When most people think of ‘athletes’, images of sneakers, balls, and stadiums come to mind. Some people think of the sweat, others think of the glory. Almost no one’s first thought is ‘Medical Expert’, but this is one thing almost all athletes in every sport eventually become. Whether you are a professional athlete, are very serious about your physical recreation, or are one of the millions who work out casually for your health and happiness, eventually, we all turn an ankle or seriously scrape up an elbow. If you have a coach or athletic trainer, no doubt they have helped you recover from more than a few sprains and tumbles and anyone who has ever played on a team has seen one of those impressively stocked medical bags carried by your designated first responder.
Sports Medical Bags and First Aid Kits
Team Medical Bags
Sports medical bags can be anywhere from 6 inches to 6 feet long depending on how portable they need to be and what all the medical bag (and responder) is prepared to treat on the spot. The little ones carry just a few bandages and disinfectant while the big ones can hold several small complete kits inside along with a variety of braces, splints, and possibly even a pair of collapsible crutches to help get injured players safely off the field and into the care of medical professional. First responders for an entire team, possibly even multiple teams, are responsible for having enough medical supplies at any given time to treat minor injuries for nearly half the players on the field and major injuries for three or four people without depleting their bag, so it’s no wonder they tend to stock so much.
Personal First Aid Kits
However, there’s a reason you generally see a differentiation between the classic ‘first aid kit‘ and a ‘medical bag’. Where medical bags are typically carried by coaches, trainers, and first responders ready to help with major injuries and multiple injured parties, a first aid kit is usually a smaller and far more personal collection. You might have a first aid kit in your car, in your camping gear, or even one small enough for a pants pocket or purse. A first aid kit can be “complete” like a medical bag or it can contain just a few alcohol wipes and band-aids for the chance accidental scrape doing everyday things. The great thing about a first aid kit is that you can choose the size and contents of your kit based on your activities, carry capacity, and the risks involved.
Independent Running and Cycling
No matter how much you can rely on your first responder and their massive medical bag when you’re on the field or training in your favorite gym, almost all athletes eventually train alone either at home or on-the-go. Running, in particular, is a big part of training for almost every sport because it strengthens your legs, burns calories, and increases the endurance of your entire body. From football players to ballet dancers, ever variety of athlete will usually take up running as part of their exercise regimen. Not only is it good for the body, it also requires minimal equipment and can be done anywhere including on vacation when you are far from your usual training venues and gear.
Cycling is another very popular form of on-the-go training and many people who have simply taken up the cost-effective habit of cycling to work have entered the realm of athlete without ever purposefully picking a specific sport or attending any sporting events at all. Both of these forms of on-the-go training are easy, exhilarating, and a great way to stay in shape in and out of your favorite sport seasons.
First Aid for On-the-Go Training
However, the one thing both running and cycling have in common is the fact that very few athletes who practice these forms of independent on-the-go training remember their first-aid protocols. Why? Because we don’t want to be weighed down. Partly because of the excellent medical bags associated with sports and field games, many athletes associate medical preparedness and first aid kits with bulky, even heavy cargo that just doesn’t jive with their goal to beat their last 5-mile time. However, throwing your body out into the world at increasingly high miles per hour is generally a bad idea if you don’t at least have a few precautionary supplies in case of an accidental or unavoidable twist or tumble.
The good news is that you don’t actually have to weigh yourself down with a lot of medical supplies and there are several different ways to pack your kit so you can choose something that suits your style as well as your occasional need for stretchy knee bandages. The point is that when you are out of the house without a car, partner, and possibly no one around for miles, it’s vital that you have at least a few medical supplies on you as well as the ability to call for help if necessary. You never know when a slight unneveness of the ground, an unseen trip-branch, or even a wild animal might cause you to twist an ankle or fall and get badly scraped up. For those of you who like running or biking along less manicured trails, there is also the risk of dangerous contact with unknown thorny plants.
Never fool yourself into thinking that just because you’re familiar with a route or going at an ‘easy pace’ that you are completely safe from the potential need for medical attention.
