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What You Need to Buy Before Your First Big Race

The obvious stuff, plus all the things — like throwaway clothes and lube — you didn't know you'd need.

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Runners running across a bridge with bibs on Photo: Svetikd/Getty Images

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There’s plenty I didn’t know before I ran my first half-marathon. That one Seinfeld episode aside, I had no clue about the early-morning wake-ups (3:30 a.m., baby!), if I could pee during the race (there are Porta Pottys everywhere!) or if I’d survive — not to mention the items I had to cluelessly scurry about to purchase the day prior to my race.

It doesn't matter if marathoning is your lifestyle or you’re speed-walking a 10K for the first time: There are certain things you’ll want to have on hand. Yes, you obviously know you’ll need sneakers, but gross old gloves, a microfiber fanny pack, and a little goop to swipe inside your butt crack? Yeah, likely not.

Many of these items are usually available at large-scale races’ expo centers — it’s like a pop-up shopping mall for fitness-y things! — but items can sell out quickly, and not all races have one, so consider stocking up in advance. Whether you’re running some of the miles, all of ‘em, or none at all, these are the essentials you’ll need to cross that finish line.


Throwaway Clothes

Weird shopping haul, but yes, you will need clothing you’ll never see again, as you’ll head to the race well before sunrise and will need layers to keep your muscles warm until you’re pounding the pavement. Plan to dump them at the starting line or by the side of the road after the first couple of miles; race organizers often arrange for them to be collected and donated afterwards.

If you have old threads you were planning to toss anyway, all the better, but definitely opt for a sweater, bottoms that can be swiftly removed if you’re racing in shorts, and a cheap hat and gloves if your extremities get cold easily.


Body Glide

You can likely avoid painful skin irritation on shorter races or cold-weather runs, but if you’re wearing shorts or running anything longer than a half, get yourself some Body Glide, an anti-chafing skin balm.

Must-hit spots include the bra line, bra straps, and inner thighs, but a few marathon enthusiasts recommended inside your socks to prevent blisters, and, well, all up in your butt crack. (One can only assume that not doing it will lead to something more embarrassing than lubing up your butt.)


A woman wearing running clothes and a waistbelt Photo: SPIbelt

Running Belts

No matter how minimalist Mansur Gavriel made you think you are, you’ll need to carry a bit of crap with you for the race, so you’re going to want invest in a running belt. SPIbelt’s stretchy material makes it ever-expandable like a sweatproof Mary Poppins purse, fitting a large phone, credit cards, keys, and a few Gu energy shots, no problem. It magically won’t flop around, either; I wear mine higher up on my waist instead of my hips, but it works either way.

There are plenty of options out there — Amphipod’s Airflow Microstretch Belt is essentially the same thing, and other runners recommended FlipBelt and Fitletic. No matter which you buy, toss in a Chapstick and a few Band-Aids for blisters and you’ll be golden.


Headphones

Serious runners are against them for safety concerns (you can’t hear your surroundings) and cluelessness (you won’t hear race announcements), but if you simply can't imagine running 13 miles without some serious freaking jams queued up, we recommend lightweight bluetooth headphones, like 66 Audio’s BTS Pro, which work brilliantly and alleviate an annoying cord hitting your chest every two steps.

If you’re an earbud aficionado, opt for Bose SoundSport, which are sweat-resistant and mold to fit the inside of your ear, or Yurbuds, which are ideal for smaller ears. Spent too much on your race bib already? At $6.99, AmazonBasics in-ear headphones are no-frills and bound to fall out, but the attached clip is clutch for keeping the cord to the side ‘til you cross the finish line.


Running Socks

I ran a half-marathon in Puma socks I bought in bulk at Costco and didn’t blister, but for seemingly every other runner out there, the right choice of sock is imperative. Feetures Elite Hgh-Performance Socks are a popular choice for their compression features, as are Swiftwick, Thorlo, Balega and Darn Tough. Whichever you choose, make sure they’re moisture-wicking, and look for ones containing Merino wool, a miracle material that ensures breathability.


A woman wearing a green tank top, stretching during a run in the woods Tracksmith Harrier Top, $65-$70

Race Day Clothing

I come from the school of wearing what you’re comfortable training in. For me, that’s Moving Comfort’s adjustable-strap sports bras and Tracksmith Harrier Tanks, which are perfectly shaped to accommodate a race bib. Of all the fitness leggings I’ve reviewed, Sweaty Betty’s and Lululemon’s are the most performance-worthy, but if you’re running a full marathon and up late at night worrying about it, look into CW-X’s compression leggings. Like a newfangled Reebok Pump of exercise technology, these innovative running tights mimic muscle taping to provide support and increased circulation, literally enhancing the way you run. Marathoners I spoke with praised these for helping them cross the finish line, giving them a little extra oomph.


Headbands

Want to keep your hair out of your eyes while breaking your PR? Sparkly Soul and Sweaty Bands both make high-quality, no-slip headbands in an array of colors and patterns that may easily become the most stylish part of your race day wardrobe.


Hydration

There will be water and some form of colorful sports drinks along the course, but if you don’t like neon-tinged beverages or have dietary intolerances to them, runners sometimes bring their own liquids in bottles that attach onto a belt or strap to their hands. (Hydration backpacks and pouches like these are also ideal if you don’t want to be reliant on refueling stops.)

Nuun hydration tablets, which contain less sugar than most electrolyte-replacement sports drinks and can be added to a bottle of water, come highly recommended, as does Pedialyte, which apparently does the trick. I chose to nurse a $20 glass jar of fresh coconut water the day before my race since, hey, it was a special occasion, but no matter how you get it, be sure to replenish your electrolytes somehow — you’ll need it.


Energy Shots

I, too, was horrified to hear I’d be running so much I’d need a snack while doing it, but trust me, you’ll need a handful of goo to make it through. (Feel free to sing that like a jingle at mile 9 while you’re squeezing a packet of berry-flavored jizz into your mouth.) These electrolyte-packed edibles come in different formats — cubes, chewables, gels — from brands like Clif, Honey Stinger, and Gu; they all provide carbohydrates and sodium for replenishment mid-race and often have caffeine for an added boost.

Flavors tend to range from fruity (orange, lemon, berry) to savory (espresso, chocolate, peanut butter) to bizarre (cucumber mint, cherry cola, ginger ale), so try a few while training to figure out what you like best; my brother got me into salted watermelon, which is superior to all.


The Little Extras

If it’s your first or second race and you don’t want to load up on hundreds of dollars of workout gear, these may not be for you, but for marathoners who go all-in? Consider this your wish list. Smartwatches from Garmin and Apple are ideal for helping track your pace and ensuring you’re literally on the path to success. Since 26 miles can take, you know, a lot of time, consider investing in an athletic hat or visor and sport sunglasses, which will stay in place much better than conventional items.

Serious runners also love Buffs, a multipurpose headband, neck gaiter, and sun guard that will come to the rescue in any inclement weather.