Marathon training is a lifestyle choice, and marathon runners, especially in the few weeks leading up to their races, are a high-maintenance crowd that needs lots of sleep, lots of carbohydrates, and all of their gear just so. I should know, I’m one of them! I’ve ran six marathons to date and every training cycle I’m confronted with just how important my gadgets and gizmos are to prep my body and mind for running 26.2 miles at race pace. Which gels should I eat? Should I carry my phone during the race, and if so, where do I put it? Below, you’ll find the 16 things I can’t live without while marathon training, and what I bring with me on race day.
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The race day shoes: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next% 2
Carbon-plated sneakers are like the sports cars of running shoes: They’re built for going fast. Nike was the first brand to introduce a carbon-plated shoe and though many have tried to dethrone it, the Vaporfly Next% remain the best running shoes for racing a marathon. Incredibly lightweight, they wrap around your feet like a glove and have a firm, bouncy feel that when combined with consistent training, will lead to a PR on race day. I’ll wear these a few times in the weeks before my marathon to get used to how they feel.
The workout shoes: Saucony Endorphin Speed 2
A great shoe for marathon workouts like long intervals and threshold pace tempos is the Endorphin Speed, a nylon-plated running shoe from Saucony’s Endorphin Collection that’s considered a “beginner version” of the brand’s carbon-plated shoe, the Endorphin Pro. We love its firm bounce and responsive feel. (Read our full review of the Saucony Endorphin Speed, and the difference between nylon and carbon plates, here.)
The easy run shoes: Hoka Clifton 8
We swear this is our third and final shoe recommendation in this guide. For easy long runs, you want a shoe that emphasizes comfort, like the Hoka Clifton 8. We stan Hoka and could recommend its shoes all day (read our guide to the best Hoka running shoes), but you really can’t go wrong with the Clifton, a versatile, cushioned sneaker that can take on a variety of paces and terrains.
The socks: Balega Blister Resist Socks
Balega socks are the high-tech running socks marathoners need. Made from a combination of nylon, Drynamix—a synthetic material that wicks moisture—and mohair to regulate temperature and minimize friction, Balega’s socks are lightweight, breathable, and make you realize why cotton socks are a terrible choice. Plus, they come in fun, bright colors.
The breathable running cap: Ciele GoCap
The Ciele GoCap is lightweight and extremely breathable thanks to a proprietary sweat-wicking material. The soft brim keeps things comfortable and though not incredibly wide, will keep your face shaded. I particularly like Ciele’s hats because I barely feel them on my head, and one of my pet peeves while running is a hat that I can feel sticking to my forehead. (Read our guide to the best bucket hats for running here.)
The warmup hat: Acrylic Beanie
Many marathons require you to wait around anywhere from one to five hours (shout out to NYC), so it’s crucial to have cold weather gear to keep you warm. I like to wear a beanie before the race to keep my head warm and even run the first mile or two with it on if the temperature is particularly low. You don’t need anything too nice since it probably won’t make it home after the race—this 100% acrylic one from Amazon should get the job done.
The nice running gloves: Saucony Fortify Convertible Glove
If you’re running a late fall or early spring marathon, you’re going to need some gloves to keep your hands warm. Some people prefer to wear gloves the entirety of the race while others start with them but throw them to the side a few miles in. If you’re going to keep them on the whole way, go with a nice pair that you can train with during the winter months. I’m partial to glittens aka “convertible gloves” and have worn these Saucony ones for a few years.
The throwaway gloves: Acrylic Gloves
…And if you’re just looking for a pair of gloves to keep you warm before the race and to ditch in the early miles, go with an acrylic pair like these.
The long run fanny pack: Salomon Pulse
The Salomon Pulse is my running belt of choice. It has a comfortable fit and doesn’t bounce up and down while you run, and is made of a breathable, four-way stretch fabric with two stretchy horizontal pockets that can hold your phone, gels, and other long run essentials.
The race day running belt: The Original SPIbelt
If you’re looking for a smaller fanny pack to wear on race day that won’t weigh you down, go with the SPIbelt. It can hold a few gels and has an adjustable waistband that doesn’t bounce. (Read more about our favorite running belts.)
The earbuds: Jabra Elite Active 75t
I’ve been wearing the Jabra Elite Active wireless earbuds for the last few years and can’t recommend them enough. They stay in place, are comfortable, have a long battery life, and are water-resistant, so they can handle any sweat or sprinklers you might run through.
The GPS watch: Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Garmin Vivoactive has all of the basic features you need in a running watch—GPS, pacing, a wrist-based heart rate monitor—as well as welcome additions like the ability to create and upload a workout. It also tracks your sleep and stress levels, so you can monitor your recovery from hard efforts.
The MP3 Player: AGPTEK Clip MP3 Player
Phones are larger and bulkier than ever, which means they aren’t the greatest accessory to have on you on marathon day, especially if you’re running for speed. Ipod shuffles might be things of the past, but there are decent copycats out there that play music, weigh less than an ounce, and have enough charge to last the duration of a marathon. I like this one from Amazon that weighs just about half an ounce and is under $25.
The gel: Gu Energy Original Sports Nutrition Gel
I’ve tried a few different nutrition gels in my tenure as an endurance runner, and Gu Energy is the one I keep coming back to for the simple that it doesn’t upset my stomach and it gives me the energy I need to sustain a hard effort. Taste-wise, my favorite flavors fall into what Gu calls the “indulgent flavors” category, like chocolate and espresso. Each pouch has 100 calories, 21-23 grams of carbs, 50-125 milligrams of sodium, and 20 milligrams of caffeine. To avoid overstimulation, alternate taking one caffeinated and one non-caffeinated gel every 30-45 minutes.
The sports drink: Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel
I first heard of Tailwind, a sports drink powder that was developed by an ultra-runner for racing the Leadville 100, through the trail running community. It has almost no taste and replaces all of the electrolytes you lose through sweat. It’s meant for endurance efforts of longer than two hours but I almost always bring a water bottle with a half-to-full scoop (50-100 calories) of Tailwind for speed workouts and long runs because it keeps me hydrated and gives me the calories I need to go hard without leaving a sugary taste in my mouth. I also drink it in the morning before a run if my stomach isn’t quite ready for food.
The snack pack: Skratch Labs Sport Energy Chews
God, these gummies are delicious. They’re good to have in your running pack if you’re about to down your sixth Gu and need to introduce a different texture to the mix. One pouch (140 calories, 38 grams of carbs) has about 10 gummies, each of which is dusted in a combination of sugar and citric acid to give it a Sour Patch Kids vibe. Keep these away from your kids because they will absolutely confuse them for candy.