Seeing Forrest Gump take off across the country with just a pair of Nikes, running for the love of it without a care in the world (or even a knee injury!), is very inspiring. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just throw on a pair of shoes and run without any worries?
Unfortunately, the more we learn about running, the less this is true. So many questions plague us before taking the plunge:
- What’s the weather doing? Will it change in five minutes because I live in KS/MO?
- Will these shorts chafe?
- Where should I run? Does to the end of the driveway and back count as roughly a mile?
- Do I need a Garmin watch?
- Have I eaten enough? Does drinking a beer counts as carb loading?
I like to keep things simple, which is why I love running. When it comes down to it, all you need is a good pair of shoes and some clothes. When I got into racquetball, I was really annoyed by all the expensive stuff I needed, and it was needed. You can run without a Garmin or a tech t-shirt, but you can’t play racquetball without at minimum a racquet, a grip for your racquet, balls, a glove, and protective eyewear (my mom pulled a total Christmas Story when she heard I was playing RB: “MAKE SURE YOU WEAR GOGGLES. You’ll shoot your eye out!” “Yes, Mom, but if I could actually hit the ball I’d be more worried.”)
But if you play RB more than once in a blue moon, then you really need at least two or three gloves b/c your hands get sweaty and you’ll need to replace the balls more often and there are even special racquetball shoes you’re supposed to wear.
And if you think about it, running starts to get that way the more serious you get about it. So what is absolutely necessary for running in terms of gear and training? Do you have to wear expensive sweat-wicking t-shirts? When is a Fuel Belt appropriate? What are the advantages of buying a Garmin watch? Although I went for years wearing mostly cotton non-running apparel and a simple sports watch, here’s what I wished I had started out with:
Basic Running Gear Requirements:
1. Proper (and somewhat pricey) Running Shoes – if you only follow one thing on the list, this is IT. You CANNOT get cheap shoes. You might spend only $40 bucks on that pair of Nikes from Kohl’s, but they are not made with the same high-quality materials as authentic running shoes. Running shoes are meant to take the beating, and each style is designed with your foot type and running stride in mind to help minimize injury and maximize your running economy (this includes the barefoot running shoes!). Saving money on cheap shoes only equals spending more money on the injuries you can sustain from them.
Running shoes are going to be sold at sports stores, and I highly recommend going to one like Gary Gribble’s where they will analyze your old shoes and your running stride and foot. A run/walk store has trained staff who will make recommendations based on your running style to help you find the best shoes. Once you find a shoe, you can usually stick with that same brand and model unless they change the shoe dramatically. I started with Nike Pegasus, but one year they changed the design so much it didn’t really fit my foot as well. I then was directed to the Mizuno Wave Rider 11, which I’ve kept buying through the years up to getting a pair of 15s finally. And the shoe is practically the same with some great updates (and awesome colors!)
SaveMoney On Shoes: After getting help finding the right shoe, you can always check out expos and online websites who clearance out last season’s running shoe (example the new Wave Creation 15 just came out so you’ll find the Wave Creation 14 on sale). Also, use your running shoes for ONLY running. Do NOT use for daily wear, cross training, doing heavy weights, for court sports, etc. This only wears them down and compresses the padding quicker. Use older running shoes or generic sports shoes for any other activity that doesn’t pound your joints like running.
2. One or Two “moisture-wicking” t-shirts or tanks – When the humidity is horrible, any shirt that can help keep you dry for long runs and half marathon races will make running that much better. Back in college I mostly used cotton t-shirts because in college you might not necessarily come out with a job, but you will leave with an abundance of free t-shirts, so at least you will be comfortable chilling on your parent’s couch surfing CareerBuilder. Then I found a couple of these tech shirts on clearance and immediately noticed the difference. If you only have a few, definitely save them for race day or long runs, and washing them in the sink with Woolite or other delicate fabric wash will help them last longer. Do NOT put anything that is moisture-wicking or spandex in the dryer. The dryer will destroy these clothes so much faster, and they won’t work as well. These type of shirts can be found cheap in various stores – definitely check out the Fila shirts at Kohl’s – or several races are now turning to tech shirts, so just run a local race and score a sweet shirt.
3. One UnderArmor or other type of cold weather long-sleeve shirt – This is for the really cold days when a long sleeve t-shirt just won’t cut it. I ran my first half marathon on a snowy day in a turtleneck, a t-shirt, swishy athletic pants, and cheap cotton gloves. As if running your first half in high school isn’t painful enough, let’s add being incredibly cold and unprepared – at least 13.1 miles gave me a long time to think about how I was going to convince Mom to finally shell out the bucks for some real running gear, like Under Armor. These are great to layer under other shirts if it’s really cold outside, and I definitely recommend again the quick dry so when you sweat, you don’t become cold and wet. These shirts are not as cheap and easy to find as the t-shirts, but they are definitely worth the investment and last awhile. I caution against getting anything really off-brand, like Layer 8 which I’ve found at TJ Maxx, because the moisture-wicking was a lie. That shirt was wet the whole time I ran in it. But you can still find name brand on discount – most of my UnderArmor has come from TJ Maxx or the Gary Gribble’s clearance rack. Mostly it needs to keep you warm but wick away the wet sweat so you won’t get chilly.
