How to outfit yourself for running: Spend from the bottom up
The sheer number of gizmos, gadgets, and gear you can buy for the relatively uncomplicated and previously inexpensive sport of running has grown ridiculously huge. Know what's important and what's not. Focus on the essentials (shoes) first, then add the other stuff later as you become more advanced and perceive the true benefit and the need of it.
Reputable brands of running shoes
Shoes: Start at the bottom
It has been reiterated over and over that shoes are the critical piece of equipment in running. I can't tell you what shoes to buy. However, I can identify some factors:
- where you run -- if you run offroad on uneven surfaces you will want some beef in your shoes to protect your feet. If you run on smooth surfaces, you won't.
- how fast you run -- sprinters would want racing flats, whereas longer distance runners might need a little cushioning for comfort
- how often you run -- if you don't run too often or too long, your shoe choice is not so critical
- how long your runs are -- the longer they are the more microtraumas you have without a chance to recover, so the greater your chance of injury
- your general body build -- big beefy runnners generally need more padding and support than scrawny little ones
- your specific biomechanics -- overpronators need a motion control shoe to avoid knee injury and supinators need more padding because their feet are poor at absorbing shock.
If you are at all serious about running, do some research yourself, go to a reputable running specialty store, take your old shoes with you, and be prepared to shell out between $70 and $130. Think of it as insurance, especially if you are over 35 or have had injuries before. $100 may seem like a lot to spend on footgear that will only last 3 or 4 months, but it is less expensive than sports therapy or physical therapy.
Anything besides shoes is optional for running. No, I don't mean you should streak, it's just that you can run quite adequately with normal T-shirts and the socks and shorts you probably already have.
Special running clothes are more appropriate for the person who habitually runs long distances. The reason for them is just to increase your comfort, since you spend a long time on the road.
Thorlo socks are a favorite with runners. They are supposed to decrease your chance of blisters. They are usually about $11 a pair, and the directions say that you must put them in an electric dryer with a dryer sheet or they will lose their oomph. They will probably make you take a half a size bigger of shoes!!
Thin socks made of coolmax are another favorite of mine. For blister minimization, I wear a double pair or a special pair with two layers--the theory being that the rubbing will take place between the two sock layers and not between your skin and the sock. You can buy coolmax socks at discount stores--you don't need to go to specialty stores to find them. They will cost between $2 (on special) and $6 a pair.
Singlets, Nipple protection, Sports bras, and shirts
Women distance runners should wear a sports bra, even if they're flat chested. The tight fit of this garment will prevent nippular friction, which can be quite painful. A well-endowed female (I can't relate personally but I need to be complete) will need a spendier bra with some engineering in it for support reasons as well.
I think male runners should wear a tight fitting muscle shirt or no shirt at all to show off their gorgeous buff bods, but (*sigh *) men seem to be very attached to their baggy shirts. Guess what: since they tend not to wear tight-fitting garments, men have even more of a problem with nippular friction. Smearing vaseline on the tender spots is a much-used tactic, but from what I've been told, it doesn't work very well. Some men I know buy these little things called nip-guards.
Whatever shirt you wear should ideally be made of cool max and not cotton. A cotton T-shirt feels like an anvil after about 12 miles. A mostly cotton sports bra is even worse because it hugs you with a tight soggy embrace. I wear nothing on top but the sports bra (I pay about $25, but you will pay more for engineering) in warm weather (65F+). In normal weather (48-65F) I either wear a special coolmax singlet ($24) when I want to look cool or a cotton t-shirt (to be stripped off later). For cooler weather (25-48F), I have a long sleeved technical running shirt ($31) that weighs nothing and wicks moisture.
For a short distance, wind resistance is probably the biggest problem, which is why sprinters wear those body hugging things. I don't sprint and I don't pretend to be an expert on it. A weekend 3-4 mile runner can wear any shorts he or she wants to. For distance, chafing is the problem. Inner thigh chafing is quite painful. If you don't want to shell out $25 just yet for technical running shorts, vaseline seems to work better on the inner thighs than it does on the nipples. If you can, get shorts made out of a frictionless material that weighs as close to nothing as possible. My favorites are those with the undies built in. If you wear separate underwear, make sure it is a wicking fabric as well, and that the elastic does not chafe you. Cotton undies under the technical gear sort of defeat the purpose.
Cold weather and your legs
If you run in cold weather you will probably want some thermal protection for your legs. Some people like compression tights but I prefer looser leggings in a thermal material. Generally these come off after three or four miles, unless the ambient temperature is below 32F. I recommend the kind with zippers up the lower leg so you can pull them off over your shoes and socks.
Warm up jacket vs. running jacket
Any jacket will work for a warmup jacket because it should come off before you begin running. If you run in super cold conditions, don't expect to equal your normal temperature times because both the cold and the weight of your additional clothing will slow you down. As long as your jacket breathes, pretty much anything is OK.
Hats and gloves
In sub freezing weather you may want to use a hat and/ or gloves. Normally when running you build up too much heat and need to shed it through sweating. In cold weather you need to keep your heat in or your sweat will freeze and chill you. This especially important in the first part of your run before you have really heated up. And heating up takes longer when it's cold outside. In really cold weather I wear a ski cap and a pair of cheap gloves. They usually come off after three or four miles anyway, even when it's sub freezing, especially if I am going uphill. I think any old hat and/or gloves will do. I'm sure you can buy expensive yuppie versions at expensive yuppie stores, but I can't think of any reason to.
Specialized Other stuff
I include the following in this category:
- orthotics -- special gadgets (usually insoles) custom made by a professional which will correct a biomechanical problem (e.g. one leg longer than the other or scoliosis) more than mere shoes can. These are also generally used by the longer distance runner. My advice to you on these is: Get them made by someone with a good reputation with RUNNERS, and don't go out and run 20 miles with brand-new orthotics. They can range anywhere in price from $20 to $400, depending on how custom they are, and how serious your biomechanical problem is.
- heart monitors -- a band worn around your chest which transmits your heartbeat to a watch worn on the wrist. These are useful if you have had a heart condition and need to keep tabs on the ticker, or if you just like to set numeric goals. A basic heart monitor can be had for around $50. You can get fancier ones with more features, including saved zones, saved profiles for more than one person, stopwatch, lap counter, calorie burned estimate, and interfaces so you can upload your exercise data to your PC. If you get a monitor, learn what your zones are. My friends (especially the males) like to twiddle with my monitor, and they will run with me so they get a chance to borrow it.
- sunglasses, visor --according to your personal taste, but I recommend light WEIGHT.
- liquid bottle: Get one that doesn't LEAK. Use it a lot.
- Arnica gel, BenGay for sore muscles
- PowerGels or GU for those long runs
- bath salts for after
- homeopathic arnica drops
- NSAID (Non steroidal antiinflamitory drug) of choice. Mine is Ibuprofen.
Don't go out and buy all this stuff at once unless you are wallowing in money. It will seem like a lot of money. I like to reward myself with a new piece of gear if I do something exceptionally challenging, set a personal record, or just meet some milestone. When I'm having a bad run I can say to myself: "Hey I got these nice filmy shorts because I laid down five sub-8's ascending on gravel in a row."
Thank you for reading. I hope you find this advice helpful, and if you have any specific questions, leave a comment and I'll answer.
About the author
Colleen Dick ran track in high school in converse all stars and through sheer luck did not blow out a knee or any thing else doing so. At the turn of the century she picked up running again and has competed in a couple of Portland marathons, local 10K's and other fun runs. These days Colleen runs chiefly for fun, as an excuse to take her dogs out in the forest.
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