The Barney Stinson Marathon Training Plan is a viable strategy for maybe a few elite runners. For the rest of us whose lifestyle does not revolve around running, preparation takes on a life of its own. Luckily for us, technology has stepped up to make marathon training more manageable. This doesn’t mean simply picking up the latest GPS enabled training watch. Technological advances in weather forecasting, clothing, and even social media have all eased the burden on marathon preparation and training.
If 26.2 miles is not your idea of an easy run and you’re building your endurance to try to achieve this distance, there is no shortage of training plans you can adopt to get you there. Each training plan may be different, but they all require a combination of runs at different paces and distances as you build toward your goal of 26.2 miles, so it is important that you track how far you run and at what pace. Just as there are a plethora of training plans to tell you what to do, there are even more training watches to tell you how you’re doing. I’ve been a fan of Garmin products for years. They are a pioneer in GPS technology and make quality and affordable products. Currently I run with a Garmin Forerunner 310XT, which, although fairly outdated, still holds up really well to track vital measurements like current pace, distance, and elevation gained while running, cycling, and even hiking.
Update: I've upgraded to the Garmin Fenix 3HR and I love it! It's since replaced my old Forerunner and my FitBit.
Phones & Apps
I don’t normally like running with my phone due to its size. It’s nice to have the emergency contact ability, but it often requires wearing an extra belt or arm band to carry it. One reason I do like having it is the CharityMiles app. When you run, walk, or cycle, it tracks your workout and companies will donate money to a charity of your choice based on your workout. You are essentially sponsored by major organizations to run! Now, if CharityMiles could work together with Garmin or Strava so it wasn’t necessary to carry your phone, I could definitely do this more.
Training Planning & Tracking
Speaking of Strava, that’s the service I rely on to track my overall progress and share the results with people. It’s a wonderful, integrated community that works with recreational and professional runners. The challenges and competitions are great ways to stay motivated and to push yourself a little further each run.
One last technological mention is Weather Underground. They make use of thousands of personal weather stations across the country to deliver amazingly precise forecasts. The iOS app also provides smart forecasts where you can define ideal weather criteria for activities such as running or even kite flying so you know when it is the best time to break out the string and start whistling that Mary Poppins tune. This has been a great tool to help plan my weekly runs.
Let’s start with footwear. The right pair of shoes is a vital component for any runner. They give you cushion and support in the right places and help you keep your body in proper alignment. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s how every part of your body affects and is affected by every other part of your body. Maintaining proper running form means getting your stride, knees, hips, and back all working together. It all starts at your feet. Which brand and model is best? It depends on you! Every runner is different. I highly recommend visiting a running store that can run a few diagnostics for you to help you determine what type of shoe fits you best.
I always run with my Road ID. It’s inexpensive and provides emergency contact and medical information about you in case something happens to you on your run.
Cold Weather Gear
My new favorite garment is the pair of compression running pants I bought last spring. I barely notice the cold runs, they don’t overheat as the day warms up, and they are extremely comfortable. For mildly cold runs I wear a BondiBand headband and for wintery runs I wear a lightweight running cap. These keep the extremities warm while wicking away moisture.
Finding the right brand of top is kind of like finding the right shoes. For my money, the Helly Hanson tech shirts that the Bolder Boulder gave out a few years ago is hands down the best running shirt I own. It fits like a glove, is extremely comfortable, and I never get nipple burn. Yes, that’s a real thing. Prices, brands, and material all range widely. You just have to try a few until you find ones you like.
Pro Tip: Sign up for a bunch of 5k races that give out tech shirts instead of spending tons of money on retail shirts until you find a good one.
This is another one of those garments where you gotta try em out. There are a few things to consider, though, depending on your run.
- Avoid cotton. It rubs, holds moisture, and causes blisters.
- Make sure there is enough elastic to keep them up. Cheap running socks will eventually stretch out around the band and slip into your shoe while you run.
- If you are trail running, get higher-cut socks. This will help to keep them from slipping and also will help to keep dirt and pebbles out of your socks.
Some friends have tried these Injinji toe-socks and swear by them. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’d love to (another shameless Christmas gift plug). Keeping each toe individually wrapped and moisture wicked away helps prevent rubbing and blisters. Sounds like a great idea to me.
Update: Laura bought me a pair for Christmas and I wear them for all my long runs.
There are a seemingly infinite number of other garments out there from compression socks, to gloves, to glasses. Some sound gimmicky, and some people swear by them. It’s really up to you to try them and see how they work for you. Lately I’ve noticed that many of the companies that produce these items are bringing them out to races and events to allow runners to sample them. If you are curious but not ready to pop open the wallet, keep an eye out for these.
This is one of my favorite categories because I have an unhealthy obsession with organizational accessories. Short runs don’t require too much support. Distances of 5k or less and I don’t even carry water with me and it’s not until I surpass 13 miles that I start carrying nutritional support. Most races provide enough water stops that you don’t generally need to carry water anyway, or at least not an excessive amount. It’s the long training runs that require some extra gear.
Personally, I don’t like running with things strapped to my back or around my waist. Despite the claims on the packaging, they bounce and prevent moisture from wicking away. Because of this I like to carry a hand-held water bottle when I run. I know a lot of people who don’t like to, but for me it works, as long as I am careful to make sure I switch it from hand to hand and don’t let it affect my form.
Longer training runs, though, require more water, so I do also have a low-profile water belt that has two nine-ounce water bottles and a small pocket for nutritional items. When cinched tight it barely at all, especially if my running form is where it should be. I’d prefer not to have it, but it is actually not that inconvenient to run with. I think I’d still prefer this over a camelback.
The benefit of the camelback is that it can hold a higher volume of water for those really long and hot runs. The downside is that all that water adds weight and it sits on your shoulders and back.
Update: I recently purchased an Orange Mud Endurance pack and I can't imagine long runs with out it. These guys created a pack that sits high on your back to prevent bouncing and it holds enough water, nutrition and gear for long runs and hikes.
Generally, runs of 13 miles or less don’t require mid-race nutrition. Your body can store enough calories to get you through. Of course, each person is different. For me, this works. On longer runs, my go-to calorie supplements are Clif Blocks and Honey Stinger chews and goos. They are easy to carry and taste great. Honey Stinger is also a local company based out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, so it feels good to support a local business.
I’m categorizing music as a support item. And this really should be headphones, not just music. As water and nutrition support the body on long runs, we also need to support our mind. Especially when trail running, I prefer to go without. The sounds of nature are a big part of the enjoyment of running for me. Running on a flat path for 4 hours, however, can be mind numbing. I find it extremely helpful to have something to listen to to help pass the time and take the focus off each step, after step, after step.
In a RunnersWorld article from 2014 on the effect of music before, during, and after a run, it was found that music did have some positive effect on the runners times. So there’s that.
I also find that audiobooks, especially those with vivid imagery and action sequences, help tremendously to take my mind off those long runs.
Pro Tip: This also works wonders for long road trips.
For these runs I generally carry my phone with me so I can “plug in,” but there is no shortage of smaller devices you could carry with you too. The tricky part is the headphone cord. Mine were getting caught up under my shirt or tangled in my water belt where they’d be yanked from my ears if I turned my head too quickly. My solutions was a $20 pair of Cablex bluetooth headphones. They do tend to slip a little while running, but the over-ear loops keep them in place and the sound quality is excellent.
The running world is not without its own ecosystem of gear, from technological devices to online services to socks with toes. There’s no more excuses. Get out and run.
And, as always, please share this website with your friends, family, and strangers on the internet.