As a long-distance runner and six-time marathon finisher, I know the importance of getting your race day prep down to a tee. One way to ensure I’m race-ready is by planning the perfect hairstyles for training runs and the big day. And I’ve had my fair share of failed hairstyles during races. From bits of my fringe falling and flapping into my eyes to my whole mane becoming one giant matted mess from whipping in the wind, I’ve learned the hard way about the importance of a strong running style.
As a general rule, I like to keep all styles slicked and tight to withstand the hours of movement. I also think the more prepared I feel going into a race, the better I will perform. And yes, planning for a good hair day will certainly set the tone for the challenge ahead of you. So, once I’ve logged my final training miles, I try to give myself the best chance of success with the right preparation—starting with my hair. Having a cute hairstyle for the post-race Instagram snap is also nice!
I’ve picked up a fair few tips and tricks over my years of marathon training, but to be honest, these hairstyles can help with shorter distance runs, a spin class, a pilates workout, or even running errands. Wherever life takes you, these looks will keep your mane healthy and chic while on the run.
Prepping for a Good Hair Day Ahead of Race Day
When the miles ramp up in a marathon training block, I run most days and sometimes more than once a day. But pounding the pavement doesn’t just impact my legs; it also affects my hair routine. Subjecting my locks to the wild outdoors, sweat, and water from a fountain or two I might find along the way means I must give it that extra bit of TLC wherever possible to rehab the hair damage that comes post-run.
I start all my race-day hairstyles with freshly washed hair using a nourishing shampoo and conditioner before deciding which look to go with. If you have a 20-mile-long training run ahead of you, you will need a comfortable style that will stand the test of time for these longer miles. As chic as they are, there’s no point in styling a perfectly twisted and voluminous chignon when it comes to running, as it’s unlikely to hold or look fresh at the finish line. But that’s not to say you must stick to a no-frills ponytail. There are plenty of updos that do the trick and still look stylish. Below, find my favorite styles to get me to that finish line.
5 Best Hairstyles for Marathon Running
I thought I’d start with a classic. The high ponytail is the perfect style for those get-up-and-go workouts because it’s slick and never disappoints. I like my ponytail tight, clean, and straight, and here’s how I do it:
Freshly washed hair gives my pony that extra bounce and the front the sleekest slick back. Straight out of the shower, I’ll spritz Biolage Full Density Spray, which makes my hair appear thicker and has built-in heat protection (check out my full review on how I use this spray). I then blow dry and straighten the ends so the finished product is a slick ponytail. I brush tightly into a tight high pony using hair wax or gel like Matrix Controller Gel. Then, I let gravity help me pull the perfect high pony into place by leaning my head upside down while I tie a scrunchie around my strands.
Runner’s Tip: On sunnier runs, smooth your hair straight back rather than with a part to prevent your scalp from burning.
Half-up, Half-down Ponytail
I absolutely love the half-up, half-down ‘do on my long, straight hair as much as the next girl. But, when running, I don’t want any loose hair down sticking to my back as I get hot and sweaty. As a result, my compromise is tying the bottom half into a ponytail. This also seems to work better than a ponytail for me as I can secure my side bangs back tighter in the half-up bit, meaning I get a cleaner finish.
Runner’s Tip: Try this style if it’s a half marathon distance or less, as the free tail of your pony can get a little out of control after a longer run.
Create a playlist filled with boy bands and pop sensations, then try a bubble braid for the runs where you want full-on ‘90s nostalgia. To get the best results, I like to add a bit of bounce to my bubbles with a volumizing product like Redken Volume Maximizer Thickening Spray. First, I tie my hair into a slicked-back ponytail using bobby pins and gel to tame flyaways. I then add 3-4 equidistant elastics down my ponytail. The total number of rubber bands needed will vary depending on the length of your hair.
After tying each elastic, I gently pull the hair out slightly to achieve the bubbly shape. Usually, I opt for a smaller bubble since I have long layers, and pulling too much can cause some strands to fall out of the ponytail. For a finishing touch, I give my hair a good spritz of hair spray to keep it all in place. Redken Shine Flash Hair Spray is great for light hold and a little extra shimmer that will stand out in race day photos.
Runner’s Tip: A more structured ‘do like this bubble ponytail is ideal for the marathon distance, as it stays put over a long period and will still look cute when crossing the finish line.
This is one of my go-to styles for longer miles. As I’ve mentioned, the repetitive swishing of traditional ponytails can cause my hair to become matted after hours of running. This is especially the case if my hair also gets wet from rain, sweat, or water sprayed over the race route to cool runners down. For these occasions, my only resolution is to tame my mane as best I can, and a tight braid always works in my experience.
I start with a slicked-back ponytail—reference my tutorial above. Once I’m happy with my tight and high pony, I split it into three sections and add a three-strand plait as tightly as possible, securing it with an elastic hair tie.
Runner’s Tip: Stand out to your supporters watching on the sidelines by adding a brightly colored scrunchie or bow around your braid. To be a little extra on race day, I often try to coordinate the color of my hair accessories to my vest and shoes, too!
If you’re a run-then-brunch kind of girl like me, then the braided bun is your best friend. It’s robust, it’s versatile, and above all, it’s super stylish. I achieve this look in four simple steps: 1) ponytail, 2) braid, 3) wrap, and 4) spray. You can follow tutorials two and four above for the first two steps. When wrapping, make sure to add bobby pins to secure the bun’s shape. Then, add a generous amount of hairspray to keep it all in shape. I recommend a maximum strength hairspray for long distances, like Redken Max Hold Hairspray.
Runner’s Tip: One thing I’ve learned about marathon running is that the tiniest things can become immensely annoying towards the end of your race. By placing bobby pins tightly and comfortably into your braided bun (and away from your scalp), you reduce the risk of any poking getting on your nerves.
Whether you’re attempting your first 5K or a marathon regular, try some of these styles and tips to get your hair ready to hit a new personal best.
Ailie McGilligan is a six-time marathon runner who loves a gin and tonic. You can find her walking her two dogs or baking up a storm when not out on a run.
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