4. A few pairs of running shorts – running shorts really depend on your body. Again, I recommend something quick-drying or light weight, not cotton. I started out in giant black cotton shorts that went to my knees (and to think I wondered why I couldn’t pick up a prom date LOL). Nike and Adidas are my favorite shorts, and again you can find them at places like TJ Maxx or Kohl’s where they won’t be the full $29.99 per pair. Some people love the little short shorts and others of us like longer. (sidenote: was REALLY hoping the Hospital Hill Retro Surprise was 70s-style short shorts…mmmm, I would have had lots of motivation to keep up with the lovely male runners in those things)
I run into the problem of thigh chafing because of my Hill Master Thunder Thighs. I can do well in normal shorts, but in the summer and any workout over 5-6 miles, I chafe really bad. To counter this, especially for girls, I recommend a lightweight pair of capris or find shorts with compression shorts sewn in them. Nike Pro Combat shorts are mesh on top with a longer spandex short beneath. They feel a bit thick but they are very quick drying and no chafing! I’ve seen these frequently at Sports Authority and TJ Maxx/Marshall’s.
5. 2-3 Compression shorts – this is mostly for the men. From my fiancee and other male running friends, I’ve heard free balling it really isn’t as great as it sounds, and in chillier weather, it’s nice to have that extra layer under your normal shorts. I have worn compression shorts under my normal shorts before, but it sucked. First, it’s really hard to find good compression shorts for women, they don’t fit well under other shorts b/c women’s shorts are notoriously tighter and shorter, and it gets really hot with all those layers. But men’s shorts are designed to go well with compression shorts underneath, and they have a wide variety of compression shorts to choose from. Compression shorts are a man’s best friend. But I have heard rumors that although these shorts eliminate thigh chafing, there are other ways a man can chafe, so pick up some Vaseline or Aquaphor while you’re at it.
6. One pair running tights or pants – Again, this is for the extreme cold and coming from the girl who would wear elastic waist-band shorts and flip flops all year if she could. I hate running tights – if I wanted to wear tights, I’d work at the Ren Fest (and eat turkey legs all day!). But there’s a reason I wear them instead of pants: tights are more light weight, close to your body so they keep you warmer, and you don’t have to worry about hemming the bottoms/tripping on long pants. Tights are a definite go on race day. Pants are more casual and great for cross-training or on practice runs. However, regardless of age or gender, please, please, PLEASE use discretion if you are going to wear your running tights and ONLY your running tights. I highly highly highly recommend wearing a pair of light shorts over top for obvious reasons. I have seen some thicker tights and some skinny people where it looks good. But on most people tight spandex is not pretty, so when in doubt, layer.
7. 3-4 Sports bras – this is for the women. Sports bras suck because they are annoying to get on and off, they wear out fast, and they’re expensive! You can’t skip out on the bra because, as the old German phrase goes, you need to be Shtauppin der Floppin. To make your bras last longer, do NOT put them in the dryer and wear only for working out. Watch for sales, season clearances, and coupons. I’ve found both name brand and off brand (like C9 at Target, which is actually Champion but cheaper) that work well. It really depends on how much padding you want and finding one with material that’s quick dry. I can take a wet cotton t-shirt, but a soaking wet sports bra sucks, both in comfort, chafing, and that awkward nippling action you get. Buy 3-4 bras, rotate them throughout the week, and only put in the washer when necessary (or handwash in the sink) and don’t ever put them in the dryer – they’ll last longer. But like shoes, once they wear out you gotta buy a new one, and it’s just one of those things you know you’re going to have to replace often, so don’t spend a whole lot of money on name-brand fancy ones, unless that’s all that works for your body type.
It’s really up to you if you want any more gear than this. I don’t run with a hat, sunglasses, or headband because I don’t like a lot of stuff. But depending on where you live and what bothers you, these items might be a must. I recommend finding sport specific gear then, like light-weight sunglasses that stay tight on your head or a hat with venting on top. This winter I finally asked for running gloves for Christmas and was glad I did. You don’t need them often in this mild Mid-west winter, but it was great to have added warm without wearing more layers and to avoid the treadmill over the holidays. I’ve also gone for years in the hot summer without a fuel belt or a little waterbottle – you can use pockets or sports bras for energy bars/gels, and I make sure to hydrate all day and have sources of water on my route. But the hotter it’s gotten, the more I’m leaning towards getting a little running bottle just b/c heat stroke is a very real danger.
