra swag, i.e.: pins, glasses, mugs, etc. From experience: this stuff will sit in a drawer somewhere never to be seen again. 

9. ENJOY! Yeah, just enjoy yourself, mmmk? You’re about to run your butt off and get some hardware to prove you did. 


What do you love/hate about race expos? What was the last race you ran? Ever get sucked into the shiny things and neon clothes trap? Guilty…

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2 thoughts on “how to: navigate a race expo.

  1. I hate going after work because I’m always tired, cranky, and hungry…and everyone else goes then, too, so I want to scream. I much prefer going as early as I can with friends from run club, so I can see all the fun stuff and still get out before it gets crazy :P

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