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How to be the coolest runner in the London marathon: Part 1: What to wear

Updated on January 18, 2015

What not to wear!

The call of the race. The roar of the crowd. The dong of Big Ben.The collective pounding of 35,000 feet. A runner speeds past the Houses of Parliament dressed as a penguin. Quick as a flash, he’s overtaken by a finely honed athlete dressed as a toilet. It can only be one of the most iconic running races on the planet, the London marathon. You’ve got the date ringed in red in your diary. It’s going to be totally awesome. But before you can start getting the training miles in, you need to get your running wardrobe sorted.

First on the starting line, and by far the most important thing to get right, is your shoes. Obviously, the total number of steps you take during the race will depend hugely on the legginess of your legs, the length of your stride and your cadence. But it could be in the region of 40,000 footfalls. That’s a whole lot of pounding the pavement to contend with. And what happens to your feet affects your shins, knees, thighs, hips and the whole of the rest of your body. So, it’s important to treat your feet right. And that all starts with your choice of footwear.

Probably The Most Important Bit!?

There’s a bewildering, fantabulous array of running shoes to choose from. So it’s probably best to step along to a specialised running shop. Once there, they’ll film you running, analyse your gait, ask you to hop about on one leg and generally look at how you use your feet when you run.

The guru on the shop floor may well bandy about the term ‘pronation’ or even ‘over-pronation’. The ideal running foot strike lands towards the outer edge of the heel, then rolls through the mid-foot, so that you spring off from towards the inner edge of your forefoot. When the foot rolls inwards like this, it’s called ‘pronation’. Some people’s feet roll in a bit more than normal and that’s called ‘over-pronation’. If you tend to over-pronate when you run, the very nice shopkeeper people will probably recommend a more stable shoe, which will reduce or eliminate this tendency. It’s important to try a few different shoes out and decide which feel most comfortable for you. Also consider the slow motion video evidence about what each shoe is doing to your foot and ankle movement when you run.

There’s a big trend underway towards ‘natural’ or ‘barefoot’ running. ‘Natural’ running shoes have very little cushioning. If you have good core stability, recruit your bottom muscles when you run and break yourself into using the shoes gradually, you may get away with running marathons in these type of shoes. But if you’re not used to them, they are very hard on your calves and can potentially lead to Achilles problems or foot fractures.

Most people can’t and shouldn’t attempt to train for or run a road marathon wholly in ‘barefoot’ running shoes, because of the lack of cushioning, volume of training miles ahead and injury risk.

To Sock or Not To Sock?

Next off the blocks are your socks. For those of you still running in any old socks you can lay your hands on, now might be the time to invest in something altogether more high tech. If you get tight calves and occasional twinges in your Achilles, you could do worse than go for knee high socks. You may have wondered to yourself why runners wear those and, come on, admit it, don’t they even care what they look like? If you can set all sheepishness aside though, knee length compression socks are well worth it.

They are super tight, so a bit of a faff to put on. Once they’re on though, they feel great. Research suggests that you can reduce injury risk, decrease muscle fatigue and improve recovery times by wearing them. As someone who’s brazenly worn them out in public rather a lot, I can confirm that they’ve transformed my running and eliminated a niggling Achilles problem I had. If you’re up for a more traditional, ankle-skimming style of sock, then invest in some specialised running ones. This should reduce your chance of getting blisters.

Skipping ahead to the business of what to wear on your nether regions, the short answer seems to be whichever specialised running apparel you like. Many serious runners opt, once again, for the squeeze. You can buy compression (graduated pressure) shorts or full length tights. They are often the priciest option, but increasingly popular with runners. Although some of the research on the efficacy of compression tights and shorts is contentious, most people who use these swear by them.

The science suggests that cladding your bottom and legs with compression clothing yields faster recovery times and users tend to agree with this. Apart from compression gear, there are close-fitting, non-compression, lycra varieties or baggier, old style, ultra-light running shorts to choose from too. Most of the shorts these days come equipped with a handy key pocket, which is a genuinely useful feature to have, so worth looking out for.

A Tip For The Ladies

For women, getting the right bra can make the difference between sticking at running, or deciding it’s not for you. Also, stretching the ligaments that keep your breasts perky is sadly a one-way only affair. So, it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time and money getting it right. Statistics show that well over fifty percent of women wear the wrong sized bras. And you can’t automatically assume that the size of bra you wear everyday will match the one you need for sports. The bottom line is that you should probably go to a specialised running shop, swallow hard and ask for a bra fitting.

The Winners

Who Was The Winner Of The London Marathon 2014?

See results

It All About The Top

By now, you have probably spent quite a lot of money and are chomping at the bit to get going with the actual running part. Just one major item of clothing left to consider and that’s a top, or better still a couple of tops to cycle through the wash.

There are loads of specialised running tops around. It sounds almost too obvious to say, but long sleeves are good for seriously cold weather training, whilst short sleeves or vest tops will do most of the time. My advice would be that this is the least important clothing decision you will make. You’re free as a bird then to ponder style, fit and colour, then simply go for whatever takes your fancy.

The Home Straight

You’re now on the home straight of running apparel. There are plenty more running gadgets and toys on the market, but the only other things you truly need for winter training are lightweight running gloves and hat. Next step, and the 700,000 odd steps after that are all training...

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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 2 years ago from Nottingham UK

      As someone with a competitive streak I always look at the runners in big giant costumes as being completely nuts when I'd be striving for a PB. Though the reality is that London is such a showpiece event you're not likely to get a PB.

      Whilst the London Marathon is not an event I particularly want to do (26 miles on road and pavement just sounds a little boring to me versus a trail marathon which the UK has so many great options to do) I have the utmost respect for anyone completing such an event