On race day, almost everything you need will be on the course, so don’t worry about fuel belts and water. Anything a half marathon or shorter, if you’ve prepared correctly, you will have enough water and Gatorade and little snacks available to you throughout the course. And you can easily carry a gel or bar in your hand. Extra belts and bottles are just more to worry about and can slow you down if you’re not used to them. But it might depend on your experience. If it’s your first half marathon and you’re really worried about the June weather, bringing a fuel belt with a bottle can be comforting. And it’s definitely better to have access to more water than too little water in the summer.
But what about the coveted Garmin watch???
Only until recently have Garmin watches become more affordable and accessible for the average runner. When these watches used to run $200-$400 and the technology still needed tweaking, I figured they were mostly for elite runners. Athletes who needed to analyze their times and the difference between third and first place was shaving off seconds. I wasn’t competitive, I could do basic math and figure out my minutes per mile with my little sports watch (or use the Cool Pace Calculator), and Google Maps was invented. But after awhile, doing all the math was driving this English major crazy, and it is not very easy to Google map running routes, especially if you off-road it or can’t remember a street name (thinking and running at the same time don’t always mix).
Then Garmin came out with the Forerunner 10, in 3 snazzy colors! It’s $130, has a rechargeable battery, lasts for hours, and records your route mileage, pace, total time, and calories. Plug it into the computer, create your free account on Garmin Connect, and you can analyze your route by map or elevation, see your pace from mile to mile, and keeps track of routes, races, and other stats. You can also set it for interval training or to be your pace coach if you’re aiming for a specific time. I LOVE my watch and am so glad it does all the work for me. I’m also glad it helps me track my pace during races – I’ve been on a few courses where the mile markers aren’t quite accurate, and if mentally you think you’re not where you’re supposed to be, that can really affect your race. Last year I gave up on getting my PR during Hospital Hill because I thought I was too slow and started taking my time at aid stations. Had I had my Garmin, I would have known I was on pace in between mile markers and would have had a more accurate prediction of my finish time. I ended up only seconds off my HH PR and a few min from my goal PR. AHHH! But now I have my Garmin, and I recommend it to anyone who takes their race results seriously or wants an easier way to track practice runs.
So that’s the basic gear to look for. It’s up to you if name brand or off brand work best for you. I prefer name brands because I’ve had bad luck with the performance and quality of off brands, but I definitely look for deals! Also, if you do find running gear that fits you well and works well, get it. It’s worth the investment, and if you take care of it, it will last a long time. I still have cold weather Under Armor from high school that works great (yes, after finishing my first half marathon frozen, my Mom bought me that much coveted set of Under Armor top and bottom). Plus, it gives you that extra motivation to go run when you’re comfortable with your running clothes.
One Last Cool but Somewhat Dorky Idea: Back in college, when I was on a student budget but wising up from my cotton-wearing high school days, I bought some nice running gear. But I had only had a few items, so most workout days was cotton t-shirts and oversized shorts. But on Race Day, it was my name brand, sweat-wicking, well-fitting gear. It also got me in the mind set for racing because this was my Racing Gear (like in team sports when you wear your uniforms for Game Day). This is a big boost in your racing mentality.
My friend Jen and I picked out matching shirts for a half marathon in Colorado. We found an Under Armor shirt that said “Brave the Run” on the back – very appropriate as the first 2 miles were up a mountain. It was our mantra to help us keep going, and lots of other runners commented on our shirts and thanked us for the inspiration. I wore that shirt again later for Hospital Hill and other races. It’s the love child idea of a lucky shirt and an inspirational shirt. A shirt that reminds you why you run, gives you strength, and is motivating to you and fellow runners in a race. This shirt could be from a race that you are proud of, a shirt with sentimental meaning from a team you participated on, or a shirt you pick out because of the slogan.
The best was my 2005 high school track team shirt:
“Accomplishing more than we thought we could by giving more than we thought we had.”
And that’s what it all comes down to – having that Forrest Gump mentality to just get out there and do what we love without over thinking all the details. Giving it our all and seeing just how far we can make it – maybe even across the country several times! Having good gear helps, but it all comes down to what’s on the inside, not outside, that keeps us going.
For the basics of training, check out the post From Grasshopper to Hill Master: Wax On the Cross Training and Wax Off the Miles, coming out next week.
Legal Sidenote: I am not sponsored in any way by the above companies. I frequently am seen rocking Nike shorts with Adidas flip flops and a college t-shirt (it was free!). Unless you are monetarily sponsored by a brand, there’s no reason to limit yourself to wearing only one brand. Each brand has its strengths and specialties, so experiment and find what you like best!