21 Essential Things to Bring to A Marathon

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It’s almost marathon day and you’re half nervous, half excited about running 26.2 miles. You’ve trained hard so it’s only right you’re properly prepared for your best marathon.

In this article, we’ll be looking at the 21 essential things to bring to a marathon so you can run the very best marathon possible.

Do I have to take every ‘essential thing’ on this list to my marathon?

As you’ve probably already worked out, the list is too large to carry everything whilst running. This is fine because you don’t have to. This list contains things you should consider bringing to the marathon itself.

Depending on personal preference and practicality, some of the items can be placed in a rucksack and left at a race storage area or left with a loved one. The rest of the items can be carried on you during the marathon.

There is no obligation to bring everything on the list. It simply covers everything you should consider bringing, though I would recommend taking as much of the things on the list as you can.

From experience, you never know what will happen on race day and it’s better to be prepared with extra items you don’t need than not having items you need.

For example, if your body chafes badly during the race and you have Vaseline waiting for you in your rucksack afterwards, then you will be extremely glad you packed it. Trust me, I know what this feels like! Better to bring too much and leave it waiting in a rucksack than to bring too little.

As Benjamin Franklin once said:


By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’


Use this ‘essential things to bring to a marathon’ guide as a checklist before race day

In the excitement and nervousness before the big day, some essential items can get overlooked.

I know this because I’ve experienced it myself. In a frenzy of excitement to get going, forgot my sunglasses and sun-cream when packing for a gorgeous July run at Hever Castle in Kent. Needless to say, I was blinded by the bright sun and got a nasty sunburn. What a fail.

If I had created a checklist with the essential things to bring to a marathon below, I wouldn’t have got a sunburn and would have been able to see properly during the event. Instead, I would have checked each item off the list as I acquired it for the marathon. For this reason, I always create and check off a pre-marathon item checklist before I run my marathons.

I, therefore, urge you to learn from my experience. Use this list as a checklist in the weeks before the big day and you will be expertly equipped for your best marathon possible.

1. Fully charged phone

Our phones are an essential part of everyday life and can be a massive benefit to you on marathon day. Some things I use my mobile phone for on marathon day are:

  • As a Sat Nav when driving to the event
  • Listening to music, podcasts & audiobooks whilst running
  • Contacting and locating loved ones who have spectated after crossing the line
  • Updating social media channels with photos and a description of how it went
  • You can also use your phone as a GPS to track your performance on the move, though I’d highly recommend using a GPS running watch.

Top tip: If you use your mobile phone as a Sat Nav to travel to the race, bring a portable phone charger. These handy devices allow you to charge your phone on the go and can be purchased for a reasonable amount of money.

2. Cash

It’s a smart idea to have cash on you come marathon day, even if you have no intention of using it. Anything can happen at the event and you may need to use cash.

Perhaps you get to the check-in area early and fancy warming up with a coffee or you want to try a new brand of energy bar on sale. In an unfortunate scenario, you may need to drop out mid-race due to injury and need cash for a taxi back. These are viable scenarios you might need cash on race day.

Top tip: Don’t bring a debit or credit card, always bring cash. Most of the traders in the registration area will be small, independent businesses who may or may not have a card machine. Better to not chance it and take cash.

Otherwise, you will be disappointed when you’re denied a much-needed coffee because you don’t have cash.

3. Race pack & documents (bib, confirmation emails, information letter, ID, pins, timing chip)

Race pack
Some races send out your race pack in the weeks leading up to the marathon. If not, you will have to collect it at the event on the day.

A race pack typically includes your event bib, a timing chip and an informative letter which outlines all the race information you’ll need such as the start time and location.

Your race number is a means of identifying you and must be clearly displayed for safety reasons during the marathon. Clip it onto your front with safety pins before travelling to the event to rock up prepared and ready to go.

The informative letter in the running pack is a lifesaver. It outlines when the race starts, the starting point location, local parking areas, course information, guidance on which headphones can be used (usually bone-conducting headphones only), what traders will be present on the day and so on. The race pack will be your race bible so make sure you pack it!

