Safety pins might just be the most overlooked but essential bit of running gear on race day. Woefully neglected—I can’t count the number of times I’ve slapped myself on the forehead with a “I forgot pins!” on my way home from a race expo—bib pins do the heavy lifting for our paper-mounted timing chips and help draw the line between the rule-abiding runner and the unbibbed bandit.
For trail runners, these sharp and shiny unsung heroes are particularly precious, as I was reminded last weekend during my attempt at running 100 miles at the Sulfur Springs Trail Race in Ancaster, Ont. I only made it 100km, but my race would have ended much sooner had I not used my bib pins in unintended ways when things started to fall apart. Here are a few ways bib pins have come to my rescue that may be helpful to keep in mind when you have to MacGuyver your way out of trouble on the trails.
For my third 20-km loop at Sulfur Springs I switched from shoes to sandals, as my feet puff up like bread in the oven. Seven kilometers into the loop, the whatchamacallit that kept the straps of my left sandal connected to the sole broke off, making the sandal unwearable. I texted my wife/crew leader to meet me a bit further down the trail with my backup footwear. It was only when I saw her, after she had run 20 minutes to bring me exactly what I’d requested from her, that I remembered I could n’t take her footwear from her. Having her carry her my gear is against the race rules, and would disqualify me. I hung my head contemplating having to run the next 13km barefoot, a glimmer of light from the corner of my race bib caught my eye. Eureka! I removed the shiny bib pin, threaded my sandal strap through the hole of the sole, and fastened the safety pin to the bottom. To my surprise, the bib pin kept my sandal from unraveling for the rest of the loop. That one tiny pin took care of everything—except the apology I owe my wife for making her run all that way for nothing.
My longest training run leading up to Sulfur Springs was 60km. Those long runs are crucial not just for getting your body and mind in shape, but also for testing your gear for comfort and fit. My new hydration vest passed all the quality-control tests during my training: it was snug and comfortable, and its pockets gripped my water bottles firmly enough that I didn’t have to hear “squish, squish, squish” for hours on end. But on race day, at around the 75-km mark, that vest turned into an iron maiden, inflicting untold pain as it rubbed against my upper torso. I tried applying more lubricant to my chest, but it was useless, as the damage was done, and I was going through too much liquid to risk going without the hydration pack. What saved the day, or at least made it bearable to continue on for another 25 kilometers, was taking two pins from my race bib and using them to cinch either side of my vest. That crucial adjustment kept my vest from rubbing against the worst hotspots.
I haven’t had to perform an emergency blisterectomy for a while, not since I learned to throw sandals into the mix. But on my first 50-miler at Sulfur Springs some years back, my ever-swelling feet outgrew my toebox. They say you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and sometimes the same holds true for trail runs and blisters. It’s never pretty, but using a bib pin to pop a blister can at least make continuing on your race bearable. I don’t recommend letting the pin do all the work as it can raise the risk of infection—use a small bottle of alcohol to sterilize the pin and bandages to keep the deflated blister tightly wrapped. This will help your feet stay as comfortable as possible.