The Right Kit-Bag for Your Run
The biggest objection most athletes, runners, and cyclists have with packing a personal first aid kit for independent training is the fanny pack. There is so much negative stigma associated with dorky tourists with huge neon-colored fanny packs that most of us forget that there are literally millions of variations and options for how to turn a few straps and pouches into a truly useful and non-bulky set of runner’s cargo. Depending on the size of your total gear, you can pack your kit in a number of ways.
Water Bottle Pouch
First and foremost, remember that you’re already carrying several ounces of cargo just to bring your water bottle along. Whether you have a tight shoulder strap for the bottle or carry a backpack-style camel pack, chances are that you could alter your water bottle carrying just a bit to slip in a phone, a few bandages, and packets of disinfectant. There are many athletic water bottle carriers with an extra pouch for exactly this purpose.
A runner’s belt can be found in narrow-and-puffy or wide-and-soft styles and is the usual alternative to a fanny pack. Rather than concentrating your cargo all in one pouch, you can distribute it around your waist to keep the weight even and avoid the pouch look.
Stylish Fanny Pack
Of course, not all fanny packs are as objectionable as you might think. There are many different styles and there’s no law saying you need a neon green nylon fanny pack to hold your first aid kit and cell phone in. Look for packs in soft sturdy fabrics that match your workout gear or even lightweight leather if you like the steam-punk look. Belt-pouches may also work if you can run in a belt.
Bicycle Saddle Bag
Carrying a first aid kit is actually much easier for cyclists because you have a small vehicle that can be loaded with lightweight cargo. Look into saddle bags that hang on either side fo the seat or a single pouch that mounts behind the seat or on the handlebars to ensure that you always have your first aid gear nearby.
Our last suggestion is one for runners and cyclist who don’t like any jostling of their cargo at all. A drop-leg bag straps to both waist and thigh and provides a handy pouch along the outside of your hip.
Choosing Your First Aid Gear
The next step to building your runner’s first aid kit is to decide what is important to bring. Everyone has their own combination of priorities and a few risks that are higher based on their bodies and training habits. Some people, for instance, feel that a pencil and a few rolled feet of duct tape belong in every emergency kit on the planet while others are content with a few select bandages and a little ointment. How you pack your kit should be determined by your training habits and personal medical needs.
Never run or cycle without your phone. Wherever you have to put it or even if you have a tiny spare burner, be sure to pack at least one method of calling 911 or your emergency contact number. List that emergency number under “ICE” or “Emergency” in your phone so that if a stranger finds you accidentally konked out, they can call your contact for you.
Twists and Sprains
The biggest concern for runners is the ankle twist, something that can happen to anyone, anywhere. All you have to do is set your foot down wrong or on a rolling pebble once and that’s the end of your run, possibly for weeks. However, your first priority should always be to wrap it and get back home.
• Small roll of athletic tape
• Elastic bandage
• Cold pack
Scrapes and Cuts
The next important step is being prepared for cuts and scrapes. Any time you are moving quickly through an area, there is a certain risk of tumbling and falling but this is a particularly important concern for cyclists who can take very serious tumbles if the bike is for some reason stopped or torqued abruptly.
• Multi-pack of band-aids
• Elbow and knee bandages
• Disinfectant wipes, cream, or spray
• Bandage squares and paper tape
If you go running or biking through trails or in more wild settings, be prepared to deal with some very self-defensible plantlife that may or may not cause some serious allergic reactions. From pollen sneezes to poison ivy to the awful pain of bull nettles, you’ll want to be prepared.
• Heavy Duty Antihistamines
• Small roll of masking or duct tape (removes needles)
• Cotton Handkerchief
Your Medical Needs
Packing a small runner’s first aid kit gives you the opportunity to bring along anything you might need for your personal medical needs. If you have medicine that might need to be conditionally taken from Tums to Insulin, pack one or two doses in your little kit to make sure you can complete a run even if a medical condition flares up.
Having the right first aid kit for the job never matters more than that one-in-a-thousand runs in which your ankle turns or you find yourself with scraped palms, elbows, and knees. The easier it is for you to clean up and get home, the sooner you can begin recovery and get right back on the trail.