Barring any hurricane related cancellation (cross your fingers and think extra-positive thoughts out there people!), in exactly 4 days I am taking to the streets of The Big Apple to run the New York City Marathon! New York will be the 6th 26.2 race of my illustrious marathoning career. Now I am not claiming to be a marathon expert or guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to think that my first 5 marathons have taught me a thing or two about tackling this distance. I am sure I’m not the only one out there who has a big fall race on the calendar, and that is why today’s post is all about my top 5 marathon race day essentials! Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Disposable Warmth
There is no denying that weather for fall marathons can be wildly unpredictable (Exhibit A: Hurricane Sandy), but unless your fall race is in a tropical, sub-equatorial locale, the one weather scenario that you can probably count on is the chilly race start. This is why numero uno on my list of marathon race day essentials is disposable warmth. You are going to need some warm stuff that you don’t mind parting with at the start line or shortly thereafter so you don’t freeze your speedy little tush off while you are waiting for the starting gun. My favorite disposal warmth essentials are the classic trash bag with head hole cut out and those little knit gloves from Wal-Mart that come in a pack of three for $3.00 (perfect for sharing with your running buddies!)
Other handy (and free) starting line accouterments might include the mylar blanket you got at the finish line of the last marathon you did or just some old warm up gear that you never want to see again. Often races will donate discarded warm up apparel to charity, so there is a chance that you may even be abandoning your old gear to benefit the greater good!
Also, although you probably would want to dispose of them because they are super-awesome, arm warmers are a must-have fall marathon stay-warm accessory. They allow just enough warmth to keep you comfortable in only shorts and a singlet at a 40 to 50 degree start temperature, and you can easily just push them down around your wrists or tuck them into your waistband if they get too warm as temperatures rise. Or if you can’t be bothered with stashing your arm warmers on your person, you can fashion some killer disposable ones out of an old pair of tube socks using only a pair of scissors! Follow the simple instructional photo essay below to hand craft your own pair of tube sock arm warmers…
2. Facial Sun Protection
If you are an average to maybe-slightly-above-average-on-a-good-day, middle-of-the-pack marathoner like myself, you are going to be spending the better part of 4 hours out there on the race course. If you don’t arm your pretty little mug with some sun protection, you are going to be subjecting it to some serious UV rays for most, if not all of the time that you are running. Show your skin some love and apply some sunscreen and/ or wear a fabulously colorful hat or visor on race day and on all of your sunny day runs! This concludes the skin care/ skin cancer prevention PSA portion of this blog post.
So I don’t know about you, but if I am going to be running for three hours plus, there is no way I am getting through it without some kind of nourishment! As you probably already know, you can generally count on races to provide some sort of sustenance other than just water out on the course. Do your homework so you will know ahead of time what type of gels and sports drink are being offered at your race so you can try them out during training. If the official course product works well for you, then you can pack extra-light on race day. I am personally in an exclusive, committed relationship with raspberry Hammer Gel, so I typically pack my own stuff. I store my marathon day gels in all the obvious places (like that little back zipper pocket in my shorts) and some not-so-obvious places as well. (Did you know that the average A cup sized sports bra can comfortably accommodate at least 3 packs of Hammer Gel?) Make sure that come race day you know what fuel you need and where to stash it on your person! Be sure to practice both your fuel consumption and storage strategies in advance in order to avoid race day unpleasantries such as bonking, sternum chafing from the energy gels in your sports bra, etc.
Note the gel storage capacity of my race day outfit pictured above: That would be 3 gels in my sports bra, 2 in both the back and side pockets of my Oiselle Distance Shorts, 1 in each of my compression socks, and 1 in each arm warmer. This comes to a grand total of 11 gels. Please understand that I am not suggesting that you will need to consume 11 gels in order to complete a marathon. I am just saying that with a little creative thinking you can easily carry all the fuel you (and up to 2 other people) need for 26.2 miles completely hands and fuel belt free.
4. An Outfit that Makes You Feel Fast and Fabulous
You might have already guessed that I am a firm believer in the “look fast, run fast” philosophy. I also believe that my race day outfit should be a reflection of my personality and my attitude. Therefore, I want it to be as bright and cheery and fabulous as possible. I am also not ashamed to admit that I want my race day outfit to get attention from spectators. I personally feel that the marathon distance is even more psychologically challenging than it is physical challenging. Ergo, I make a concerted effort to position myself to soak up every ounce of positive energy I possibly can on the race course. For me the signature race day accessories that make me feel extra fast and fabulous are my hot pink CEP compression socks. Not only do they keep my feet, ankles, and calves snugly compressed and supported, they also elicit chants of “Nice socks!” and “Go Pink Socks Girl!” from the crowd. These words of encouragement are every bit as valuable to me as any performance benefits of compression!
Whatever you choose to wear on marathon day should make you feel fast and awesome. However, your marathon outfit should not be something that you picked up the night before at the expo. I certainly love trying out new and exotic running gear as much, if not more than the next guy, but when it comes to selecting your marathon outfit keep this wise running adage in mind: “No new is good new.” You are going to be spending several hours of quality time running in your marathon threads, so it is important to know exactly what to expect from them. Purchase your super-fly race day ensemble a month or so in advance and have yourself a little long run dress rehearsal so you will know ahead of time if those cute new boy shorts chafe you with an inch of your life or have a seam that just drives you crazy. This way you will have some margin of error for making outfit changes if needed, and you’ll be sure to avoid race day wardrobe malfunctions.
5. A Kick-Ass Cheering Section: You Deserve and Need to Feel Like a Rock Star
Do not under-estimate the importance of a great cheering section. Trust me, your personal marathon fan club has the power to make a good race awesome and bad race at least a little better. I have found the marathon experience to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I think it is safe to say that in every single marathon I have completed I have run not only 26.2 miles, but also the entire gambit of emotions that one might experience while running… Exhilaration, doubt, depression, euphoria, fear, anxiety: Yeah, I’m pretty sure the whole gang has showed up at every one of my marathons thus far, in varying quantities and forms of course. A little encouraging distraction from a cheering bunch of people who love you, or just a familiar face in the crowd can really go a long way in saving you from your potentially destructive marathon internal dialogue. (I don’t know about all of you, but the little voice inside my head is my number one arch nemesis on race day.)
*Note to all of you who are reading this from the perspective of marathon spectator: This is your marathoner’s big day! The nicest, most supportive thing you can do for them right now is lovingly tolerate and indulge all of their anal retentive, obsessive compulsive race preparation behavior. They also need you to get out there on the race course and cheer your face off for them. No matter what the outcome of your marathoner’s race, they will be oh-so-greatful for your wonderful support when you meet them at the finish line.
I have found that it is also extremely helpful to train and race with a pack. I am very fortunate to be part of a particularly supportive, talented, inspiring, and hilarious running group. I honestly can’t remember how I ever got out of bed to go for a run before I started training with them. Six of us will be traveling to New York to run the marathon, even if we have to drive there all the way from North Carolina! We all have different time goals and run at very different paces, and with 48,000 runners on the course, I know that chances of seeing my teammates out there are slim to none. But just knowing that I am part of something bigger than myself, and that they are running the same race as me and sending me good thoughts and positive energy, is comforting and exciting and motivating.
So bribe your training BFF into pacing you, map out spectating routes for your friends, family, and significant others, and bedazzle your name across your singlet! Do whatever it takes to keep you feeling like the extra-special rock star that you are on race day! Believe me, every little bit helps!
Best wishes to all of you fall marathoners out there, and thanks so much for reading! I hope that you will find my 5 marathon race day essentials to be useful in reaching new heights of marathon success!