Preparing for your first marathon

Your running kit

If you have made it to this point, congratulations! You have made a decision to do something which is still considered to be a massive achievement and fear of human endurance. This means thinking about actually training and preparing for the day itself is something of a mine field and is full of mystery. It is pretty much the one standard distance in running where you do not actually complete the required distance in training making the day itself a leap into the unknown.

I am writing this post as I start my 3rd marathon training cycle and pretty much a year to the day from when I first began marathon training. These things tend to escalate. More on that later. So I have split this out into two posts, the first being more kit related and the second being training and race day based. I am a firm believer in individually we know a little, but collectively we know a lot. So this is what I have picked up and feel free to let me know anything I have missed!

  • If you aren’t running regularly already, you will be! This means your kit will expand fairly rapidly. Multiple pairs of shorts, socks, t shirts, underwear, you name it, you will own plenty! There is the temptation to buy items which look pretty or because someone on insta raves about them. Clothing which looks pretty is rarely functional for long and rainy runs. Ask around, see what people like, but be mindful of their motives. If someone has just started using that product this morning then ask yourself why have they gone years without and suddenly need it today? More importantly, why does this mean you need it?
  • So what do you actually need? Technically we need very little to run, despite what advertisers tell us. The most important items are: your shoes, your socks and your bra. After that everything else is personal choice and what you actually like. They key things to look out for are moisture wicking, chafe free (you will need to test this feature) and most importantly, doesn’t annoy you when you run with it. You will notice I haven’t included a watch here. That is deliberate and for good reason which I will come on to later.
  • Your shoes. Now every marathon runner in training loves new shoes. Let’s face it, it’s basically Christmas to us. Selecting your shoes is important, not just so your outfit is on point, but so your feet do not feel like they have taken a battering. You will most likely be on your feet for upwards of 4 hours. Your trainers need to feel like slippers to the point where you just don’t want to take them off. They should be suited to the terrain you plan on running on (so road or off road) and if you plan on training on a mixture, you may need two pairs. I suggest getting your gait checked out to help with shoe selection, but the pair that you like wearing the most is usually the right pair. The ‘responsive’ pair is usually designed for a race day and although they super bouncy they are much harder on your feet. So great for race days and shorter, quick runs but these are not the best for high mileage weeks.
Runners for all occasions
  • I’m going to include fuel here as well as it comes nicely into the ‘find why works for you’ category. There is no one size fits all, most people use gels as they are easy to carry, others use blocks, drinks or jelly beans. They all do the same thing, provide a carbohydrate source for your body. There can be a lot of trial and error in getting the right brand and type for you. A run can be ruined with the wrong choice. But practice taking your chosen option on different runs, at different times of the day and you will learn when to take them and your body will accept carbs while exercising with practice.
  • Water. This will certainly be needed on longer runs or in hot weather. There are a couple of options, most involve you carrying the water either in a handheld bottle, in a hip flask or in a back pack. Some very creative people put a bottle of water on their route and run laps so they don’t need to carry a bottle. Ultimately, again this is personal choice. Most big races supply water so it’s just something you have to do during training. There are pros and cons to whichever method you chose, however practice your preferred option on the shorter runs and you will get used to it. I personally use a pack, I wear it on most runs just because it’s easy to put my car keys, gels, phone and bank card in.
  • Foam rollers and resistance bands. For me both are essential, keeping your muscles in as good a condition as possible throughout your block will not only make you stronger but also less injury prone. These are easy to come by, but don’t be fooled. Although both bands and rollers look innocent they do inflict a fair amount of pain which you will grow to enjoy. You have been warned.
  • A watch. Now a watch isn’t essential for training for a marathon or the day itself. They are a tool to help you along the journey and nothing more. It’s easy to get really bogged down in the numbers during training and there will be days when you are tired, you look at your pace and get really upset about it. Your half marathon pace will feel like so much effort, you will end your run on a strop and then spend a week convincing yourself that a marathon is impossible. The solution? Turn off pace setting so your watch will just count the miles for ‘slow’ runs. Keep your watch for paced runs, this is the only time you need to be vaguely concerned with how fast you are going. If you can’t hit a certain pace on a certain day, it isn’t the end of the world, everyone has off days and you are training for a marathon, you will be tired, give yourself a break!
Your best friend or worst nightmare