Many non-marathoners and newcomers to marathoning believe that the sport requires only a pair of shorts, a pair of socks, and a pair of running shoes.
But the truth is that the sport of marathoning — especially during the training season — requires much more than this.
Here is a checklist of what you need, might need, and might want:
- Running shorts or compression tights: Good running shorts are made of a technical fabric, which will wick perspiration away from your body and will move with you. Compression tights are an even better choice for marathon training — because they promote circulation and help to stabilize muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Running socks: Good running socks are made of a technical fabric (again, for the perspiration wicking), provide padding where needed, and avoid seams in irritating locations. Some even are like gloves for the feet — with individual coverage of each toe.
- Running shoes: Good running shoes are crucial for avoiding many kinds of marathon-training injuries. And the best place to get them is at a specialty store, where shoe experts can make sure that you get what you need.
- Technical shirt or compression top: Although the cotton that you find in most T-shirts is great for everyday wear, you need a shirt made with a technical fabric for marathon training. Even better is a compression top, which supports your posture for less stress and better breathing. A non-training benefit of technical fabrics is that they dry quickly (no clothes dryer required or recommended), so you can get by with fewer items of clothing made with technical fabrics.
- Running cap: A good running cap wicks perspiration off your scalp or forehead, shades your eyes, keeps the hot sun off your face, protects your head from sunburn, and keeps you warmer in winter.
- Hydration belt: You must make a conscious effort, especially in cold weather, to stay hydrated during your marathon training sessions. Otherwise, you could become dehydrated to the point of hypernatremia. A hydration belt ensures that you have water handy when you need it.
- Cellphone case for hydration belt: Even if you train with a buddy, you should carry a cellphone with you for emergencies during your runs or walks. The easiest way to do this is in a cellphone case for your hydration belt.
- Electrolyte/protein drink: If you are running or walking for at least an hour, then you should seriously consider carrying an electrolyte or electrolyte-plus-protein drink instead of just water in your hydration belt. This will give you more endurance and better recovery than what water can provide.
- Special foods for endurance: These come in goos, gels, and blocks. They provide a mixture of electrolytes and slow- and fast-digestion carbohydrates to sustain you. And they are packaged for easy carrying — say, in a pocket of your hydration belt.
- Orthotics: The inserts that come with most running shoes do not correct for structural issues with your gait, so you may want to see a podiatrist and get custom orthotics to be worn while running or walking.
- Yoga or stretching mat: Stretching after a long run or walk can improve your flexibility. You can stretch on a towel, but you might prefer the extra cushioning of a yoga or stretching mat.
- Polarizing sunglasses: Good sunglasses prevent damaging UV rays from hitting your eyes. And the best ones polarize the light so that you see less glare from reflective objects. Less glare leads to less stress, which leads to better training.
- Sunscreen: Your skin needs UV-ray protection, too. A good sunscreen will not wash away easily while letting your skin perspire.
- White-LED trail light: If you start a training run or walk before sunrise, then you should carry a flashlight or wear a white-LED trail light. LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are preferable to incandescent bulbs for a few reasons: they require less energy (making your battery last longer), they have a longer life-span (meaning more years before replacement), and they put out a whiter light (making it easier for you to see and be seen). And a trail light that you can clip to your cap or hydration belt is superior to a flashlight because having to carry the latter in either hand during a long run or walk can lead to unnecessary shoulder strains and neck pain.
- Red-LED blinker: Think of this as an early-warning light for drivers and others to see you at night. The red color tells them to be cautious, and the LED technology is hands-down superior to earlier, incandescent-bulb-based blinkers.
- Mittens, gloves, or a hybrid: In cold weather, mittens have the advantage of letting all fingers on a hand share the warmth. Gloves give you more dexterity, which you might need, for example, for opening a water bottle or stopping a timer. The hybrid approach — a glove with a mitten-like overlay — could give you the best of both worlds.
- Hand warmers: Before a long run or walk in cold weather, you activate and insert one of these disposable items in each glove or mitten to keep your hands toasty-warm for seven to ten hours. Hand warmers can make the difference between quitting early and finishing an especially long training session in the cold.
- Ear warmers or balaclava: In cold weather, you can wear an ear-warming band made from a technical fabric, so that your ears stay warm but perspiration does not increase beneath it. Or you can wear a balaclava, which goes beyond ear warmers to provide warmth to the neck and everything on the head but the eye area.
- Stopwatch or GPS wrist-unit: This is like an odometer, timer, and speedometer for your body. It tells you accurately how far you have run or walked, tells you the length of your training session, and tells you your pace (in, say, minutes per mile). You can use online or offline map software to tell you a training route’s distance. And you can use a stopwatch to tell you a training session’s duration. But you need a GPS unit to know your average or instantaneous running or walking pace at any given moment during your training session, and this knowledge is crucial for staying on track as well as for improving.
- Interval timer: Some stopwatches and GPS wrist-units include an interval timer, which you can use to remind you when to switch between running and walking while using micro-level pacing. But you might prefer a stand-alone interval timer that vibrates, has a variable-length beeping duration, and can be taken to the gym for use during cross-training.
- Pedometer: This is more of a novelty item for marathon training sessions. But wearing one throughout every day will help you to know whether you are walking enough daily to help you to stay fit. (10,000 steps a day is the widely recommended minimum.)
“Your mileage may vary.” is a common expression in TV commercials for cars, but the concept applies to this checklist, too. In particular:
- You might not need or want everything on the list. For example, you might complete all of your training before sunrise, in which case you will not need sunscreen and sunglasses. And the weather in which you train will tend to bias your marathon wardrobe toward the cold-weather side or the warm-weather side.
- What you pay for any item on the list will vary from season to season and year to year. For example, if you are willing to forego the latest fashion, you can pick up bargains at the end of the summer, when retailers replace their summer-specific inventory with winter-weather apparel. And the typical price on a particular type of item can drop in future years as more manufacturers enter the field and compete for your purchases.
- You may qualify for a standing discount through your membership in a training group. Savvy specialty retailers encourage word-of-mouth marketing and repeat business by offering discounts to members of marathon training groups. Be sure to take advantage of those discounts. They come with the expertise that only specialty retailers can provide.
Your experience, situation, and budget will dictate your needs and wants… and therefore what goes on your particular checklist.