How a Performance Waist Pack Started an Exploration Into Minimalism at the NYRR Al Gordon Brooklyn 4M—And Sparked Joy!

Strange as it may seem to say (when you really think about it), minimalism is pretty big in 2019.

As the new year began, many people—including NYRR staffers preparing for our recent office move—aimed to trim down their belongings to just the essentials, looking to start 2019 with a fresh, clean slate. After overhearing countless references to “What sparks joy?” throughout our moving process, I decided to see what all the hubbub was about.

The NYRR Al Gordon Brooklyn 4M, offering a New Balance performance waist pack as its souvenir, seemed the perfect opportunity to test out this less-is-more approach. Rather than checking a bag, I would carry only what I could fit inside the waist pack, as I made the trip from my apartment in Jersey City (home of the brand-new NYRR Newport Fiesta 5K!) all the way to Prospect Park.

Some Background Info

At most races, I would try to squeeze as much as I could into the clear bag check bag, often including (but not limited to):

  • Keys
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • iPod
  • Headphones
  • Racing singlet
  • Extra pair of shorts
  • Extra shirt
  • Extra pair of socks
  • Racing flats (to swap out with my trainers when it was race time)
  • Jacket (to remove once it’s race time)
  • Warm-up pants (same as above)
  • Water bottle
  • Some kind of granola or recovery bar for after the race
  • A portable foam roller or some sort of stretching equipment

Spacious as it may be, I don’t think all of that would fit into the performance waist pack. So I would have to “streamline” the process for the sake of keeping everything in check and out of bag check.

What Sparked Joy (Or, What I Determined I Actually Needed for the Race)

Here’s a layout photo of what I could fit into the waist pack, along with the pack itself:

You know what can really help with decisions like this? Only having like 10 minutes to decide before you need to leave to catch the train.

So there are the non-negotiables in there—keys to lock and then get back into my apartment, my wallet to pay for the PATH and subway rides, and my phone to take photos along the way and update the NYRR website after the race.

Sunglasses, chapstick, and the heart rate monitor were not 100% necessary, but I felt like they’d make for a better race-day experience. The iPod, also, was something I went back-and-forth on, but ultimately decided I’d rather deal with fitting it in rather than having almost nothing to listen to before and after (but not during) the race.

Initially, I thought I might be able to squeeze an extra pair of shorts in there, but, as I would learn, it was not to be.

However, I was not willing to sacrifice the extra pair of socks; I can still hear Bear Grylls explaining on Man vs. Wild that you should always carry an extra pair of socks on a journey, or a mission, or whatever you want to call this. So those stayed in, even though they took up a surprising amount of space. But, they sparked joy and it’s better to be over-prepared than have to scramble, right?

Other items, like my race number, gloves, a hat, and a buff/neck gaiter were things I could wear the entire time, so I didn’t have to worry about packing them. And as much as I would’ve liked to have a pair of racing flats to change into, I made do with a pair of lighter-weight trainers.

The Race Itself

Now that I’ve gone into extensive detail about how I tried to slim down my race-day carry-on and the difficult selection process, I’m sure you’re wondering: How did it play out on the actual course?

Well, folks, I’ll keep this section shorter, with one thought per mile.

Waiting for the train on the way to the race.
Not waiting in line for bag check, though!

One more while waiting to get into the corrals.

Mile 1: Wow, my legs feel like cinder blocks and there’s a big hill coming up. Cool! But this has nothing to do with the waist pack, so I’ll focus on that instead. It’s bouncing up and down a little bit, but I’ll just tighten the strap annnnd ok! That’s better. Carry on.

Mile 2: Actually, what if I flipped it around and turned this into sort of a lower-back pack?
Alright, this seems like it’s working, now let’s try to catch some people.

Mile 3: Does anyone remember how, in the game Excitebike, if you held the turbo button too long, it would start beeping at you, and eventually your bike would overheat and stall? No? Well, that’s mostly what I’m thinking about—and feeling right now—because I just tried to make up for a (relatively) slow first mile with a fast second one, and I have four or five layers on. But on the bright side, this means I’m not noticing any discomfort with the waist pack, so that’s good!

Mile 4: [Making the final turn onto Center Drive]: I should probably flip the pack back over to the front, in case there’s a chance to get a good finish-line photo.

Post-finish: Nailed it!

Some Final Thoughts

Overall, I would say that making the effort to bring fewer items with me on race day was a worthwhile experiment. I tend to pack too many things under the guise of being over-prepared, but even after cutting it down to the essentials, I still managed to run the race just fine. I could always foam roll once I got home, and I could stop by someplace near the subway to get something to eat or drink after the race.

Now, would this approach work for every race? No—sometimes I’m going to want to have racing flats, or for longer races, to bring some clothes to change into so that I don’t repel everyone around me on the subway afterward.

But for shorter races where it’s either cold enough to wear all your layers to the race and during the race, or when it’s warm enough that you don’t need any extra layers, it’s certainly worth trying out.

So, overall, I guess you could say I’m a “fan” of the performance waist pack, and of the very 2019 effort toward keeping only what you really need, things that “spark joy.”

…But I’m still not giving up taking a few extra things if I can make them fit.

The bagel didn’t exactly fit, but I didn’t have a free hand to carry it, so this is where we ended up.

Find official results for the 2019 NYRR Al Gordon Brooklyn 4M on the NYRR results page.

Three runners at the Al Gordon race


Ted Doyle

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