Some race packs feature a timing chip. This is a little tab which is linked to your race number and it uses chip timing to measure how fast you run the marathon, informing the post-race results. The timing chip is typically tied onto your shoelaces with a little cable tie. If you have a chip, make sure it’s tied on before you arrive at the event to make sure you’re prepared.

It’s also a good idea to print off any race confirmation emails and to bring a copy of ID. Though it’s extremely rare, organisers can sometimes mix up information on race day and you might not be allowed to run unless you can prove you have paid for entry. This happened to me on one occasion and I had to show the organisers a confirmation email and my ID to prove I had paid and I was who I said I was.

Again, this is very rare but worth being aware of. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to take any race confirmation documents and a form of ID. Better to be safe than sorry!

4. Vaseline & Sunscreen

Both of these items can be real lifesavers on marathon day. If you’ve ever experienced bad chafing or an embarrassing sunburn, you will know what I mean.

Vaseline & Sunscreen are easy to apply and easy not to apply, each taking a matter of seconds. However, I beg you to read on to find out why they are essential for marathon day.

Vaseline

Famously, running long distances (like marathons) can cause nipple chafing or ‘joggers’ nipple’, caused by the material on a running top rubbing against the pointed nipple skin. Thankfully, this can be prevented and treated with a magical invention known as ‘Vaseline.’

‘Jogger’s Nipple’ sure looks painful!

Vaseline is a jelly made of 100% pure petroleum, consisting of mineral oil and wax blend. It works by creating a sealing barrier between cells in dry or damaged skin which locks in moisture and speeds up your skin’s natural recovery process, helping it to heal within.

Get yourself some Vaseline, lather yourself up before the run and enjoy a chaff free marathon!

Sunscreen

If it’s a hot and sunny day, make sure you use a good amount of sunscreen. Failure to do so could mean getting a nasty sunburn which it not only painful & embarrassing but also associated with ageing your skin and can even lead to developing skin cancer later in life. Not ideal. Please use a decent sunscreen and protect yourself from these risks.

Sunscreen works by reflecting or scattering ultraviolet radiation, most commonly caused by sunlight. By blocking out the sun’s radiation, you reduce the intensity of the radiation and therefore won’t get a nasty sunburn and massively reduce the risk of developing any health-related issues.

Apply a coat of high factor sunscreen before the marathon and – if possible – keep a small bottle on you. If this is not possible, apply a layer of sunscreen as close to the start of the race as possible to optimise the effects of the coating.

Make sure you get strong sweat-resistant sunscreen, designed for sport. The NO-AD Sport Sunscreen has worked well for me during my last 2 marathons.

5. Fully Charged GPS Running Watch

GPS running watches are a fantastic piece of gear for marathoners. These watches track your location and provide real-time performance updates with data like distance covered, pace per mile, heart rate, current pace and total time taken, to name a few.

The smartest way to a successful marathon is to pace yourself and the best way to do this is to keep your eye on a GPS watch. A quick wrist glance every so often will inform you whether you’re on pace, under pace or over pace to reach your time goal. An essential thing to bring on marathon day.

A few more benefits of a GPS running watch on marathon day include not having to carry around your phone, recording lots of useful marathon data with ease and looking stylish.

I swear by my GPS watch during training and on marathon day itself. My GPS watch helped me achieve a 3-hour 12-minute marathon as I used it to pace myself. One of my most important pieces of marathon kit by far.

Tonnes of people (my brother included) get on fine with the popular Garmin Forerunner 235. I personally swear by my trusty Garmin 735XT which I just couldn’t run without.

For more information on GPS running watches, check out the following articles: 

6. Energy gels and bars

Energy gels and bars are commonly used by runners to top up their fuel during a marathon. Running for longer than an hour requires a lot of energy, and that’s where energy gels and bars come in handy.

Fuelling up on carbohydrates by ‘carbo-loading’ is common practice amongst marathon runners, but this supply of carbs won’t last forever during a race. This is where energy gels come in handy.

They are easy to carry, effortless to consume, cheap to purchase and deliver a quick hit of carbohydrates to keep you powering through the 26.2 miles.

