Chances are, if you’re running a marathon soon, whether it’s your first or your fifth, your preparation checklist runs long. You’ve laid out your pre-race, during, and post-race fuel, you’ve found the right shoes to run in, you have your support squad in tow – and you’ve checked the race day weather, time and time again to determine what to wear.
With all weather conditions and outside factors considered, it’s time to lay out your clothing picks
So, what exactly should I wear for a marathon? A reliable rule to follow is to dress as though its 10 to 15 degrees warmer than it is. It’s also imperative that you avoid fabrics that hold moisture, such as cotton, that irritates your skin and doesn’t allow your skin to breathe. For colder weather marathons, focus on light, simple layers that you can toss as the race progresses. If there’s precipitation in the forecast, it’s beneficial to invest in a high-quality water resistant running jacket.
Now, let’s go deeper into weather and temperature specifics…
Rainy and Cold Weather Marathon Clothes
According to a study focusing on optimal temperatures for peak running performance, the best temperature for marathon running is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit, not considering other conditions like rain or wind. So if you’re running a spring, fall, or even winter marathon, you’re going to have to plan your outfit more carefully as the temperatures drop.
One thing to consider when preparing your race day attire is the chance for precipitation. What’s the likelihood that your marathon will see some rain, maybe even snow? Precipitation is a huge factor that can negatively affect your race if you’re ill-prepared.
“For instance, the 2018 Boston Marathon was considered one of the worst-weather race days in the history of the marathon– the temperature was also in the 40’s. So why, when the temperature was considered ideal, was the race so grueling? The culprit: wind and rain.”
Precipitation not only makes it more difficult for your body to retain warmth, but it also increases your chances of chaffing and skin irritation. And on top of all that, you’re more likely to get sick after a rainy or snowy race than a dry one. Extra preparation is crucial to avoid these pitfalls that can mess up the race you trained so hard for.
Related article: Couch to Marathon Training Plans (1 Year, 6 Months, 12 Weeks)
Heavy Rain on Marathon Day
If the forecast is looking like heavy rain for your marathon, it would benefit you to invest in a waterproof jacket, such as a Goretex jacket. Because Goretex is not the most breathable fabric, wear a light layer underneath to avoid overheating. On some rainy long runs, I’ve worn a Goretex jacket with a light dry fit t-shirt underneath and felt perfectly comfortable.
Wear moisture-wicking tights if the forecast is colder than 40 to 45 degrees. In addition, wear a throwaway long-sleeve t-shirt underneath your jacket to keep yourself warm as you wait, one that’s easy to toss and that you won’t miss when it’s gone (the likelihood of getting that back is slim). If it’s warmer, you may feel better in half-tights or shorts.
And always pick high-quality, moisture-wicking socks, such as Drymax (I’ve ran through puddles in Drymax socks and finished my run with dry feet. They’re amazing!).
Light Rain on Marathon Day
If the forecast for rain is on the lighter side, or only for a portion of the race, a water resistant jacket will do just fine. On the start line, wear a poncho or a garbage bag to keep you dry until you start. You can toss those to the side once you get going. You can also wear a throwaway long sleeve t-shirt, as I mentioned above, to keep yourself warm as you wait for the race to start.
There’s no need to invest here, although some water resistant jackets are far better than others. The plus side to these jackets is that they’re light enough to take off and tie around your waist if you get too warm or if the rain stops.
Cold Temperatures Expected
But what if it’s just downright cold? Two to three top layers will suffice here– a base layer and an outer layer. Make sure your base layer isn’t too warm for the conditions– save your thick thermal base layers for runs below 32 degrees. You can also wear a vest over your layers, though I personally find vests to only be helpful in very specific conditions– my arms stay cold!
Here’s a list of things to consider wearing for your cold-weather marathon:
- Longer, thicker (but still moisture-wicking!) socks to cover the bottom seam of your tights, so that your ankles aren’t exposed.
- Thick yet breathable ear warmers or beanies.
