What’s in a Professional Runner’s First Aid Kit?

Alexi Pappas is always prepared. Here's how you can be, too.

As a professional runner, travel comes with the territory. I travel to races and altitude camps—sometimes for weeks at a time and often in new places. Before going to the summer games in 2016, I had the chance to train in Greece for a month, race in Amsterdam, and then train in Mammoth Lakes, California, for final preparations. At home, I have a bathroom drawer stocked with all sorts of first aid supplies, but with months at a time on the road in unfamiliar places, it helps to be as prepared as possible.

With the summer games just a few weeks away, I couldn’t risk letting an annoying blister potentially grow into a workout-stopping injury, or a small post-flight cough develop into something worse. I wanted to be ready for anything and completely self-sufficient. So with the advice of my coaches, trainers, and doctors, I packed a first aid kit that I brought along on my journeys.

This is what I learned about building the runner’s ultimate first aid kit.

My Physical Therapist’s Must-Brings

First, I spoke with Michael Donawa, my physical therapist and legendary Bermudan 800-meter runner. Michael told me that when he was an athlete, he traveled with a kit that included adhesive bandages, cotton balls, antacid, aspirin, sanitary napkins, antiseptic, a card with emergency contact information, and a needle and thread. He recommends that his athletes now bring all those, plus some additional physio materials that might be hard to find the moment we need them: tape, scissors, and kinesiology tape.

Michael recalls a competition in Martinique: “I tripped in my race and sustained a really bad cut. Luckily, I had a sanitary napkin in my gear bag, which I used to help to stop the bleeding until I was able to get to a hospital.”

Some events are less equipped in the first aid department than others, and Michael was glad he was prepared and able to help himself.

What My Doc Said

Next, I spoke with Dr. Andrew Gilchrist, my incredible and trusty doctor. He is a runner himself and is preparing for the Boston Marathon this spring. He recommended I bring enough wound-care items to be completely self-sufficient: nonstick gauze, saline irrigation, and wraps to keep bandages in place. He also told me to make sure to carry A&D ointment, both to heal blisters and prevent chafing.

My Ultimate Runner’s First Aid Kit

Here’s a list of what I pack in my personal first aid kit, inspired by Michael and Dr. Gilchrist, plus a few touches of my own. This kit lives in my luggage and follows me all over the world:

  1. Aspirin
  2. Adhesive bandages, regular and blister-specific
  3. Antibacterial ointment
  4. Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer
  5. Eye drops
  6. Bug spray
  7. Antacid tablets (sometimes, traveling means unfamiliar foods)
  8. Fold-up plastic water bottle (to act as a portable ice pack)
  9. Disposable razor (After running on new and different surfaces, my feet developed calluses that, if left alone, could have led to foot pain and eventual plantar fasciitis. This razor helped me keep my feet smooth and ready each day.)

While I was abroad, I found this kit to be incredibly useful. There was one time in particular when I needed (and used) it the most. In Rio de Janeiro, we trained at a track off-site. During my last big workout before my 10K event, I was completing a five-times-mile repeat at the practice track. We were to warm-up, conduct workouts, and cool-down—all within the barriers of the track. I’m not used to doing so much mileage on a track, and by mile three, I had developed a blister from a combination of heat and a new training environment. My coach hadn’t even gotten into town yet, and none of our trainers traveled from where we were staying to attend practice with us. I was completely on my own.

The blister was small but mighty, and needed to be bandaged, rather than popped. I pulled out my antibacterial ointment and a special blister adhesive bandages from my first aid kit. After applying these two, I taped over the blister bandage to make sure it stayed on. I made sure to soak my toe in warm salt water (in lieu of epsom salts) that night, and to apply ointment regularly to prevent infection. I used bandages by day, and let it be exposed to open air at night. Over time, the blister popped on its own—by then, new skin had formed underneath and I was not risking infection before my event.

On the track, after bandaging myself up, I finished the workout. As I resumed running, I realized that my first aid kit gave me more than just physical support; it also gave me a peace of mind. It allowed me to feel supported and ready for the task ahead.

That’s the thing about big races, whether on the trails, road, or at the summer games: It’s hard to feel prepared enough. We probably never are. But it’s the little things that make us feel as ready and calm as possible.

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