My favourite thing about these gels and bars is that they come in so many different flavours. Some of the flavours available include caramel, chocolate, vanilla, berry, coffee, blackberry, banana, lime, orange and honey to name a few. Whatever your taste preference, there will be a gel or bar for you.

Some energy gels I would recommend from personal use are:

For more information and recommendations on energy gels, check out the following post:

7. Water

Water is essential for not only performance but also for life itself! This magical liquid regulates our body temperature, removes waste, helps energise our cells, cushions our joints and encourages healthy blood flow.

Without a decent water intake before, during and after the marathon, you may run into health issues like fainting or even vomiting.

Take a bottle of water with you and drink from it every couple of miles. If you run out, be sure to stop at race stations and have a decent drink before setting off again. Your marathon (and you) will benefit hugely from proper hydration.

8. Running sunglasses

A decent pair of running sunglasses can make a huge difference to your marathon. They are useful on brighter, sunny and summer days but can be used and provide benefit in any conditions.

Sunglasses can help you see better, protect your eyes from UV light, shield your eyes from bugs and safeguard against unprecedented weather conditions like rain, snow, sleet and wind (stopping dust getting in your eyes).

A good pair typically comes in a portable carry case for ease of transporting to the marathon and can be picked up for very little money. Remember, when looking for decent running sunglasses you always want to go for ‘polarised’ sunglasses because these offer the best UV light protection.

Some sunglasses recommendations include: 

For more information on running sunglasses, check out the following articles: 

9. A change of non-running clothing

Make sure you carry a change of clothing to wear after you’ve crossed the finish line. Store the change in a rucksack in the registration area, with a loved one or in your car. The last thing you want is to finish the race and have nothing to wear but sweaty running gear which may have been chaffing.

Make sure you choose some a selection of clothing which can be easily accessed and slipped into post marathon. Ensure your clothing selection includes some comfortable warm clothes.

Immediately after the run, your body temperature can drop quickly from having a wet layer of sweat against the skin and the reduced blood flow. This means you may feel chilly after running and a warm choice of clothing is an essential thing to pack on marathon day.

10. Basic first aid kit (wipes, plasters, Savlon)

Whilst we want an accident free marathon, anything can happen on race day and its better to be prepared than not to be. Bringing a basic, small first aid kit can be a huge help if you get a small cut or take a tumble on course.

An easy to carry selection of antiseptic wipes, plasters and Savlon cream will act as your insurance on race day. You can run safe in the knowledge you have basic first aid supplies in the case of a minor incident.

Note: A basic first aid kit is not a substitute for professional health care. If you sustain a nasty injury like a deep cut, it’s always best to seek professional medical attention and you should make your wound known to a marshal.

Despite the name of this blog, it’s safety first, runners second.

Some items I regularly use in my marathons are as follows: 

11. Disposable warm running clothes

As most marathons start between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM in the morning, you can get cold waiting around for the starting gun. Therefore, it’s a good idea to pack some disposable warm running clothes.

These are typically low-cost clothes made from high-tech, weather shielding fabrics that keep out the cold and wind. Disposable warm clothes can – as the name suggests – be taken off and discarded a couple of miles into the race once they have served their warming purpose.

I understand not everyone likes the idea of purchasing running gear just to dispose of it so it, but I urge you to think about how much more comfortable your marathon wait and first few miles will be in the company of warm clothes.
Warm, disposable clothes are an essential thing to bring to a marathon so make sure they’re on your list.

12. Sweatband

Something I took ages to purchase and start using during my marathons was a sweatband. I would constantly swipe sweat away from my eyes with the back of my hands and fingers, often finding this very difficult to do.

Needless to say, I got lots of sweat in my eyes and squeezed my face up in pain at the salty intrusion. What a fail. Learn from my mistake and get yourself a decent sweatband.

Sweatbands are often made of a continuous loop of terrycloth, a particularly absorbent fabric. They typically come as headbands or sweatbands and can be used to swipe away and to absorb sweat.

Wearing sweatbands during your marathon can your experience more comfortable as you won’t have to constantly battle the sweat away from your eyes with bare hands. Instead, you’ll have absorbent fabric to sort the problem out for you.

