Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Ever-Versatile Bandanna

As I begin to gather supplies that will aid me to run the Burning River 100 Endurance Race this weekend, I ponder the real value of the items, the likelihood of using what I will jam into plastic boxes ("drop boxes") that the supply crew will "drop" along aid stations of the course for my access.

There is the ever-necessary Body Glide, to prevent chafing; Band Aids for those random blisters; trail socks, a sundry of NSAIDs and tummy calmers, flashlights, headlamps (many more than I will ever need), long-sleeved shirts and backup trail shoes. Present and necessary however, in every single box, is the cheapest running aid ever: a bandanna. For the low cost of around $1.29, I believe its value is close to second-most-important to me in getting to the finish line of this race (second only to water, which I carry).

Silly, you say? Ah, but hear my rationale.

Picture the bandanna. A simple square of patterned cotton/poly cloth. Think of its many uses and true benefits it provides during the course of a long run.

  • It is a lightweight rag, easy to carry; tie it around your water bottle or waist pack loop. Hold it in your hand. I so appreciate that it is just an easy thing to carry.
  • Each time I come across one of my planted drop boxes I swap out the old one for a new, fresh bandana. (Ah, smells like Bounce fabric softener, a comforting smell of home.)
  • Virtually every cool trail runner has one. Well... my coolest friends do, anyway. And I learned from the best: Roy Heger, Tanya Cady, Shannon Fisher....
  • On a team? Buy everyone the same pattern and distribute at the starting line. Boosts togetherness, oneness, motivation.
  • Their mere existence can be inspiring! I have a "black diamond" bandana from Holiday Valley Ski Resort with the words "No Guts, No Glory" written on it. Perfect for the last 50k of a 100-mile race.
  • Use it to wipe my sweaty brow! A handy headband. Otherwise known as a dew rag. A cool hair tie.
  • What a wonderful cooling tool when filled with ice at an aid station. Tie it around your neck for the greatest effect.
  • Trail runners often fall on the trail. We bleed. Sometimes we bleed a lot -- a bandanna could be used as a tourniquet to stop bleeding (read: life saver!), or to just wipe away a caked layer of dust from falling in the leaves.
  • Fall on your wrist? Not a bad support bandage until you can get to the next aid station.
  • IT Band issues crop up on the run? Make a knot, place the knot under the painful spot, and tie tightly around your knee.
  • Streams are wonderful cooling spots of paradise during a summer race. Use the trusty bandanna as a wash-cloth! Wash away sticky GU residue.
  • Chafing from your waist pack? Tuck the cloth in between your tummy and the belt until you can get to the next supply of Body Glide.
  • Need to blow your nose? Well, you get the idea. It's just a little more civilized than blowing in the wind. Really.
  • And speaking of necessary but certainly not civilized things we do on the trails -- imagine the relief, you really have to use the bathroom, and like a mirage a porta-potty looms out of the nothingness. You run into it, trying not to use valuable minutes... got to keep moving... oh no. No toilet paper. Should have looked first. Trusty bandanna? Tear it in half, part with it, put to good use. To my chagrin I used part of my Holiday Valley bandanna in Minnesota last month. :( Totally worth it. This can be helpful, too, if you CANNOT find a porta-potty and all the leaves look like poison ivy. Better safe than sorry.
  • Deer flies. Big biting things. Little biting flying things. Bat them away with your rag.
  • Road crossing? Wave at drivers so they look up from texting and avoid hitting the slow-responding runner!
  • Delusions at mile 60 of Mohican... find me a log or big rock, just to sit down, just to sleep for a moment. Bugs. There are ants all over this log! And that log. Pull out the now-wet, now-torn, dirty piece of cloth and lay it out like a small blanket. Saves me from sitting directly on the crawly things.
  • The finish line is ahead! Wave it around in celebration. Glory.
  • Once home, toss the balled-up gross things into the wash for another training run or race, they are amazingly reusable. And if the dirt is just too set into the fabric, I feel no guilt as I toss them away in the trash.
Let's face it. Even if I end up not using my bandanna for anything, it didn't tire me out carrying it. And what other running supply only costs about $1.29 and is reusable? Even better, if I lose it along the way, it is no great loss... buy another. It's not like a $19 handheld water bottle or other such investments.

So, picture the bandanna with me, won't you? What a useful, simple pleasure of the ultra world.

To all my friends running in the BR100 this weekend, the best of luck. To all my volunteers, THANK YOU for supporting us. To all the crew and pacers, remember to help your runner on with dry socks and shoes, electrolytes and GU, and of course with a fresh new bandanna from the drop box.

Be careful, and have the time of your life. I love you guys.


  1. I've never carried a bandanna with me on trail runs, but you've made such a good argument, I've seen the error of my ways! I'll start carrying one immediately! I think I have a few in the bottom of my sock drawer...

  2. Ah yes, the ice bandana. Use quite a few this weekend.

    But where, oh where, can I find them for $1.29?

  3. Thanks for the list. It's pretty comprehensive, but allow me to add one: Filtering out bugs.

    Filtering bugs? There is a spring in the Santa Ana mountains where the gnats are sometimes so bad that I wear my bandana over my nose and mouth (like a bank robber) to keep from inhaling them!