Shopping at the Start Line

When buying gifts for runners, most people will head to their local running store.   Running stores are stocked with all kinds of gear that runners would be thrilled to have – watches, technical clothing, and Gu (which makes a great stocking stuffer).  If you still don’t know what to get, you can always get the old stand-by, a gift certificate for the store, so they can buy whatever they want.

Expos are another  great place to pick up runner gifts for those people who think ahead.  I have seen things at Expos that I never see anywhere else.  I have to admit when I am at an Expo, I am shopping for myself and not so much for anyone else.

The nuttiest place that I have seen someone “shopping” for runners on their gift-giving list is the start line of a marathon.  No kidding.  When I ran Grandma’s Marathon a few years ago, it was cold, rainy, and foggy.  My training was not where it should have been so I was in the last pace group.  As we got up to the start line, the pace group leader called out “Start shopping!”  I didn’t understand what she meant at first.  But then I saw there were lots of new or gently-worn running jackets, shirts, gloves and arm sleeves littering both sides of the course.  All this gear had been tossed by the elite runners who wore it while waiting in the cold for the race start.  Once they got warmed up, they took off their extra clothes.  Elite runners get a lot of free gear from their sponsors so it is no big deal to them to throw it away.

One of the women in our pace group picked up a pair of gloves because her hands were cold.  But then she started seeing arm sleeves in perfect condition.  Whenever she found a matched pair, she would pick them up.  She told me that she planned to launder them and give them out as Christmas presents.  I was dumbfounded.  She continued to pick them up for at least 14 miles.  There were so many that she got picky about the ones that she would keep.  She was staying in a hotel around Mile 20 and planned to stop in her room to drop them off before finishing the race.  By my count, she ended up with about a dozen pairs of sleeves plus several pairs of gloves.  The extra weight of all those clothes started to slow her down and she dropped out of our pace group.

As for myself, the only shopping I have done at the start line was a couple years ago at the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  The race started at 10 pm.  We sat outside for about two hours waiting for the race to begin.  The temperatures started falling and I was getting cold.  When we got in our corral, I started looking for a tossed sweatshirt or plastic bag to stay warm.  I found an old pullover and put it on.

My running buddy kept an eye out for something better as we approached the start line.  He knew that was where the good stuff would be.  Fortunately for me, he spotted a beautiful Brooks ladies running jacket in perfect condition.  I tossed the pullover and grabbed the jacket.  It was a little large but I didn’t mind.  When I warmed up, I tied the jacket around my waist.  It was a keeper.

A few weeks later my husband noticed that Brooks jacket hanging in the laundry room to dry.  He asked where I bought it because he wanted one just like it.  I laughed and explained how I found it at the start line.  I couldn’t tell if he admired my cost-conscious shopping or not.

It might be too late for this year’s holiday shopping but keep it in mind next year when you head to the start line.  You can get some real finds there.  I have a friend who wears cashmere sweaters to the start line and tosses those.  If you are in the market for a new cashmere sweater, let me know.  I can tell you what her next race will be. 😉