Sweatbands are comfortable, stylish and can be picked up relatively cheaply. I use the simple and cheap Suddora Headband & Wristband which has been great for wiping swear away from my face.

13. Running Hat

Running hats can be an extremely useful thing to bring on marathon which is why it’s worth considering one. By design, they draw perspiration away from the head helping you keep cool through evaporating sweat.

The best hats let air in through their fabric which further cools your head with a level of comfortable breathability.
If you’re anything like me, you might sweat a lot during the marathon. Wearing a hat to soak up the moisture makes my 26.2 miles much more comfortable, particularly during summer marathons.

I would highly recommend owning a decent running hat so you can consider whether you want to bring it with you on marathon day.

The hat I have is the GADIEMENNS Quick Dry Sports Cap, which has worked wonders for me in my last few marathons.

14. Toilet paper & alcohol gel

If you can carry it, it is a good idea to bring some toilet paper and alcohol gel for the race. Though best avoided, anything can happen on marathon day and you may need to press pause for a quick toilet break on course.

Unless you’re in the first 50 of the elite runners, the toilet you use might be in a dire state by the time you get to it which is why I recommend bringing some toilet paper and alcohol gel.

The toilet paper can be used to wipe and place onto the toilet seat, whilst the alcohol gel should be used immediately after you finish for hygiene purposes. It may seem a trivial suggestion for you to carry around for 26.2 miles but believe me, it can be a lifesaver if you’re 22 miles in and have no choice other than to use a disgusting toilet.

Top tip: Always go to the toilet in the registration area so you don’t need to go during the marathon. Try and go to the toilet even if you don’t feel like you need too. It’s best not to go on course as this will break your momentum and result in a much slower time. I know this from experience.

A few items I’d recommend are as follows: 

15. Bone-conducting headphones

Make sure you bring a pair of ‘bone conducting’ headphones on marathon day. These headphones sit on top of your cheekbones and indirectly deliver sound to your eardrums. This means you can hear what’s going on around you whilst listening to audio during the marathon. Why can’t you just use normal headphones, I hear you ask?

The UK athletics rules of competition are clear that ‘in-ear’ headphones cannot be used in events where roads are open to traffic. This is because running near or on a road with traffic, with ‘in earphones’ blocking your ability to hear, is considered dangerous.

For instance, you might not hear a car behind you due to loud ‘in-ear’ music and go to cross without looking which could cause a nasty accident. Ouch, not fun. Never fear, bone conducting headphones are the answer on marathon day.

These special headphones use bone conduction technology, delivering stereophonic sound through your cheekbones to the inner ear. Bone conduction headphones allow you to hear your music, audiobook or podcast whilst still being able to hear what’s going on around you. A true game-changer for marathoners because lots of marathons are on roads open to traffic thus ban ‘in-ear’ headphones.

I personally prefer in ear headphones which I use all through training before swapping for bone conduction headphones come marathon day. You might prefer wearing bone conduction headphones to your normal headphones so might wear them during training too.

Whatever the case, make sure you have a pair of bone-conducting headphones handy to bring with you on race day. It’s not a fun feeling when you rock up to run 26.2 miles to discover you’ve forgotten you’re in-ear entertainment for the next 3-5 hours.

Here’s a few of my personal recommendations for bone-conducting headphones:

For more information on running headphones, check out the following article: 

16. Lightweight running vest pack

A lightweight running pack is an excellent way to carry everything you need during your marathon. These packs are basically a waistcoat with easy to access pockets, designed for things like water bottles, gels and other small items.

These handy packs are designed to hug your chest so there’s no unwanted momentum and you often don’t even notice you have one on which means you can concentrate on running.

Prioritise what you need to leave in a rucksack at the registration area and what you need to bring with you in a running pack.

I love wearing my pack as it is light, allows me to access important items like water and gels, and it doesn’t affect my form one bit.

Below is the back pack I use during my marathons and one I would recommend to anybody taking up the 26.2 mile feat:

17. Heart rate monitor (If you have one)

Sports heart rate monitors (HRM) are handy devices which provide accurate and detailed information about the state of your heart whilst running.

