Marathon Running: 12 Unorthodox Tips


Over the past five years, I’ve signed up for — and completed — eight marathons, including scorchers where the sun beat down and the air was nearly 100 degrees to mild days running under clouds. On these races, I’ve suffered from dehydration, heat exhaustion, blisters, sun burn, sore joints, cramps, pulled muscles, black toenails, and other maladies.

But with each successive marathon I’ve learned how to better prepare and manage my body. This year, at the Twin Cities Marathon on October 5, I ran both my fastest — at 3 hours, 27 minutes — and least-painful marathon to date. Here are a dozen personal tips — some unorthodox, take them or leave them — on products and techniques that have helped me make it from the start line, through 26.2 miles, and on to the end.

1. Wear big shoes
I wear shoes about 1/2 to one full size too large when I run. You can lace them tight enough to always feel like they fit fine. But the larger size allows your toes ample room to spread out and breathe. Your feet will swell after many miles on the run, so the extra room is needed. This year I ran in Newton Running’s Distance model, which, at about 10 ounces per foot, are lightweight — and some people think highly-controversial — racing flats.

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Newton Running’s Distance shoe

2. Lube the feet
If your feet are in pain, you will run slower. You may even quit the race. Over the years, I’ve suffered through dozens of blisters and black toenails. To combat foot troubles, I now employ a foot lubricant called Hydropel (available for about $18 a bottle online at Smear it across your toes and glop it on your heel. Pull a sock over it all, your foot feeling gooey inside. This will keep your skin from bunching up and blistering. It works.

3. Tape hot spots
Bring a small amount of duct tape or medical Leukotape along on the marathon. The moment you feel a hot spot developing on your foot, stop and apply the tape as a layer of protection. Put it on tight and smooth so as not to add bulk or cause another spot of friction. This is not a medical treatment, but it will keep the blister from getting worse.

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Hydropel sports lube

4. Advil
This performance-enhancing drug is not outlawed by any board. Seriously, no drug has been as important for my success in endurance athletics as ibuprofen has. I take two before a race starts and have a baggie in my shorts pocket with more if needed. (Editor’s note: Some medical studies link the ingestion of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, and naproxen sodium (Aleve) during athletics to gastrointestinal issues and poor fluid transport in the body, which may lead to an increased risk of hyponatremia, dehydration, and at the extreme, kidney failure. Consult with a doctor before taking drugs for any event.)

5. Drink
Most marathons features hydration tables every couple miles. On a hot day, I grab a water and/or a sports drink at every single one. Even just a quick sip or half a glass will be enough. If you’re not taking salt pills to keep your electrolytes balanced (see below) I recommend drinking the offered sports drink — be it Cytomax, Gatorade, Powerade, etc. — at each stop instead of (or in addition to) the pure H2o.

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CLIF Shot gel

6. Eat
Any general marathon advice manual will stress staying hydrated. But consuming calories is almost as important for success. I find that consuming 100 or more calories an hour keeps me energized and fast. Athletic gels are the preferred food for most endurance athletes. I squeeze one down every half-hour to 45 minutes as I run.

7. Tummy medicine
But. . . if you eat too much (unlikely) or just have a mal gut while on the run (likely) you might consider packing Tums or another stomach medicine along. I usually stow some tummy pills in my shorts pocket for crunching on the run if things start to grumble down below.

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Hammer Nutrition’s Endurolytes

8. ‘Salt’ pills
Swallow an electrolyte tablet — sometimes called salt pills — and you’re downing the equivalent of a small glass of Gatorade. That’s the simplified way to explain it. But pills like Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition ($17 for 120 pills at have been crucial for me on races to stay cramp-free. I take one or two per hour while running.

9. Body lube
Beyond lube for my feet (see above), I always slather some kind of lubricant under my arms and in my shorts. These natural hot spots, where arms swish repeatedly for hours and legs rub together, are potential places of pain. Avoid a bad rub by coating your skin with a thick layer of lube.

