I thought I’d do another marathon training post, this time focused on gear you might need whether in training or for the actual race.
To catch up on previous posts in this series you can find them here:
Also if you want to request a topic, let me know!
Loads of non-runners I speak to (yes, I do socialise with them occasionally ) just think that all you need for running are trainers. And any old trainers at that. Runners, however, are wryly well aware that you need a lot more than that. And “just” trainers can cost quite a chunk of money anyway. But what do you really need for running a marathon? Is it any different to just normal running or running something like a 10k?
Well, it really depends firstly on which marathon you’re doing. If it’s a big marathon, like London, Manchester or Berlin for example (to name but a few), then water and carbohydrate water (like PowerAde or Lucozade) are going to be readily available. In the Paris marathon there was water and PowerAde every 5km. At London I think it’s every mile. You really don’t need to carry water with you – unless you want to.
Bare in mind it can be stressful and difficult to get to the water stations in busy marathons. If you’re concerned that you will need water regularly and don’t want to keep making a dive into the water area (it can be a crazy area where people randomly slow down, stop or change direction without warning) then carrying your own might be a good idea. Personally I don’t tend to drink a lot during races unless it’s very warm so for Boston I won’t carry anything as I know I can grab some if I need it and risk the mayhem.
For my trail marathon last year at Cheddar Gorge it was a really small race (less than 100 people) and there were only three aid stations if I remember rightly. It took place in mid-August so I knew I’d need to carry water with me. I used my iFitness Hydration Belt and at the aid stations and made sure I topped up the bottles as well.
Similar to hydration, some marathons will offer gels or food at the aid stations. Check where the fuel will be, what it will be and how many of them will be available during the race. If you want to use gels and your marathon is offering them, test out those gels in training. Never try them for the first time during the race – they might not agree with your stomach. The Cheddar Gorge marathon offered sweets, biscuits and fruit – but I’d never trained with that sort of thing so I took my own fuel with me.
My stomach’s generally quite good with gels so I don’t really have an issue with different ones, though I know I prefer it if they have caffeine in them. For me, I tend to have a breakfast of porridge, a black coffee and then three gels (at least one of those being a caffeine one) during the race. But you don’t have to use gels. You could try things like chopped up cereal bars, dried fruit, salted cooked potato chunks (an ultra marathon favourite apparently), jam, and even baby food (like fruit purees). Basically what you ideally want is an easy source of carbs so your body can use it quickly. Just make sure you trial it during one of your long runs.
But you don’t have to use any sort of fuel during the marathon if you don’t want to. If you know you can last an entire marathon without fuel then there’s nothing to say that you have to have anything! Some people can last on a good meal the night before and a good carb-based breakfast on the day of the race. Though if you’re new to marathon training I’d probably advise against this.
If you do decide to take fuel or hydration with you you need to find a way to carry it with you. I actually don’t mind holding gels in my hand and I’ve also been quite lucky to have had my dad at three of my marathons handing me gels (he told me where he’d be at what mile). Obviously at a very busy marathon like London this would be nearly impossible.
Some people use belts that you can attach gels to or running belts like the Flipbelt. Again, you just need to get used to wearing something like that for a long period of time. Some belts bounce or ride up, or even chafe. Be careful with your selection. I recommend the Flipbelt – minimal riding up issues and no bouncing. It can also hold a phone, gels and keys.
For liquids, you could consider whether you want a full-on rucksack like a Camelbak or a belt like I’ve shown above. Or whether you fancy carrying a bottle for the race (I don’t recommend this, it could give you an imbalance while you run – and 26.2 miles is a long way to hold a bottle for!)
Does your marathon allow MP3 players? Some smaller marathons could disqualify you for wearing headphones because it’s a safety hazard if the roads haven’t been closed. The worst thing that could happen is you get a DQ at your marathon for something as silly as wearing headphones, so do check! If your marathon doesn’t allow headphones then make sure you’ve done a lot of training without music or podcasts. If you depend on that sort of stimulus it could be a shock to suddenly have to entertain yourself for several hours.
My current preferred method for a marathon is have nothing for the first 10 miles as the atmosphere is all go-go-go and the crowds cheer you along, then for the next 10 miles I’ll put on a podcast as I find these the hardest miles. The atmosphere has died down a bit and mentally it’s the toughest part for me as I’ve still got so far to go but have run a fair way already. Listening to a podcast helps take my mind off of things.
Then for the final 10k I’ll switch to some high tempo music and go for it. I don’t have it on really loud as I like to have the atmosphere of the crowds and other runners but just loud enough so I can feed off of it. I also make sure that the “Final 10k marathon playlist” is a playlist I never touch any other time. I won’t listen to any of those songs at any other point so to maximise their effectiveness and magic.
Tissues, tablets, plasters
Small but some may say potentially essential items. Tissues are a very handy item for the obvious nasal-related reasons. But also if there are portable loos on the course they may not always be adequately stocked with loo roll…
Ibuprofen tablets might be handy to have just in case. Worst-case scenario, a niggle crops up. My advice is to evaluate whether it’s going to become something so much worse or something you could potentially run through. I’m not advocating running using painkillers, but we all know that if we’ve trained for a marathon for 12 or more weeks we’re bloody well going to try and finish it. Come what may.
Plasters in case a blister occurs and you really need to sort it out. The likelihood of actually stopping, taking off your sock and trainer to sort it out is probably slim but a plaster weighs next to nothing and for me it’s more to settle my mind than actual use.
And like everything, the most important thing is to try nothing new on race day. Test things out, have a dress rehearsal at a half marathon race or a long training run. And set things out the night before so in the morning you’re not stressed running around the place trying to find what you need.
What gear do you usually take with you during a marathon?
Do you use gels? Which ones and how many?
Do you listen to anything during a marathon or race?