Let me make this perfectly clear, running a marathon is one of the hardest, most time consuming and smelliest activities you can ever do. But if you do it right, it’s a hell of a good time (except for miles 20-26, those are absolutely awful). Race day itself is basically a 26.2 mile victory lap; the hardest part about running a marathon is the training itself.
Waking up early on weekends to grind out 18 miles or getting home late from work to run a quick 10 miler before dinner will be the hardest part about training. There will be injuries, dirty laundry and plenty of “Why am I doing this?” thoughts, but they will all pay off when you have a shiny medal around your neck. I’m no Olympian, but I’ve completed 3 marathons in my life, getting faster and faster each time. Here’s what I used to train for the Chicago Marathon.
1. The right shoes for your feet
At the end of the day, the only major piece of equipment you need to invest in for any type of running is the proper sneakers. These sneakers, plus your race bib, are the only two absolute essentials you need at the starting line. If you’re unsure what kind to purchase, go to your local running store so they can analyze your gait and guide you to the right type of shoe for your feet. I’m a recent convert of Brooks running shoes and I live and die by the Brooks Ghost 10 model, wearing out two pairs while training for the Chicago marathon. Sadly, they just stopped this model and upgraded to the Ghost 11.
2. A watch that lets you know pace and distance
I will be the first to admit this, but I am a full blown slave to my Garmin watch. This watch was my little buddy on all of my training runs, beeping every mile to tell me my pace and using GPS trackers to let me know how many miles I’d gone. These watches are a great investment if you are running long distances and want to keep to a steady pace. They’re also great if you like knowing exactly how far you ran, but don’t want to measure out the distance beforehand. Buyer beware though, I literally become a different person when I strap mine on my wrist, absolutely obsessed with my pace and if I can set a personal best (yup, the watch keeps track of your fastest times).
3. The most hilarious and necessary fanny pack
Yes, fanny packs are back in style and this one takes it to the next level. Known as fuel belts in the running world, these things are absolute lifesavers. When I was going on long runs and didn’t have someone to meet me with a water bottle or was unsure if there were water fountains on the route, I simply strapped this on with the bottles filled and headed out the door. I never had to worry about being dehydrated or having to awkwardly drink from a stranger’s garden hose (what...you’ve never done that?). Plus, you can keep other small items like energy bars or keys inside them as well. Will you get weird stares from non-runners when wearing this? One thousand percent. Will it be worth it when you’re not dying of thirst somewhere after 12 miles? Yes.
4. Necessary recovery tools
Pre-run? Foam roll. Post-run? Foam roll. Watching TV in your living room? You should probably foam roll. My foam roller and runner’s stick are my two best friends when I’m pounding out miles on my legs. The foam roller gets deep into the muscles in my legs and back, like having a massage therapist right at home. Note that not all are created equal, so we reviewed the best foam roller based on your workout needs.
A runner’s stick is not only more portable, but it’s easier to manage. Try and convince someone to roll out the back of your legs for you by telling them it’s just like rolling cookie dough (if the cookie dough could yell about their hamstrings being sore).
5. Clothes that do the work for you
Compression sleeves and socks do the work for you, so all you have to do is put them on and blood flow automatically starts to improve. I would put on compressions sleeves after long runs to help circulate the blood flow in my normally tight calves. Were they absolute game changers? Not really, but I think this was more of a mental thing. During marathon training, any little bit of self care helps. Plus, they reminded me of when I had to wear knee socks in high school, so it made me laugh every time I put them on.
6. The truest definition of snacks “on the go”
The hardest thing to wrap your mind around when training for a marathon is the concept of having to eat and run. Literally. This past race was my 3rd marathon, so I’ve gone through many months of trying every different gu, gel, gummy, waffle, cookie, and energy bar out there. The Honey Stinger fruit smoothie energy chews are delicious and literally taste like the fruit gummies you ate as a child. I alternate between those and the Honey Stinger honey waffles, which straight up feel like eating a cookie, which is basically all I dream about whenever I’m running. Together, they’ve powered me through hundreds of miles seamlessly.
