Recently I posted about how to plan a long run for your marathon training. With some planning you will have an awesome run that you will anticipate instead of discourage you. Now that you’ve decided to go out and run all morning the next hurdle is the logistics of how to prepare and what to carry. 20 miles brings a lot of challenges that don’t exist at 5 miles and here’s what I do to make it.
The Soft Stuff
I realized pretty early on in my running that you need to wear a polyester aka “Tech” shirt when running. With a regular cotton shirt you come back carrying every drop of sweat from the run in a hot mess around your chest. Very uncomfortable.
I like the kind with lining and pockets. The lining isn’t necessary if you are going to wear Under Armour, but for short runs I just wear the shorts so I have ones with lining. I’ve never tried those short-shorts with the super high cut on the sides that you see serious running dudes wear. I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I’ve got a pair of under armor and a couple of Nike Sport. Any brand will do. Not necessary for all people, but if you have thighs that are … generous … you’ll like the reduced friction of these. I don’t bother with these for runs up to 5-8 miles. You can try to just apply a shit-ton of Body Glide to your butt (almost literally) but it can be too much and the stuff wears away anyways.
Here is one place that I brand name-drop because I think it makes a difference. You gotta go with Thorlos. They are smartly made with thin fabric on top, thick cushion fabric on toe and heal. It took a while for me to decide to shell out for a $12 sock, but I’m glad I made the switch. I was having a lot of problems with blisters when I used my “athletic” socks that came in the hundred-pack from Costco. I’d get little linear blisters along my big toes. No problems since using the Thorlos. I’ve tried other non-cotton running socks, like Feetures but they didn’t work nearly as well. The Thorlos are kind of expensive, but I only have 3 pairs and rotate through them – they’ve been holding up well for more than a year of >300 sweaty miles.
There’s a lot of hype about shoes. I used to run with cheap $40 shoes from Sports Authority. They were fine, but as I ran more frequently I noticed general foot pains. I usually take my worn out shoe to the running store and let the shoe guru do their incantations and bring out a new shoe. Make sure to run around in it a little bit and if it’s the slightest bit uncomfortable at 20 feet you will be cursing the shoe gods after 10 miles and planning arson after 20 I’ve been on a different brand almost every time, but if you like a shoe get it again if it’s still available. Then you can compare old to new. There’s a noticeable step up in quality from cheapo shoes to the $80-100 shoes. My guess is that anything past that is hype. Don’t listen to 90% of what the shoe guy says and don’t try to marathon in your vibrams. Your Achilles tendon thanks you in advance.
Load up the pockets
My latest strategy is 1 gel per 4 miles, so 6 for a marathon. I used to do it by time: every 45 minutes or every 30 minutes but sometimes I royally screw up my pace and if I’m out for an hour longer than I planned I’m out of energy at the end, but I don’t run farther than I planned. The dosage and the brand have taken a lot of experimentation. Expect it to take a lot of trial and error for yourself. I used to love-love-love Stingers and thought it tasted the best. Now I’ve decided it’s too viscous late in the run when I get dehyrdated and I’m also blinded by the marketing about protein so I bought a case of Accel Gel which I’m digging. I normally go caffeine free until the last gel.
Sweat Proof Bag
Maybe you don’t sweat. But I learned the hard way that salt water doesn’t do your mp3 player any favors in your pocket so now I keep my phone, drivers license and a bill ($20/10/5) in a ziploc in my pocket. If I’m running to a bar I throw a credit card in there. I only carry the phone if I’m going a long way, like > 10 miles and there’s possibility I’ll get lost or quit and call in a pickup. It’s a lot of extra weight. I don’t carry it during a race because there’s race support the entire time. Also helps to put a paper towel in there if you have a forehead like mine that channels sweat directly onto sun glass lenses.
The Garmin 4runner was the best gift I never knew I needed. The GPS completely changed running for me. As an engineer I always want data and this gives it to you. If you are getting one the heart rate monitor is a must as well. The feed back between the two is great during the run and for analyzing it afterwards. This is the only real piece of gear I use for biking or running. Everything else is low tech. It really deserves its own post.
Asthma medicine (not optional for me)
I don’t want my biennial asthma attack to strike me down on the side of the road. People would totally think I’m a wuss. If I’m running a distance that I could hobble back to my house I won’t carry it, but greater than 10 miles and it’s in my pocket.
I have dainty eyes so I always have to have them if it’s at all bright out. I get a lot of sweat on them so I sometimes throw a paper towel in the plastic bag to clean them off since after 2 hours there is no dry fabric on my body.
I apply this before hand, I don’t run with this. This is less optional. The option is how you want to chafe proof yourself. The more you sweat the sooner you’ll need it, but by marathon distance everyone needs a lot. The longer the run the more places you have to put this stuff. In ascending order of length of run here’s how I apply Body Glide:
0 miles -> Nothing -> 8 miles -> just under armour -> 10 miles -> crotch (upper-upper thighs) -> 13 miles -> crack, nipples -> 15miles ->under arms at sleeve opening-> 20 miles plus -> EVERY WHERE
These are cumulative so at 14 miles I have under armour, body glide on my nether region and nips. Recently I’ve been doing bandaids on the nipples for 20 miles and beyond and that works better. The body glide wears away after a few hours and if it’s cold out go straight to band aids.
Don’t know where to put it? Skip it for a long run and you will know exactly where. You aren’t going to get scars, it’s just uncomfortable for a day.
5 Hour Energy
Super optional. I took one of these in the last marathon and felt nothing because I was completely out of gas, but in my 23 and 21 mile runs leading up to it I chugged one of those things with 3-4 miles left and I felt like battery acid was pumping through my veins and I mean that in the greatest way. It’s like squeezing a balloon. Air comes out faster, but not if it’s empty. Take it too early and you might crash. I have a weird relationship with caffeine because I don’t drink sodas normally and only use it extra long training runs or bike rides so it gives me the jitters.
Triathlon Bib holder thing
Super mega optional for race day. I don’t like pinning the bib to my shirt. It’s not that my shirts are that precious. When you pin the bib to the shirt that rectangle of shirt can’t stretch like the rest and I always seem to get it a little uneven and the slight tug bugs me over the course of the marathon. With one of these belts it’s nice that you can move your bib up higher or twist it or adjust it any way you want while running. If you already have one for a triathlon then it’s nice to get one more use out of it, but probably not worth buying just for one marathon.
Isn’t that a lot of junk to be carrying?
Kind of, the load of gels gets lighter along the way. The under armor shorts help out a lot in this regard. They allow the bulky phone to slide along your thigh with less friction and keep pokey edges of gel wrappers from poking as much. I’ve never had a problem with the stuff swinging around violently once you get to a steady pace. Plus, I only carry all this stuff for the longest of runs. The morning 5-miler is “The 4 Sh’s”: shirt, shorts, shoes and shocks. Plus Garmin.
What about one of those running belts?
NERD! Don’t kid yourself. It’s a fanny pack. I’d like to be one of those guys who doesn’t care about what they look like and doesn’t judge people. I almost am, except when it comes to running fanny packs. I can’t bring myself to try one, because I’m sure I’d end up liking it. They seem like they are mostly for carrying water (or recovery drink) and as I said before, a $5 bill weighs less than 5 bottles of water, so run with the bill. One thing that I think would be nice on race day is the belt that has little loops to hold your gels, but it still looks kind of dorky.
I hope this list isn’t so long as to intimidate someone from going out to run right now. These are all things you figure out you need along the way. Happy Trails.