HRM can be used both during training and on marathon day itself. Using a HRM on marathon day helps prevent you from going off too fast in the early stages as you can keep an eye on your heart rate.

If your heart rate is too quick, you’re going too fast and should slow down. On the other hand, a ridiculously slow heart rare means you can afford to speed up a little. The key is to run in your heart rate ‘sweet spot’ between a high and low rate.

Advanced models use GPS technology to measure speed and distance, often with GPS watch pairing functionality for detailed statistics both during and after the marathon.

A decent heart rate monitor a few of my friends use is the CooSpo Heart Rate Monitor. This HRM is cheap, easy to use, connects with Garmin and Strava and gives extremely accurate data on your heart rate.

18. Gloves, Arm Warmers & Knee Socks (for cold weather)

Most marathons take place early in the morning, usually between 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM, and can mean a chilly start. Having a pair of gloves, arm warmers and knee socks on hand can mean staving off the cold weather and keeping warm before setting off.

Proper running gloves are thick for warmth, anti-slip, waterproof and promote healthy blood flow. They can be easily slipped on before the marathon and can be quickly taken off for carrying a few miles in if you need to.

Arm warmers are soft fabric tubes which are pulled onto your arms. They offer comfort, breathability, moisture absorption, UV protection and of course some important warmth on cold marathon days.

Knee socks can be worn on cold marathon days and improve blood circulation by applying graduated compression. The boost to blood circulation and extra skin coverage creates a sensation of feeling warmer whilst running which is why it’s an essential thing to take with you to a marathon.

Check out the following items which I regularly use: 

19. Running Shoes

I know this one is fairly obvious but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Running shoes might be the most important part of any runners equipment during both training and marathon day. If you rock up to race day forgetting to bring your running shoes, it will probably be better not to run and save yourself the risk injury.

Running shoes are specially designed to protect your feet, legs and body from the repeated stress of thousands of foot landings each mile.

Each time you take a stride, your foot absorbs a huge amount of weight which often equals two to three times your body weight. Without proper running shoes, your feet will hurt and you will be more likely to sustain an injury like a sprained foot or developing runner’s knee.

In addition, proper running shoes often feature a mesh lining which gives feet proper ventilation so they don’t offer heat. Crucial for proper comfort during your marathon. Needless to say, running shoes are also incredibly stylish too!

If you need some suggestions, some great running shoes I’ve used over the years include: 

I note all the above recommendations are ASICS which is because I love the shoe style and always perform best when wearing this brand. You might hate ASICS and prefer Brooks or Mizuno, which is completely fine. I’m only sharing the shoes which have worked for me and helped me to achieve some fast marathon times.

For more information on running shoes, check out the following posts: 

20. Running Clothes

Again, another obvious one but worth mentioning all the same. For a successful marathon, wearing proper running clothing is essential as these clothes are designed specifically for the sport.

Proper running clothing is designed with ventilation and breathability in mind, gives you an unrestricted and wide range of motion, helps you feel comfortable and makes you look stylish.

All are benefits you certainly don’t want to be missing out on by rocking up to marathon day wearing casual lounge wear. That would not be good.

21. A positive attitude

One of the most important things to bring to a marathon is a positive attitude! I’m a big believer in attitude influencing running performance, so the more positive the attitude you can bring the better.

Marathons are filled with many highs and lows so it’s crucial you have the right attitude to cope with everything you go through. A positive attitude will keep you optimistic, feeling happy and reduce any perceived stress before, during and after your marathon.

If you are a marathoner who doubts their ability and does not believe the marathon will be a good or fun experience, then this will most likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You probably will perform badly and not cope with the lows (like ‘hitting the wall’) because you believed you would fail.

To establish and keep a positive attitude come marathon day try smiling, using positive words, listing everything your grateful for, thinking about all the training you’ve done, breathe properly and try surrounding yourself with good people like loved ones before the race.

These little actions will go a long way towards a positive attitude come race day and can be the difference between a great run or a bad run.

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