(Editor's Note: Jim Adams, owner of the Falls Road Running Store in Baltimore, wrote this article for runners in the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon, October 2005)
Late fall marathons in the mid-Atlantic can be subject to a wide range of weather conditions. Ideally, an October weekend will produce a cool day with high temperatures in the low fifties and overcast skies. The spectators will want clear skies and mid-70's, but then again they are not running the race.
However, the day may be cold, windy, and raining, or it may be hot and sultry. The weekend forecast may call for drizzly skies, lows in the fifties and rising to the seventies. But it could get colder, or even warmer. So how do you prepare?
Before I go much further, let me just say that cotton is a killer regardless of the temperature. Cotton shirts, shorts, and socks retain moisture, they cause chafing and blistering, and they do not cool well or retain body heat.
Rule number one--except for gloves and possibly tube socks (see below) avoid cotton.
First--if it is a hot day. (Let us define a hot day coming as being warm enough to stand around in shorts and T-shirt for an hour before the marathon without getting chilled.) It is the easiest to dress for because you simply wear shorts and singlet, or perhaps a short sleeve T-shirt. Some men may opt to go shirtless; some women may elect to wear a jog bra in lieu of a shirt. If it is warm in the morning, then you simply show up at the starting line in racing attire. This should consist of synthetic fabrics with wicking properties like Under Armour produces. A host of other technical running fabrics are on the market also; just do not wear cotton!
Second, let us take the probable and hoped for scenario-- cool, crisp autumn days. Mid-thirties, maybe even some frost on the windshield in the early morning, but noontime temperature in the fifties or low sixties.
Step One--go to Falls Road Running Store. (Jim is the store's owner) and buy very expensive cold weather gear.
Step Two--throw it all away at the start.
Step Three--go buy some more the next week.
Seriously, if the marathon weather looks to be damp and chilly in the morning, and warming to the seventies at mid-day, here are my suggestions:
Wear a base layer of shorts and singlet/T-shirt plus gloves to keep your fingers warm. If you plan to be on the course for an extended period, wear a long-sleeve CoolMax or lightweight PolarTech shirt instead.
Wear a couple of cotton Tee shirts over your base layer to keep you warm before the race starts.
Wear a garbage bag over your T-shirts to the start. Cut a hole for your head in the bottom, and two holes for your arms in the sides, and you are ready. On occasion I have seen women wearing giant garbage bags use them as portable spot-a-pots before a race, finding a convenient grate in a parking lot or tree.
Maybe, if it is really chilly, wear some throw-a-way sweatpants under the garbage bag.
Just before the race starts, throw away the garbage bag. Once the race starts, begin stripping down incrementally to your base layer as you warm up. Some folks will throw everything away just before the start; others will peel off in layers as the race progresses. If the temps are in the high thirties/low forties at the start, I imagine that everyone will be thoroughly warmed up by the time they get to Druid Hill Park.
If you have expensive clothing, either wrap it around your waist or have some spectator friends ready to take it at a designated drop-off point along the course. I just don't think it will be there if you throw it on the sidewalk while crossing North Avenue and come back for it later in the day.
On your hands, wear some gloves. Cheap cotton gloves from the Expo will work on a dry day, but get a good pair of synthetics or wool if it is wet or you have Raynaud's syndrome.
Several early miles of the course will be run with the rising sun in your face, as well various sections of the last five miles that will be run into the noonday sun. You may want to consider wearing a hat with a brim or sunshades if the sun bothers your eyes.
If it turns out to be a very dry and really cold day, and you want to wear a singlet or short sleeve Tee, go to a department store and buy some cheap cotton tube socks. Cut out the ends and slide them over your arms. When you begin to heat up, you can take them off and throw them away.
Just remember, with just shorts and singlet you will run twenty degrees hotter than the ambient air temperature. Several years ago, a twenty-two year old died of heat exhaustion at the Chicago marathon. His core body temperature was 107 degrees on a course whose temperature was 41 degrees when he collapsed.
The moral? Listen to what your body is telling you!
Let us take a very cold, blustery, rainy day.
Step number one is your base layer. Depending upon how long you expect to be on the course may also determine the type of clothing that you will wear. A runner trying to break three hours can dress in much less clothing than someone who expects to be on the course for five hours. The breakpoint is probably around 3:30, based on your own metabolic rate.
Your base layer for your torso should probably be a long-sleeve UnderArmour type of shirt. Depending upon how cold it really is, you may consider a second layer on the top. Finally, a water-resistant, breathable jacket may be in order, especially if you think you will be on the course for a very long time.
Your base layer for your lower body may be just shorts. Again, if you will be on the course for an extended period of time, you may decide to wear tights. In that case, your base layer may consist of Under Armour athletic underwear.
The problem with tights is that if you haven't worn them yet this year, well, you may discover some areas that chafe, and you don't want to find that out in the middle of the marathon.
Speaking of chafing, if you are trying out something new, it is advisable to buy BodyGlide and apply liberally to all areas that may be subject to chafing. In particular these include between the thighs, under the armpits, for women underneath the jog bra, and for men over the nipples.
Body Glide and other lubricants such as Body Lube, Body Slick, etc, are generally superior to Vaseline in that they last longer and do not damage or discolor your running attire like petroleum jelly products will. However, if it is a cold day and you are running in shorts, you may want to apply a thin layer of Vaseline over your quadriceps and on the exposed portion of your face.
On a wet, cold, day, you may consider wool socks instead of CoolMax socks--again, you should not be running in anything that you haven't practiced running with before.
On your hands, you should wear gloves made of synthetic materials or wool. On cold, wet, days, cotton gloves will kill your fingers. And also, a hat with a brim may help keep the rain out of your eyes.
The bottom line is to prepare for the worst, yet hope for the best.