Hands up who’s goal for 2019 is to run a marathon! The wonderful thing about running is it’s easy and simple and you don’t need any kit to do it, right? To some extent that’s totally true, but I invested in a few things along the way that turned out to be absolute god-sends. So seeing as there are still lots of January sales on, I’ve compiled a list of five items that became essential to my marathon training.
As an aside, I went for the higher end spec for a few of these, however, I waited and got most of them on eBay or at least on sale. If you buy smart it needn’t break the bank, but I’d love to know if any of you have tried cheaper alternatives and found them to be just as good.
I didn’t want to include decent trainers in my top five, because it’s boring and obvious. But if you’re going to be hammering upwards of twenty miles a week, please invest decent shoes that have been fitted at your lovely local running shop. The biggest challenge of a marathon is not getting injured. So give yourself a head-start with a good shoe and make sure you change them when they die. (Clinical signs of trainer death include bits falling off, toes poking through, and see-through soles).
Boring stuff aside, here are my five favourite pieces of kit to see you through your marathon training.
1. Hydration pack
When you start doing your longer runs you’ll need to be able to carry enough water, nutrition, entertainment and gear to see you through several hours out on the road unsupported. The hydration vest is the Mary-Poppins handbag of runners. Once you get used to being able to cram whatever piece of crap you could possibly desire into your hydration pack, you’ll never want to run without it. Warning: you might become one of those running wankers that rock up to a 5km in full-on ultra-running kit.
But seriously, this was by far the most important piece of gear I invested in, and I did go high end for it. Being quite petite, I found that cheaper unisex packs sat too low down on my back and bounced around uncomfortably on longer runs. So in the end I went for a Salomon Adv Skins 12 Set hydration vest (retails at £150, but I waited and lucked out with one on eBay for £30!) in an XS which fits perfectly, feels like a second skin, and can hold all manner of junk in its multiple pockets, including an Ordnance Survey map, Jelly Babies and my giant Canon camera (entirely necessary for adventures in the Peak District!). A well-fitting hydration pack is absolutely essential once you start hitting those big miles.
2. Bone Conduction Headphones
This is definitely personal preference, but it was a game-changer for me. Compared to my normal running routine, I was heading out for much longer runs, in poor conditions, in areas I was less comfortable in during my marathon training. When I made the swap from normal earphones to bone-conduction, I felt infinitely safer – you are so much more aware of your surroundings, be it people around you, or traffic, which is particularly important when you’re fatigued and a long way from home. I borrowed a pair of Aftershokz Air from a friend and fell in love instantly. You hardly know they are there – and as they sit on your face there’s no more jamming things back into your ear holes every 5 strides.
They are very expensive. And this is the only item on this list I didn’t purchase on sale, or second-hand. But I love them to bits and they kept me safe and entertained (I discovered audiobooks on my long runs) for hundreds of miles during my training. I also used them as a hands-free device for my phone and rang my Mum to chat to my when I got really bored/felt like giving up: “You can’t hang up now, I’ve only got 2 miles to go. Keep talking!!” Yeah, she loved that.
3. Mid-Run Nutrition
This is something I never really thought about until training for a marathon, and to be honest not until I as about half-way through (but you should definitely think about it sooner than that). There are whole blogs about different ideas from much smarter people, and everyone’s experiences are completely personal. So I’ll just share the things I found that worked for me, as I used a bit of a combination:
•Tailwind: this stuff is awesome and became the mainstay of my hydration and nutrition. It’s a powder that has everything you need, and you put various numbers of scoops into your water bottle and you technically don’t need anything else. Most people find it much safer on the stomach than gels, and it’s used by loads of ultra-runners. I like the green tea flavour best
•Bloks: these are really tasty blocks of gel that are like a concentrated jelly sweet but full of better things than jelly babies. They gave me little boost when I needed it and taste a lot better than gels. I like black cherry flavour best
•SIS fudge bar: I’m not the quickest runner so on super long runs I found I could stomach, and really enjoyed, some actual food. These were my food of choice.
4. Shorts that don’t ride up (holy grail)
Whatever time of year your marathon is, you’re probably going to need some shorts. Sound easy? Think again. You are searching for the absolute holy grail. My perfect pair of shorts must be flattering, have at least one pocket, be long enough to avoid thigh rubbing but not so long as to make my legs appear short, and they must not ride up. I found one such pair of shorts, which I will share with you: Salomon Women’s Intensity Tight Shorts. BUT they’re sold out. So you’ll have to start your own quest. Let me know if you succeed.
5. Lubrication! Body glide
Chafing had never really been an issue for me before. Until I hit 14 miles on the training plan, and I suddenly developed huge red welts across nearly my entire body; the post-run shower was hell on earth. Twitter recommended Bodyglide, and it’s been brilliant, although I’m sure other brands are just as good. I smear it over my entire body basically and have had no problems since. I’m also assuming it makes me streamlined and therefore faster, like a seal. This is an item I liked to take in my Mary Poppins vest, just in case of chafing-emergencies on the move.
So those are my top five pieces of gear to invest in to see you through your training, and the big day. Don’t worry about how much it costs, you won’t have time for a social life when you spend every weekend and evening running, so you can spend the spare cash on exciting things like hydration packs and body-lube instead! Joking aside, of course you don’t need to spend lots of money to run – you really can just get out there and do it.
The five free things I did that helped me most in my marathon training were: 1) running in beautiful places, like the peak district, 2) having my name on my vest so people shouted it during the race 3) gathering support and motivation on social media, 4) running with friends, 5) raising money for charity, there’s no better motivation than that.