John Bingham has some advice for running fall marathons in a variety of weather conditions: be prepared!
In the old days, before there were marathons every weekend, fall and spring were the marathon seasons. In the fall, the biggies were the Chicago, Marine Corps and New York City Marathons. In the spring it was Boston and London. I’ve run them all, some more than once, and I can assure you that their status as great marathons is well earned.
For me, though, as a 5-plus hour marathoner, the fall marathons were always the trickiest to prepare for. Keep in mind that for me the leaves could be changing while I’m out on the course. And, an entire weather system could come through in the time it takes for me to get from the start line to the finish.
One year, I ran the first 20 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon wearing a green garbage bag. I had cut a hole out for my head, but not my arms, so I looked like some strange, dark green, alien. And I wasn’t alone.
Another year, it was about 97 degrees at the start and it just got worse from there. The runners in the front poured cups and cups of water on themselves, leaving those of us in the back to dip our hands into 55 gallon plastic barrels of water to get a drink.
I started the Chicago Marathon when it was 29 degrees out. As I remember, I was wearing a down coat and an Elmer Fudd plaid hunting hat. I watched in utter shock and amazement at the elites who were running in shorts and singlets. And, of course since it was that cold, gloves.
What makes the fall marathons so unpredictable and therefore so difficult to prepare for is that there’s no way to anticipate the weather conditions that you’ll face. With that in mind, what follows is a primer on what you need in your travel bag if you’re going to a fall marathon.
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Always bring two pairs of running shoes. Wear an older pair on the plane and put a newer pair in your carry-on. Why? Because if the weather on race day is terrible, if there are torrential rains and monsoon winds, it’s not going to matter if you’re wearing your brand new racing shoes that are 3 grams lighter than your trainers. Plus, there’s no sense in ruining a new pair of shoes.
Bring two pairs of running socks. Your two favorite pairs. I’ve written before that I numbered my pairs of running socks. I knew that pairs 2 and 8 were the “race” socks. If you don’t number your socks, you should. Put one pair in a zip lock bag and put it in your gear bag. If the weather is iffy at the start put the bag of socks in your waistband in case the sun comes out. You can stop and put on dry socks.
You need one pair each of running shorts, Capri length tights, loose fitting tights with ankle grabber bottoms, thermal tights, wind pants and rain pants. These should all be in your bag when you go to the start. It doesn’t matter what the weather and temperature is when you leave the hotel, everything can change before the gun goes off.
You need a singlet, short-sleeve technical shirt, long-sleeve technical shirt, a half-zip thermal shirt, a 100-weight fleece pull-over, a weather-proof running jacket and a down parka. OK, maybe you don’t need the parka, but everything else should be in your gear bag.
One year at the London Marathon I changed clothes AFTER the race started but before I crossed the start line. To be fair, it took me 25 minutes to GET to the start line so I had plenty of time. The point is, you never know.
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It must be so much easier to prepare for a fall marathon if you know you’re only going to be out on the course for a couple of hours. I suppose even I wouldn’t obsess about what to wear if I could finish that quickly. I can’t, so I obsess.
There are many more great fall marathons these days, but the lessons are the same. And the advice is just as important for other seasons. I was there the year it was 31 degrees at the start of the Walt Disney World Marathon and 40 degrees at the start of the Antarctica Marathon. It happens!
Almost nothing is as satisfying as a really well executed marathon. Almost nothing is more miserable. So be prepared for whatever the day gives you.
Waddle on, friends.