The art (and fun) of dressing for a marathon

CorrespondentApril 9, 2014 

  • Race details

    • A free Health & Fitness Expo takes place Friday (noon-6 p.m.) and Saturday (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) at the Raleigh Convention Center (500 S. Salisbury St.).

    • The marathon (full and half) starts at 7 a.m. Sunday at South Salisbury Street (between Davie and Cabarrus) in downtown Raleigh.

    More info:

Selecting the right running gear is both a science and an art. With the first Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon happening on Sunday, anyone who can run 26.2 miles should already have the science part figured out – the best shoes for your gait and foot type, the best-tasting energy gels, the anti-chafing products that best protect your thighs, and so on.

Now’s the time to focus on how to look and feel fabulous on the big day.

1 Don’t overdress. It may be a little chilly at the start line, but you’ll warm up quickly once you get going. Avoid overheating and the devastation of sacrificing perfectly good running gear by dressing for temperatures 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature, and utilize disposable warmth at the start line.

My favorite disposable-warmth essentials are a trash bag with a head hole cut out and inexpensive knit gloves.

Other handy items are the Mylar blanket you got at the finish line of your last marathon, or just some old warmup gear that you never want to see again. (Rock ’n’ Roll Raleigh will donate discarded warmup apparel to charity, so your abandoned old gear will benefit the greater good.)

And though you probably wouldn’t want to dispose of them because they are super-awesome, arm warmers are a must-have spring marathon accessory. They allow just enough warmth to keep you comfortable in shorts and a singlet at a 40- to 50-degree start temp, and you can easily just push them down around your wrists or tuck them into your waistband if they get too warm. You can also fashion some killer disposable ones out of old tube socks – just clip out the toe!

2 Look fabulous, run fast! I like for my race-day outfit to reflect my personality and attitude (and maybe get a little attention from spectators). Sometimes the marathon distance is even more psychologically challenging than it is physically challenging, so soaking up positive energy along the race course helps. The race-day accessory that makes me feel extra fast and fabulous is a pair of hot pink compression socks. Not only do they keep my feet, ankles and calves snugly compressed and supported, they also elicit chants of “Nice socks!” from the crowd. These words of encouragement are every bit as valuable to me as any performance benefits of compression. So make sure to choose some race-day duds that make you look fabulous and run fast.

3 Fun with accessories. Along those same lines, your race outfit can include silly accessories that remind you to have fun. I like to add extra flair with Shwings (wings for your shoes), thematic nail polish (mandatory two-color minimum), all things sparkly (headbands, barrettes, tutus, etc.) and as many temporary tattoos as possible. In addition to making you the fashion envy of your fellow runners, accessories will make it easier for your spectators to pick you out of the pack – and your official race photos will have extra pizzazz!

4 No new is good new. Whatever you wear on race day should make you feel fast and awesome, but it should not be something you picked up the night before. Purchase your super-fly race-day outfit a month or so in advance and have yourself a long-run dress rehearsal so you’ll know whether those cute new “boy shorts” chafe you within an inch of your life or have a pesky seam that drives you crazy. This way you will have some margin of error for making outfit changes if needed.

This applies even more to shoes. New trends in running footwear may beckon to you with their novelty and whimsy, but now is not the time to explore new and exotic shoe selections. If you must change shoes at this point in the game, stick with a fresh pair of what you know to be tried and true – the one you are currently running in, which has kept you pain- and blister-free thus far. Treat yourself to some hip new Vibram Five Fingers after the race if you’d like, but for now, stick with the safe and familiar.

5 Don’t be a race shirt newbie. There is something thrilling about that official race shirt. You ran a lot of miles to get it, and by George, you just can’t wait to show it off. You are absolutely entitled to rock it like the superstar you are – just don’t do it until afterward. Wearing the race shirt in the race is a total newbie move and a clear violation of the “No New is Good New” rule. Pack it in your gear-check bag and save it for the beer tent.

Ellen Moss of Durham is an avid runner who writes The Fast and the Fabulous (, a blog that critiques workout apparel.

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