Top gear!

“In fairness, I wore the chicken outfit on all my long runs. And the feathers are breathable!”

Does it take you ages every workday morning or Saturday night to decide what you’re going to wear? I can already tell you what I’ll be wearing on 29 October, over two weeks from now.

The 2012 Dublin Marathon (on 29 October) will be my sixth race at the grand old distance, and each time I’ve worn the same running top. My race-day garment is a navy, long sleeved Asics breathable running top that I bought in the sports section of Arnott’s department store in Dublin back in 2004. Considering the use I’ve made of it, I’m surprised that it has survived intact for so long. But it hasn’t a fray or a tear.

I usually roll up the sleeves when running, but it’s good to have them while waiting around at the start. Similarly the zip neck helps me keep warm when I need to, and then lets me ventilate the torso when things hot up. Most importantly, this running top is very effective in allowing sweat to evaporate.

I’ve also been wearing this top on my long runs for the Dublin Marathon – as well as the same pair of socks that I wore in my last two marathons. (I’m even more surprised that these socks are still intact, because normally I drive a toe-hole through my civilian socks very quickly.) I have a few pairs of broken-in shorts from which I’ll make up my race-day wardrobe.

I wear this familiar running gear not from any superstition, but because I know this top and these socks work so well. It’s one less thing that I need to think about when preparing for the race. Also, knowing my race-day outfit helps me visualise the marathon in advance – anything that helps your mental preparation is valuable.

Just as you shouldn’t run a marathon in brand new shoes, so your race clothes should also be well broken-in. That new pair of socks mightn’t fit you snugly and give you blisters; those new shorts might, ahem, ride up the Grand Canyon. And an unfamiliar running top might irritate you or restrict your movement. (I imagine it’s the same for a sports bra.) Ideally, you should already know what you’re going to wear in the marathon, and have already worn that gear for your long runs.

If you still haven’t decided, then the most essential thing is to wear a breathable running top. A cotton t-shirt will absorb sweat and weigh a ton by the halfway mark – and wet cloth will chafe you remorselessly. To stay warm at the start and for the first few miles, some runners bring an old long-sleeved t-shirt or light tracksuit top to wear over their running tops – one that you won’t mind throwing away when you warm up. You could also cut the long-sleeved t-shirt open at the front like a cardigan so that you can show your race number underneath and take it off more easily when you’re done with it.

But the best tip for wearing something warm at the start is a large bin liner with holes cut in it for your head and arms. Voila – a disposable plastic poncho that keeps you dry and traps a layer of air to keep you nice and toasty. (This is my pre-race fashion choice, though I must remember to use a brand-new bin liner.)

If you still need some help with your race day wardrobe, here are two suggestions from this year’s London Marathon:

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