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Tricky packing situations are a part of life—a month-long trip abroad where you’ll encounter three different seasons, a wedding where the attire is “beachfront semi-formal,” or a long weekend that somehow requires five pairs of shoes. But the most confusing packing scenario ever just might be the day of your marathon—especially if the weather forecasts are less than ideal.
Don’t stress—we talked to runners who have been there before about their go-to packing strategy for marathon day, including what their must-haves are for smart fueling, the random essentials you might not have thought of, and the lucky charms or mementos that stay with them for all 26.2 miles.
We’ll separate this out into three categories for your ultimate race-eve packing: things to wear, things to pack for pre/post race, and things to carry during the race.
What to wear on race day
Of course, your race-day outfit will be largely dependent on the day’s weather predictions. But there are a few things that will stay constant whether it’s 65° and sunny or 40° and raining (Beyoncé forbid).
For the start of the race, consider wearing a set of throwaway clothes over your real race outfit (especially if it’s raining or chilly). You’ll likely be cold at the start of your race when you’re standing around in the corrals, but once you get running, common wisdom suggests that the temperature will feel about 15° warmer than whatever the thermostat says. But you don’t want to get stuck carrying a heavy jacket or tying your sweatpants fashionably around your neck—hence, the advantage of throwaway clothes.
“For pants, I like a pair of loose fitting sweatpants best,” advises runner and ten-time marathoner Vince DiGirolamo. “You can easily slip them off over your sneakers before heading to your corral. Up top, I prefer a zip or pullover hoodie.”
Parker Stinson, professional runner and Gatorade Endurance Athlete, takes that mentality one step further by packing gloves—yes, even if it’s warm-ish outside.
“I’ve learned that small throw away gloves is a must for me on race day unless it’s above 70 degrees,” he shares. “Sometimes what the weather app says isn’t always in line with how it feels to me. Long distance racing is all about being relaxed and comfortable for as long as possible, so I never want to waste energy feeling cold before the gun even goes off.”
As you might have guessed, throwaway clothes should be duds you’re comfortable parting with. Runners typically use ponchos or garbage bags (especially if it’s raining), or you might make a trip to Goodwill to find cheap clothes.
And don’t be worried about the environmental ethics of throwing away clothes after one use—race volunteers scour the course once corrals are cleared and collect discarded clothes to donate to Illinois AmVets, adds DiGirolamo.
For a non-clothing item you’ll want to wear, Kadi Mancuso suggests a pace tattoo (which you can find on Amazon here).
“I mark with an R or L on the mile where I roughly know friends/family will be for motivation and a reminder to look out for them,” she shares.
Here’s your marathon outfit checklist:
- Throw away clothes
- Bib (with name written on it in large letters)
- Watch (fully charged!)
- Tops: sports bra, shirt/tank top, top layer if needed (light rain jacket, pullover, etc)
- Bottoms: Shorts/leggings + compression shorts, if needed
- Shoes: Race shoes/inserts, compression socks
- Optional: knee brace, anti-chafing stick, pace tattoo
What to pack in your gear check bag for marathon race day
Your gear bag is the equivalent of Dora the Explorer’s backpack: you want it filled with essentials for a million different scenarios. Opt for “better safe than sorry” instead of minimalism, since your bag will sit at gear check for most of the day.
Your most crucial packing item: your post-run outfit and change of shoes. Trust us, after 26.2 miles, nothing in the world feels better than unlacing your well-worn shoes and peeling off those socks. We suggest comfy slides or super-cushioned tennis shoes with the laces loosened. Pair with a fresh set of compression socks to speed the recovery process and make a fashion statement at the same time.
As for clothes, that’s up to you. You might opt for loose and comfy or more compression on your lower body. If you treated yourself to any marathon gear, now’s the time to sport it proudly.
Your gear bag should also have a variety of pre- and post-race snack options for you to choose from. Pack something you can easily take with you into the start corrals for a last boost of energy, as well as something to tide you over during that time in-between crossing the finish line and sitting down to your epic feast.
Here’s your gear bag checklist:
- Pre-race food & water
- Post-race clothes
- Fresh underwear
- Comfy shoes
- Compression socks
- Fresh top/bottom
- Post-race snack
- Body wipes or deodorant
- Portable charger
- Credit card, ID, Ventra, and health insurance card
What to carry during the race
Maybe you’re one of those super minimalist runners who goes out with nothing but clothes and your running shoes—no phone, no earbuds, no water bottles. If that’s you, then this section is probably not for you.
The key to success here is to keep everything light, slim-fitting, and close to your body so it doesn’t flap weirdly or weigh you down. Ideally, you’ll have done at least one full dress rehearsal during a long run, meaning you’ve dressed, fueled, packed, and run as if it were really race day. If that’s the case, you should have plenty of experience to draw from that helps you decide what makes the fanny pack on race day.
One of the most important items here is a last-minute energy source to munch on in the corrals. Stinson relies on easy-to-pack energy chews that are portable and quick to eat.
“After warming up and getting down the line, I’ll have Gatorade Endurance Carb Energy Chews for a boost of energy,” Stinson says. “They help curb my hunger at the starting line.”
If you plan on using your own nutrition instead of relying on whatever the course provides, you’ll carry those fuel items as well.
“Since I’ve been training with Gatorade Endurance products, that’s what I’ll use on race day,” reveals Stinson. “Every 5K I’ll have an 8 oz. bottle with Gatorade Endurance Formula for hydration. And every 10K I’ll have a Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel for fuel.”
Diggy Moreland, a former contestant on The Bachelorette, has a quirkier outlook to packing for what he’ll carry on the course.
“My top three essentials for race day are gum (it helps me focus), Gatorade Endurance Energy Chews for fuel, and Burt’s Bees chapstick (I never leave home without it, LOL).” (And really, who wants to deal with chapped lips during a marathon when you’ve already got a lot going on? Smart man.)
Finally, many runners like to carry a little memento to remind them why they’re running or to keep their motivation up. It could be as simple as writing a loved one’s name on your hand, or, like Moreland, wearing a reminder of a successful training run that boosted your confidence.
“I’d say my good luck charm this year will be a super fly running cap that I picked up in Australia where I had my best run ever!” he shares. “I’m hoping to duplicate it on October 13th!”
Here’s your “what to carry” marathon checklist:
- Fanny pack or belt
- Nutrition (gels, chews, trail mix, whatever you’ve trained with!)
- Water or liquid of choice
- Body Glide
- Toilet paper
- Phone, armband