What to Wear – Upper Body

What to wear - upper body | 18 of 26 Marathon Series

What to wear for a marathon is an important question, that most runners will ask themselves at some point in their running lifetime. Your choice of apparel will make a huge difference to your comfort on the run and in some cases, be the difference between finishing or not.

The chances are if you already run all year round, then you’ll have most of the essential pieces of clothing you need. If not, marathon training is a great excuse to treat yourself to new items that will help build your running wardrobe, so that you’re prepared; whatever the weather. Here’s a list of all of the upper body piece that you may need:

  • Long Sleeve Thermal/baselayer – Great in cold conditions that aren’t windy or perfect under a jacket in cold windy conditions.
  • Technical Running Jacket – Perfect for wind and keeping rain off, make sure you choose wisely as cheap jackets are almost always a false economy. Always team a good jacket with a technical layer otherwise your sweat will get trapped inside.
  • Technical Running Gilet – Similar to the jacket, but without sleeves, for those who get really hot when running.
  • Running Bra – Obviously for the ladies an expertly fitted running bra is essential, choose a running bra, not just a sports bra…there’s a significant difference!

“Having a properly fitted running bra will help prevent permanent tissue damage and pain”

We covered a lot of what to wear depending on the weather scenarios in our blog “prepare for the elements“, but today’s blog is specifically aimed at the upper body. So here are the key comfort rules for your upper body running outfit:

  • Make sure it’s running specific – Running specific clothing will have a running specific cut, that’s normally created on a moving model to ensure that the garment moves in exactly the right way for running.
  • Avoid cotton – Cotton, is one of the most widely used materials in clothing, as it is relatively cheap, durable and easy to work with; however it is not suitable for sustained use in exercise. Cotton is excellent at soaking up moisture, but sucks at doing anything with it, so you end up with a sponge effect. Your sweat will keep soaking into the fabric, until it’s saturated; at this point cotton becomes useless. Wet cotton is heavy, creates lots of friction and clams to the skin causing discomfort and rubbing.
  • Choose the right fit – Again you can’t beat trying clothes on and getting help from a knowledgeable sales assistant, to make sure everything fits perfectly. Too loose and tops will rub, flap around and won’t transfer moisture effectively. Too tight and they will restrict breathing, movement and in some cases will look unsightly.
  • Wear it in training – This may seem trivial, however one of the golden rules of any race preparation still applies here; no matter how good the top feels in the shop, you’ve got to test it on a long run to be sure it’s right for your marathon.
  • Prepare for the elements – It’s no good picking the perfect t-shirt and then assuming that’ll be all you need for the day, because your marathon is in the summer. Test outfits in training for every possible weather outcome and have these items ready for race day.

Remember technical running apparel is designed specifically for running, so whilst you may think that your technical sports clothing is good enough, is it specific for running? If not, you’ll probably notice the difference with specific running apparel. The old rule “you get what you pay for” couldn’t be more true here.

To be sure you are buying specific running clothing, always shop at a running specialist and, if possible, go in-store. This is so important with clothing, because the fit of most run specific clothing is quite different from normal clothes and even from general sports gear. If you’re going to be running 26.2 miles in it, then it needs to be as close to perfect as you can get; don’t do yourself the injustice of just buying a discounted “technical” sports t-shirt online.

Here is the next blog article in our marathon series:

19. What to Wear – Lower Body



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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.