A marathon is one of the most physically demanding chores that an athlete can put himself or herself through. An entire industry has been built by people trying to make that 26.2-mile task seem a little less grueling, however.

For most serious runners, gearing up for a race isn’t as simple as just throwing on some shorts and some sneakers anymore. A lot of thought — and a decent amount of money — goes into outfitting a marathoner nowadays.

But what are the benefits, and how much do you really need? Here’s a basic rundown:

SHOES

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Is this important? Shoes are, simply put, the single most important investment a runner can make. If you’re going to put your feet and your legs through a marathon, the least you can do is make the journey more comfortable. Cushioning is key — and customizing to fit your foot shape is highly recommended.What’s hot? Runner’s World magazine singled out a handful in its summer shoe guide — Skechers GoRun 4, Mizuno Wave Hitogami 3 and New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo. Brandi Legge of White River Running Company adds that a relatively newer brand, Hoka One One, has been gaining in popularity as well.

SOCKS

Is this important? Yes. You can have the most comfortable shoes in the world, but if you have uncomfortable socks, or no socks at all, your feet can still get torn up during a run. Most serious runners are trending away from cotton and toward synthetics or other fabrics such as wool.What’s hot: Brands such as Wrightsock, Brooks, New Balance, Smartwool and Feetures offer a wide variety of options that can help keep feet blister-free.

WATCHES

Is this important? It depends. If you’re just interested in tracking your time, any old watch will do the trick. But runners have a wide array of options available now, and many of them are waterproof. In addition to time, most running watches now have GPS and can track distance, heart rate, calories burned and other statistics.What’s hot? The most popular watch is the Garmin Forerunner, and there are several models to choose from. The most basic, the Forerunner 10 and Forerunner 15, can be had for just over $100, while the Rolls Royce option, the Forerunner 920XT, can set you back $450.

The investment is generally worth it, though.

“Once people get a decent (GPS device), they usually use it until it doesn’t work anymore,” Legge said.

CLOTHING

Is this important? If you don’t want an indecent exposure charge, yes. But beyond that, choosing the right material can make a world of difference. As with socks, runners are trending away from cotton, which absorbs sweat and holds it.What’s hot? Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon and polypropylene, can keep moisture away from the skin and prevent sweat from weighing down your clothes during a race. More importantly, such materials are better at keeping your body cooler — a must during a marathon.

ACCESSORIES

Are they important? Some more than others. Most other accessories are, like GPS watches, highly optional. But some innovations have proven to be quite useful — and there are other tried and true add-ons such as hats and sunglasses, which come in handy on warmer days.What’s hot? Belts enable runners to take different items along with them. Some are just streamlined fanny packs designed to carry basics such as IDs, keys and phones. Other belts help runners lug one or more water bottles along, which can come in handy if the water stations aren’t placed exactly where you need them to be.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.