James Kelly’s Marathon Blog

At night I dream of vests and trainers …

James Kelly London Marathon marathon marathon running

At night I dream of vests and trainers

Have you ever dreamt that you had to stand up and give a lecture or a presentation in front of a packed auditorium only to find that you’ve forgotten to get dressed?  Neither have I, but apparently many people have.   Haven’t seen too many naked lectures in my time.

Probably a silly question, but have you ever dreamt that you were running the marathon in the nude in front of thousands of spectators?  No, I didn’t think so, and neither have I – yet.  Because getting your race attire correct is one of the biggest factors in determining whether or not you’ll meet your goal.  A quick apology – we’re only going to be discussing fully-clothed people from here on out, so if your pulse was racing in anticipation of something a bit more saucy, you’ll have to get a wet flannel and a copy of the Sun.  (Or, apparently, go on a swap).

Those of you who haven’t disappeared to find the photos of Lindsey Vonn in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition are probably scratching your head now.  A set of trainers, a couple of socks, a pair of shorts and a vest.  Job done.  Well, yes, in a way.  But it’s the little things that will keep you out the physio tent at mile 18 and out of the hospital after finishing.

Let’s start at the top, then.  Leaving the head decoration to personal taste (curly wig, Obama mask, comedy moustache, that sort of thing), we arrive at the vest.  And would you believe it, there are rules for these things!  If you’ve entered as a club runner, you must run in your club vest.  If you haven’t, you’ve got free choice – so knock yourself out!  But before you don your lucky football top, beware: it’s a long race, which means plenty of time to sweat and so plenty of time to inflict serious pain through chafing.

Women are usually much better at avoiding these problems; for a start, they don’t sweat – they merely “perspire” – and they turn an anatomical disadvantage to their favour with the sports bra.  But we men think undergarments are, well, for women!  And see how many you can count grimacing down the Mall with streams of blood pouring from each nipple.  I’ll bet you run out of fingers and toes!

Chafing can also be a problem with the shorts.  Those inner linings might feel comfortable when you’re modelling your kit around the house, but after more than 20 miles of sweat – and in some unfortunate cases, other bodily fluids (ask Paula Radcliffe) – they can become pretty abrasive.

So what’s the solution?  With apologies to Baz Luhrmann, wear Vaseline.  If I could offer you one piece of advice for the future, Vaseline would be it.  There’s no need to go all David Walliams with it, but make sure you address the most vulnerable areas.  Your nipples will thank me.

But I digress – where were we?  Ah yes, the most important item of all: footwear.  And it’s the hardest choice to make because there are so many choices!  Ruling out Wellies and flip flops at either extreme, you’ve got racing flats, marathon racers, lightweight trainers, trainers, extra support trainers…and offerings from every brand out there.  So which do you choose?

The choice depends heavily on a number of factors, including running style, foot shape, existing and/or recurring injuries, and maybe a sponsorship agreement or two.  At some point all of us have been advised by an expert, and told to buy this-and-that model and to wear it with a special pair of chartreuse socks.  The advice is very often helpful and well-meaning (even if motivated by self-interest!), but the fundamental fact is that you are the best person to assess the comfort of a pair of shoes.  So try some out – don’t just take the experts at their word.

Logically, the more lightweight the pair the better; you’ll take somewhere in the region of 42,000 strides over the course of the race, and the less mass you have to carry around, the better.  Before you lace up your plimsolls, though, understand that there is a tradeoff.  Lightweight shoes tend to sacrifice the cushioning and support that standard or specialist trainers provide, and so can increase the impact of each one of those strides.  Saving a few grams might not be worth the pain of injury.

There’s no prescription for choosing the right pair of shoes.  In fact, the only thing certain about the process is that the time to act is now!  It’s very important to do some proper distance training in your race shoes prior to the big day.  A couple of long runs should suffice – just ensure you’ve done enough to establish that you won’t develop blisters, won’t beat up your calves and will run as quickly as you’d like.  Yes, the shoes might pick up a bit of mud along the way, but your flashy new shoes won’t impress the crowd too much if they’re accompanied by an ugly limp.  And, best of all, with your kit sorted you can get back to dreaming about your supervision partner again…