The Nitty Gritties – Gear

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 Winking smile ) 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.

Hydration preparation

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.

Running belts/bags

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.

IMG_5023I love this photo as it literally shows my dad handing me a gel at the Bournemouth marathon

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!)

MP3 Players

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?

20 Replies to “The Nitty Gritties – Gear”

    1. Usually it’s the smaller marathons that ban the headphones because of safety issues. The annoying thing is it’s at the smaller ones you probably need it more as there are few, if any, crowds and it can be a very mentally tough experience.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

    1. I like my iFitness belt for when I do want to carry water – it sat nicely on my hips and the weight of the water and my gels/phone held it in place. But the water bottles were small (less than 250ml each). Not sure about bigger water packs. I know the Camelbaks are good but you have to get used to the bounce of them on your back.
      I fully recommend the Flipbelt though – it’s the best belt out there I think. But no way of holding water…
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

  1. Great post Anna – I would add Vaseline to the list of stuff to carry, especially for guys. You can buy small tins of Vaseline that fit in a waist belt or pocket. Very handy for chaffing, and pretty much essential on an ultra.

    1. Yes you’re absolutely right. Vaseline/Bodyglide is a good addition! Some of the bigger marathons have people holding out Vaseline in their hands in blobs (not to be mistaken as people trying to give you high fives…) but if it is a concern or extra hot/wet then your own is ideal!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

  2. Great post Anna. Only thing I’d add to my belt are spare contact lenses. Lost one on an ultra and had prospect of running 20 more miles one eyed. Luckily found it round the back of my eye at next checkpoint and jammed it back in. Oh, and for London, a travel card, just in case…

    1. Actually yes!! I do this for mine as well. Ever since losing a contact less while I was driving to work (I scratched my eye, it fell out) and having no glasses or spares I’ve had a fear of losing them in any location. I have spare contact lenses everywhere now…my car, my gym bag, work. DAMN OUR APPALLING EYE SIGHT.
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

  3. I don’t think I could run a marathon (or any distance actually) without headphones! I’ve mostly done bigger races where they are allowed though. I wore a belt for London last year and trained with it religiously even on shorter runs as I was convinced it was going to rub but it actually didn’t – I always have tissues, ibroprofen, lip balm and gels with me for longer races. x
    LilyLipstick recently posted…London Dining – March Round-UpMy Profile

  4. I only usually listen to music for part of my long runs, similar to you really, when I feel like I really need it. I’ve been practising my long runs alone to get into the zone and have listened to music for the last 10k. I quite like having a marathon playlist that I only listen to when running, so I associate the songs with good training runs. For half marathons or anything less, I’d never listen to music but for the marathon I do need that mental distraction. I always have my phone and gels in my belt – in Manchester I was tweeting along the second half when I was really struggling!
    Helen recently posted…Liverpool Half Marathon – new PB!My Profile

    1. Oh wow tweeting during a marathon is great effort!! Not sure I could manage that. Maybe a cheeky selfie or two!
      It’s funny because I definitely have songs I purely associate with running a marathon with. And some music I have just for doing hard interval efforts and there’s no way in hell I’d listen to them normally haha! Far too fast-paced and crazy, plus they give me bad memories!!
      AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

  5. I had my phone with me at Brighton just in case I needed a music boost, but for the final 3 miles I could not be bothered to stop and get them out of my belt, so I just imagined the songs in my head instead! Brighton allowed the bone vibration headphones, and I figured that if I had a bud in one ear it would be OK, but I wouldn’t usually listen to music even at a parkrun. I think it’s good to be able to run without any distraction.
    I love my flipbelt- although when it doesn’t have my phone in it it turns out that it rides up a lot and gets annoying- I think it needs the weight of the phone to hold it lower.
    I would also caution against ibuprophen- it was my painkiller of choice but with the race info for Brighton last year (which was really good- it talked about not drinking too much etc which often races go the other way) and it said that you should avoid it for 24 hours around the race, so I switched to paracetemol then. Something to do with how it is processed in the kidneys or something, meant that for marathon running it was more dangerous.
    I would say face wipes are my favourite piece of gear for any race- left in the bag drop (or even a mini pack in my waist pack) as my face gets so covered in salt and just a wipe when I have finished makes me feel so much better.
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted…Finally a parkrun pb!My Profile

  6. I hate faffing around when I’m running so what I do is leave my headphones in my ears as I run so I just have to fumble quickly with my phone. I’ll weigh up the annoyance when I get there I guess!
    Very good point about Ibuprofen! It is dangerous – my mum always warns me against taking too many of it over weeks as it can have bad effects on your tummy and kidney like you said.
    AnnaTheApple recently posted…Rants and Raves #28My Profile

  7. Great post and interesting about the running belts. I recently tried a Nike one and got about 5 metres before I had to go home and dump it. The bounce was too much!!

    Great to hear the training is going so well for you right now. Long may it continue!

    1. Though I did enjoy the chia gels and thought they worked well I found them a little bitty as the seeds got stuck in my teeth. But I liked the nutrition behind them.

  8. I have to agree, I love my flipbelt. I have two other belts I use, one which holds bottles and another with a zipped compartment. All good for different reasons. I can’t imagine running with a camelback though. I’m probably just too amateur!

    I forgot tissues at Silverstone last weekend. Complete fail on my part. I won’t be doing that again!
    Caroline recently posted…Silverstone Half MarathonMy Profile

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