Women's Running editor Esther shares her kit recommendations for a painless marathon. Okay, not quite painless. But as painless as possible...
When you start training for a marathon, you begin thinking about kit very early on. As soon as my long runs started stretching beyond 5 or 6 miles, everything changes slightly. On a quick 3-miler, if your tights sag a little bit, or cut in slightly, it’s not that much of a bother. But if you wear the same tights for an hour, that’s quickly going to become very annoying or, worse, painful. The same is true of badly fitting socks, shoes that don’t support your feet properly, tops that ride up, water bottles that you can’t open when you’re tired, little rubbing bits on your hydration pack. Also, the same is true of advice: some of the advice I’ve been given has been incredible; some less so. So here are the things, the people and the strategies that worked for me. Just a quick note on the products below: none of these were gifted – all of them were press samples sent for review, unless otherwise mentioned, and none of them have paid to be included.
BROOKS Hyperion Tempo running shoes | £140
I genuinely love these. They fit brilliantly: they feel like they’re tailor-made for my feet. The support is ace, and the energy return is fantastic, especially for long runs. They’re really light too, which begins to count when your mileage starts creeping up. I used to be a hard and fast Glycerin wearer, until I tried these and realised that super-cushioned isn’t always the best bet for a long run (for me). I recommend having two pairs of shoes while marathon training, if that’s an option – and I do realise I’m speaking from a position of privilege here – so that you can run your long runs in your marathon shoe, and your shorter runs in something else. I switched between these and Adidas Ultraboost for recovery runs and short, more technical sessions.
NEW BALANCE Official London Marathon Tights | £75
I wore the New Balance official London Marathon tights. They’re comfy, they have thigh pockets on both legs (full marks for that), and they had the London Marathon logo on them. That made me feel great.
BROOKS Dash Half-Zip top | £50
This was an old one of mine, that I pulled out of my drawer at the last minute. You can get a similar one, so we’ll link to that, but mine has had a lot of love and wear. It’s very soft, fits brilliantly, and the longer arms and thumbholes were just what I needed when I realised the rain wasn’t going to relent. I perhaps should have worn a jacket too, but considering just the week before I’d been wearing a short-sleeve tee for all my runs, this was very much a last-minute thought.
RUNDERWEAR Runderbra Original Running Bra | £50
I haven’t found a bra that matches this for support, fit and comfort. The padded straps are lush, and because it’s a trad hook-and-eye number, you don’t get all tied up in it after getting a sweat on, something I’ve learnt to my cost in pullover bras. Worth a look whatever size you are, as they’re very inclusive in terms of range – I wear this one which is perfect for my tiny boobs, but the Easy On is an option if you’re a bit more blessed in that department.
FEETURES Elite socks | £14
These socks are a new find, and are basically the best I’ve run in. They stay put, they support my arches, they look nice, and I don’t get blisters. And that’s after practically swimming parts of my marathon. Can’t say fairer than that.
PREMAX Anti-Friction Balm | £20
I put this everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Between my toes, on the sides of my feet, nipples, shoulders, under arms. On some of my longer training runs, I hadn’t done this and that was a painful lesson to learn. On one run I got the sort of hard round blister on the side of my foot that didn’t go down for a week. On another, a loose comfortable summer running tee created massive red angry marks under my arms. And on my last 20-miler, a slightly smaller neck on a top made my neck bleed. And the nipple thing? Important when it’s cold, I find. I’ll leave that there.
ENERTOR Insoles | £29.99
I got a pair of these in January and I’ve not looked back. The theory is that the impact of your feet and body on each stride is pushed outwards, rather than back up your legs. The reality is that I’ve had far fewer injuries this year than at any other point in my 30-year running “career”. That’s not quite true, actually, I fell over and scraped myself up spectacularly back in April, and then I slipped a disc over the Easter weekend, and I did do something grim to my heel, but that last one was more to do with turning my ankle while trying to puddle-hop. What I’ve not had is any knee pain or any calf strains, both of which have plagued me for about two decades. How much of this is due to the insoles, I’m not sure, but nothing is prizing them out of my shoes!
EVADICT 10L Trail Running Bag | £29.99
I bought this. In fact, I love it so much, I’ve bought two of them. I’ve got a 5-litre one for shorter runs, and a 10-litre one that I bought specifically for this marathon. I’ve also got a 15-litre one, but I reserve that for days out walking/trail running when I can cram in a change of clothing, and half a ton of flapjacks. For running, I just wanted something that would hold at least a litre in the bladder, with enough pockets to keep hold of all my energy gels. The Decathlon one does this at such an incredible price. I got my 5 litre one in store and I think it was £12.99, incredibly enough. And the 10 litre one was just 30 quid. You get so much for your cash – available in three sizes, the fit is perfect for me, and easily adjustable, there are loads of pockets, it’s padded so you don’t feel it, there are loops for your water tube and poles, if you’re so way inclined, and everything is there for a reason. On the 15L one, your water tube is attached with a little magnet, so it’s incredibly easy to access and return to its place with gloved or cold hands. Genius! Honestly, you’d be hard pressed to find a pack like this elsewhere for less than a 100 quid. I sound like I’m doing an #AD, but I really am not. I just love it!
