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Running Gear You Need – And Gear That You Don’t

Posted Feb 16 2011 9:17pm
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Recently, I was talking to a family friend about her running. She’s run a few marathons and has a personal best of about 4:20, so she’s doing really well for somebody who’s only been running for two years.

Running Gear

How much running gear do you really need?

Her next race is one of those adventure races with obstacles. Being a purist, I wouldn’t ever do one, but I can see their appeal. They’re becoming especially popular with the paleo/barefoot community. She’s also running a half-marathon in April.

Clearly, she’s getting into running in a big way. I love this. And she’s showing her newfound love for the sport by buying a lot of running gear. Listening to her list of purchases though, I was cringing. There was a lot of stuff she didn’t need (that she thought she did) and she wasn’t buying the gear that really mattered.

A quick example: she dropped $250 on a Garmin that she thought she needed for a 5k. Then she was frustrated that it measured the race at 3.3 miles and was freaking out about it. But USATF-certified courses are legitimate, so my suspicion of the accuracy of these devices only grew. She also probably didn’t run the tangents.

So what gear should all runners have? Here’s my personal list of necessary items. And then my list of optional stuff you can skip if you want.

Foam Roller – Costing less than $20, it’s a basic investment in your running health. I own a 24″ roller and it’s perfect to self-massage trigger points, sore areas, and tight muscles. It’s also a great conversation piece for guests when they wonder why you have a foam cylinder lying in your living room.

Tennis Ball – I use a tennis ball for really tight or sore muscles. It’s great at getting deep areas that the foam roller has trouble with (think: glutes or hamstrings). Just be warned, it will hurt. A lot.

Road ID - I’m all about safety when you’re running outside and Road ID can provide first responders with the information they need to save your life. After wiping out on my bike two years ago going 35 mph down a hill (I still have scars) and getting bitten by a dog (twice), I know that shit can happen. Be safe. And use promo code pcGIFTCARD10 to save 10% until 12/25/2010.

Synthetic socks. I prefer Wrightsock double layer socks – the double layer means you’ll never get a blister. It’s only happened once in 4 years of wearing these. Stick with your cotton socks and you’ll constantly fight blisters, especially if they get wet.

A second pair of shoes, preferably lighter/minimalist shoes. Rotating your shoes is something I learned in high school. Elite athletes can wear up to 5 different pairs of shoes every week (or more) that are all for different purposes. Have two that serve different purposes – generally a more structured, cushioned shoe for easy distance runs and the lighter shoe can be for short runs or faster running. I wear the ASICS Speedstars and the Saucony Fastwitch. My racing/workout shoes are the Hyper Speeds.

Thera-Band/elastic tubing. These little bands can be used in a lot of ways and are a vital part of my ITB Rehab Routine. Adding some resistance to common exercises – like lateral leg lifts or the side shuffle – can help you build extra strength and stability.

Books. Go learn about running. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your running career. When you know more, you’ll make less training mistakes. And that will help you stay consistent, run longer, and race faster. Check out my personal list of 17 Running and Training Books that I own.

The latest $60 Nike running top. Look, I love sweet running clothes as much as the next person, but if I got a new running wardrobe every season I’d be broke. Top of the line stuff is expensive and you just don’t need fancy clothes. Get the basics  and you’ll be all set. My preferences:

  1. Winter gear: I like Under Armour ColdGear® tights in the winter and I’ve been had one pair for 4 years. My gloves are a $3 pair from CVS and I layer three synthetic shirts I’ve had for at least 5 years. It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  2. Summer gear: I wear a pair of shorts, a Road ID, and a good attitude for my summer runs. Ladies, you can wear just a sports bra or a t-shirt. Summer is the season for skin.

Technology – I’ve mentioned before that I’m a minimalist runner so I’m usually against the “cool” gadgets that a lot of runners have.

  1. Garmin GPS devices. They’re kind of cool, but I’ll never own one. I see runners wearing them in races, despite them being fairly large and heavy. Their accuracy is also suspect, at best.
  2. Heart-rate monitors. I used to own one and got addicted to it. I wore it to bed to see what my lowest heart rate was (it was 38 beats per minute). Get one if you’re an advanced runner looking to perfect your tempo pace or a new runner looking to keep your heart rate below a certain number during your runs. Just set it and forget it.
  3. The newest iPod. Music while running can be dangerous if you’re not aware of your surroundings, but I’m not that stuffy. It can be fun. Usually I prefer the sound of the trail and the woods, but I may buy one soon. Just don’t think you need one. They’re not required to be a good runner.

‘Tis the season for buying gifts, so I wanted to provide a good round-up of gifts for runners. Some of these are practical and highly recommended, like a Road ID or foam roller. Others can be fun and you can put on your wish list, like a heart-rate monitor. They’re not necessary but I see the allure for you techie runners.

One of the reasons I love running so much is its simplicity. I don’t need a bag full of equipment and gear to go for a run. I don’t need a special court or playing field. I can run during any kind of weather with just a pair of shoes. Now that’s freedom.

If you do have (or are planning to buy) a GPS tool or a new wardrobe of fancy running clothes, just know that they will have a negligible impact on you becoming a better runner. Focus on running a little more, doing the little things, being consistent, and improvement will take care of itself.

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