10. Sunscreen
You will bake running on the pavement for 26.2 miles. Make sure to wear sunscreen not just on your neck, arms and face, but also your legs. Some races I’ve been burned badly on my calves and thighs by errant sunshine bouncing off cement and city streets for hours.

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Suunto t6c watch with HR strap

11. HR monitor
I religiously employ a heart-rate monitor while running to provide an exact, immediate gauge of what my body is doing in comparison to the clock. For my race this year, in which I used the Suunto t6c watch ($399,, I started at about a 155 beats-per-minute pace and ran that way for more than half the race. It was a pace I could maintain for two hours, and it allowed me to push my body — but not push it so much that I’d be worn down for the finish.

12. Run the last mile
To me, a marathon is a 25 mile race. The final mile and change does not count. By that point in the game the finish line is in sight. People are cheering. You have huge relief that the end is near. Every marathon I’ve done I hit it hard for the last mile. I pound it out, sometimes in great pain, at a pace faster than many of the miles before. Run hard. Get it done. Then flop over the finish line, arms raised in victory at the end. You’ve made it. You are a marathoner!

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

Posted by Clyde - 10/07/2008 07:02 AM

Beware that using ibuprofen during intense endurance events can lead to kidney failure. Marathons are short enough that it usually isn’t a problem if the dosage is low. But this has been a real life-threatening issue in ultras. Best bet is to save the Vitamin I until afterwards, although it may slow recovery time.

Also electrolytes don’t have anything to do with preventing muscle cramps. You need them but probably not the pills unless you’re only drinking water.

Posted by Stephen - 10/10/2008 12:18 PM

I prefer to drink water and then swallow pills, as opposed to drinking a sports drink. I have cramped up w/o salt pills on other events, so for me the cramps do come when I’m not getting the right balance of electrolytes.

Posted by Gabe - 10/10/2008 12:41 PM

I’ve had good results using VESPA in my training lately and during my last marathon. I was pretty dubious since it’s a strange sounding product, but a friend talked me into trying it. I need way less calories during long runs and I seem to recover a lot faster after them.

Posted by Alycia - 10/10/2008 01:13 PM

Good one, Stephen, thanks. I’ve been warned about risks of ibuprofen risks when the body is compromised and to not take too much- but agree that like most things, in moderation, it’s a good thing. Has saved me around mile 18 more than once!

Posted by Jo-Anna - 10/11/2008 04:19 AM

Ah, you posted your tips! You must have gotten tired from first-timers like me e-mailing you for information. Thank you again! I did a lot of research, but found (everything else) nothing that beat the advice you gave me. Thank you for taking the time…. — Jo-Anna

Posted by John Vonhof - 10/12/2008 03:17 PM

After you rub Hydropel (which is probably the best lubricant) over your feet, you will have a hard time getting any tape to stick. You need to carry several alcohol wipes to cut the lube and clean the skin before applying tape. The use of a tape adherent, to help it stick even better, is also recommended. ~ John Vonhof, author of Fixing Your Feet.

Posted by Charlie Conley - 10/14/2008 03:38 PM

I just read your 12 excellent marathon tips and I only wish you’d written this column 26 years ago, when I ran my last marathon. In regards to that race, I can add a 13th tip – don’t be an idiot and run your first five way faster than you’ve been training.

Posted by Chuck Largent - 10/26/2010 01:07 PM

These are all very good, common sense suggestions. The one suggestion I would add is to enjoy it ! Strike up a conversation with other runners, thank the volunteers, wave back at little kids along the route. Marathons are great goals to work towards as runners, helps keep us motivated. And be proud of finishing. We are all winners for making the effort.

Posted by Shafiq Kamal - 02/18/2011 06:58 AM

I only ran a marathon once and sure it was hell. Maybe i was not up for it. And came not well prepared. Now lots of runners have been using Newton’s shoes. It has the potential but i’m wary of my shoe choices though.

Shafiq @ Best Running Shoes for Women

Posted by Steven - 03/30/2011 09:35 PM

Instead of salt or electrolyte pills I eat pretzels, the old fashioned high sodium kind, carried in a ziplock bag. Replace calories and salt at the same time

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