SIS and KENDAL MINT CO energy gels | £1.50 & £15.99 for 12
I went pretty simple with that. I’ve always trained with orange SIS energy gels, which I bought online either direct from SIS or from Sainsbury’s. But in the past year I’ve also experimented with more complex gels; ones that included caffeine or electrolytes, or both. What I discovered was that, mostly, I didn’t like the taste of the latter type, no matter what flavour they were. And also that the caffeine ones made me feel a bit sick on longer runs, but that the effect in terms of tiredness and energy was borderline miraculous. So for my marathon I decided on the following: I was going to have a good breakfast (a banana and a slice of toast with peanut butter, since you’re asking), and then not start with gels until mile 6. When I’d previously started at mile 4 after a smaller breakfast, I ended up feeling a bit nauseous by around the 6th gel. So I started at mile 6, took each one on board slowly over the course of a mile, and then the idea was to have a new gel every 3 miles, or every half an hour-ish, and space them out further if I needed to, or I felt a bit sick. I had a good stash of gels with me that were the plain orange SIS kind. Then I had a Kendal Mint Cake caffeine gel stashed away in a leg pocket, and a further KMC plain energy gel just in case. All went well, until I went for the caffeine one at about mile 20 when I discovered it had popped in my pocket and there was only half left, but this was a blessing in disguise: the caffeine again worked miraculously, and for me just a half packet was enough. The final KMC gel saw me to the finish line. When I got home I realised I had two SIS gels left, as I’d really spaced things out. I didn’t feel sick once. Win!
PRECISION HYDRATION electrolyte powder | £9.99 for a box
It took a bit of trial and error, but in the end I decided to keep my gels relatively simple – see above – and keep the electrolytes in my water. I haven’t had a proper sweat test, so this was a bit of a finger in the air thing, but I used two powder sachets designed to be diluted in a litre of water but instead I diluted them in 1.5 litres. The taste is really nice, just refreshingly citrussy, nothing weird or too fake. I was worried about my calves cramping, especially in the cold, and knowing I had accessible salts made me worry less.
SPORT FX Game Changing Mascara | £9.99
It absolutely thrashed it down, but the mascara didn’t budge. This is not an essential by any means, but – and I realise how vain and stupid this sounds – for a tiny confidence boost, I was happy to take whatever I could get. I never normally run wearing make up, unless for some reason I run at the end of the day, but for this I decided to do it. And it helped. In a very small way, but it helped.
LULULEMON Fast and Free Women’s Run Hat | £35
I don’t wear running caps as a rule, and I’d only worn this at the height of summer when I couldn’t find my running sunnies, but at the very last minute I grabbed this and chucked it on. The received advice on running a marathon is that you should never try anything new on race day, and this applies to shoes, nutrition and kit. I agree with this. And yet. And yet. That cap was a total saviour – even though it’s designed for summer – keeping the worst of the weather off. Who’d a thought?
Support and coaching
The support from friends and family: having them pop up, sometimes unexpectedly, during the race was the sort of boost you can’t get from an energy gel. Lovely Tina, our fitness editor, coached me via email in the run up to the April race-that-never-was, and she continued to send me wise advice during my off-piste training ahead of October 4th. She was as much a support for my wobbly self-confidence as she was for building my strength and endurance, never having any less than 100% conviction that I would be able to do it.
The Running School
I went here last year for a six-session course on running form and technique, and everything I was taught I carried with me on every mile of that marathon. When I was feeling a bit achy across my shoulders or I could feel a little cramp threatening my calves, I would go through a little mental checklist: head up, shoulders down and back, arms parallel, legs kicked out behind me. I was also supposed to hold my stomach in a little bit, but I find that so hard to do, I tend to ignore that even though it’s the bit that, obviously controls my core. I am always concerned about my calves cramping, as I went through a stage about ten years ago of having so many calf strains that I stopped running altogether for about two years. But I think the combination of addressing my running form – which I find is corrected as soon as I start thinking about my arms, weirdly enough – along with the right shoes, and increased strength training, has really, really helped.
And that was it. It takes a lot of stuff to run a marathon, it turns out! Loads of brilliant runners out there would have a list that might run to: bra, top, shorts, socks, shoes. And good for them, that’s ace. For me, it turns out that I needed a LOT of things, and a LOT of people. And that’s why I wanted to do this for you, in case you’re a maximalist when it comes to long running too. My only words of final advice would be this: what worked for me may not work for you – the thing I learned most here was that you need to experiment. And also remember that just cos you spent £50 on a new top, it doesn’t mean you need to wear it if your old one is more comfy. Oh, and last thing – promise: listen to all the advice out there, but don’t for one minute think that you need to do everything that everyone says. Everyone’s marathon experience is different, and what worked for them may not work for you. Listen to what they say, and make your own mind up to create all your own advice that you can then pass down the line to the next newbie. Just like me!
Next year’s Virgin Money London Marathon takes place in the autumn, on Sunday October 3 – and the ballot for entries is open now!
Places will be confirmed in January 2021. The ballot is free to enter, but closes at 17:00 this Friday 9th October – so now’s your chance. Be part of something amazing!