7. The best salt you’ll never put on your food
Epsom salt is a staple in my bathroom whenever I’m training for a race. After a particularly hard or long run, I always come home, fill up a basin with ice cold water, dump in epsom salt and soak my aching feet. You can also put it in a bathtub to ease sore muscles. It is a simple, inexpensive product that can make you feel like you’re at a five star resort.
8. A hat to protect you from the elements
I’ve trained for marathons in the heat of the summer and bitter cold of the winter. The only thing that stays consistent in my outwear is my favorite Adidas baseball hat. It fits my gigantic head (seriously, no other hats fit) and my ponytail can easily slip through the back. In the heat it protects me from nasty sunburns and soaks up the sweat collecting on my forehead. Whereas in the winter, I throw a knitted hat over it and it shields my face from incoming snowflakes, one of my favorite winter time hacks.
9. Tape that Olympians swear by
After suffering an IT band injury when training for the Boston Marathon, I started using KT tape and I’ve never looked back. The first time I saw this in use was when volleyball player Kerry Walsh Jennings wore it on her shoulders during the Olympic games. Years later, when I finally used it on my legs, I can attest to the fact that yup, this stuff works. Regardless of where your aches and pains are stemming from, I can almost guarantee you that you can improve the feeling with a little KT tape. Much like a band aid, just bite the bullet and rip it off quickly when you’re done. You just ran a full marathon, a little sting won’t hurt you at this point.
10. The ultimate chafing protection
If you plan on running long distances, put. this. all. over. your. body. I’m not talking just your legs, I mean everyyyyyyyywhere. These Body Glide sticks look like sticks of deodorant so it’s easy to apply all over your body. I’m talking ankles, feet, inner thighs, under your sports bra, ANYWHERE where fabric meets your skin. Things might feel fine and dandy at mile 15, but I promise you, friction will come into play sooner rather than later.
11. Comfortable clothes that make you feel unstoppable
I’m a creature of habit, so when I had one pair of Nike shorts that worked for me, I literally went out and bought them in every other color possible. Seriously, I refuse to run in any other shorts. They’re the perfect length, don’t get all bunched up when I run and protect my legs from horrible chafing on long runs. Their sports bras are also my favorite because they’re supportive, yet don’t choke you, and of course come in amazing colors and patterns. What’s the point of running an entire marathon if you can’t do so in wildly patterned and brightly colored clothing?
12. Muscle rub to help ease weary legs
Biofreeze is one of those things that you don’t really want to know how it works but you’re glad it does. I put the gel substance all over my sore legs after a run, so it’s basically like icing your legs but you don’t have to sit with ice bags all over you. Plus, it has a strong minty scent, which can mask the odor of your smelly shoes in the hallway.
13. Socks that protect you from blisters and give you a confidence boost
Most runners I know could talk about socks for hours on end. Seriously...socks. Some people would never be caught dead in cotton ones, others wear high knee socks and other (insane) ones just pull out whatever ones they find in their drawer. My personal favorite that I always wear on race day are my Zensah no-show socks. They’re low cut, but high in places so I don’t get blisters and made of moisture wicking material so my feet aren’t soaking in sweat. I wear the Boston Marathon themed ones, so whenever I pull them on I can remind myself that if I can run the Boston Marathon in the pouring rain, I can literally do anything.
14. A place to track all of the workouts you'll accomplish
When training for a marathon, your workout schedule can get a bit intense. If you’re like me and like to plan and keep track of stats, this training journal is perfect. It lets you focus on one week at a time and it is the most satisfying thing to look back and see what you accomplished. At the end of each week, you rate how you were feeling and add up all the miles ran that week. My favorite thing to do is add up all the miles I ran after my training is done, it’s the perfect confidence booster before race day so you know how much hard work went into getting to the start line.
15. A person to share the ups and downs of every mile with
A running buddy is worth more than any item on this list, and honestly it’s the most important. At the end of the day, you have to run a marathon yourself. But if you have a friend next to you during the race or even during some of your training runs, it can make every step feel ten times easier. It’s true what they say, misery loves company, and nothing will bond you more than sweating out miles together during early mornings and late nights. Plus, if you go on a long run together, it’s basically like having a captive audience that's obliged to listen to you for hours. Shout out to everyone who has been forced to listen to my stories while running with me, you guys are the real MVPs.
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