- Gloves (if you plan on using your phone for music during the race, get the kind that has touch pads on the fingertips so that you can use your phone without having to take off your gloves. Or, if it’s going to be cold but not that cold, wear gloves with a fingerless option.
- A high-neck top, or a top/jacket that covers your neck. If you don’t have one, a thin scarf tucked into your shirt or jacket will suffice.
- If your race is predicted to be really cold – like below 25 degrees Fahrenheit– wear a Buff around your neck that you can pull over your nose and mouth. This not only keeps your nose and mouth warm, it also protects against the cold air affecting your lungs.
And if you only remember one thing as you prepare for your cold marathon let it be this– if you aren’t wearing any additional warm gear just for standing around prior to the start of the race, and you feel warm, you’ve overdressed!
What To Wear For A Marathon In The Heat
If you’ve signed up for a marathon in sunshine and warmth, then you’re in luck– you don’t need as much clothing for your race. But less clothing doesn’t mean less preparation. If anything, warm weather marathons require more preparation– in the cold, you can always get warmer and stay dry with the proper attire; in the warmth, you can only strip down so far until it becomes a crime.
Beating the heat requires more than the right clothes; you need the right gear and nutrition to avoid dehydration, heat stroke, and other negative effects of hot weather running.
Temperatures in the 70’s
Just as I said at the beginning of this post, dressing for a run means dressing as though it is 10-15 degrees hotter than it actually is. If the marathon you plan on running is predicted to have 75 degree weather, for example, you would dress as though it will be 85 to 90 degrees. That means a thin dryfit t-shirt or tank top, shorts, and thin, breathable socks.
80 to 90+ degree temperatures
If it’s predicted to be warmer than that, consider wearing a sports bra or crop top if you’re a girl, or going shirtless if you’re a guy (you can do either or, just don’t say this article told you so if you get in trouble/get a ton of crap for it. Make your own decisions, people.). And if you’re feeling self-conscious, remember that you trained for a whole, entire, freaking marathon.
You’re allowed to dress as you please within the lines of the law. You’ve earned it.
Wearing moisture-wicking attire is crucial in a warm-weather marathon. Not only will you be sweating, maybe before the race even starts, but you may also want to dump water from the aid stations on yourself throughout the race to cool off. Doing so will help regulate your body temperature as the heat rises.
Try to aim for the top of your head and neck– that sudden, cold effect will travel throughout your body more efficiently than if you splash water on your chest or torso.
Hydration and Nutrition Tips
Attire only scratches the surface of hot-weather marathon running. Consider hydration– if you don’t want to use the aid stations your marathon is providing (they usually have water, Gatorade or other sports drinks, and sometimes fruit snacks and pretzels), or if the race isn’t providing the hydration and aid that you’re planning on using, invest in a hydration belt or a small, hand-held water bottle.
Fill them up with a sports drink you’ve been training with (NEVER try something new on race day, unless you want to risk the dreaded tempo tummy) and some ice if they’re well insulated. Even if the marathon you plan on racing has substantial information about aid stations, where they will be, and what they will be providing, you may feel more at ease if you rely on your own aid.
Additional ‘Must-Haves’ For Race Day
Here’s some other gear to consider as you prepare for your race:
- Anti-chaffing creams or Bodyglide – spread it anywhere you’re prone to chaffing, like your inner thighs, around your armpits, your sports bra line, or your ankles.
- Sunglasses or a cap/visor (pro-tip that I’ve done before and during hot runs– put your hat in the fridge or freezer [don’t crinkle it up if you put it in the freezer!] well before your run so that it’s nice and cool when you start. You can drench it with water along the way as well to help keep your head cool.).
- Sweat-resistant sunscreen. For obvious reasons.
Let us know what marathon you’re preparing for in the comments, and best of luck to you as you train and prepare for your race!
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Emma is a semi-professional runner for the Hoka One One Aggies, based out of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. She is an NCAA DIII All-American, has made multiple top-10 all-time performance lists for track and field and cross country for her alma mater, Linfield College, and graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors. When she’s not running, working, or in physical therapy, she enjoys going to the beach, fishing, or lazing around watching Netflix with some Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream.