Or as I like to call it, Where All My Money Goes…
Seriously though, if you’re brand new to the “art” of running, or are thinking about getting started, here’s the kick: you don’t need gear. None of it. Not even a tiny bit. All you need is determination, a willingness to commit to a plan that won’t kill you (I promise!), and a strong pair of sneakers. Heck you don’t even need to go outside if you don’t want to and have easy access to a treadmill. I did treadmill running only, for MONTHS, until I gathered the courage to actually go outside and run.
But eventually you get better at it. You find yourself able to run longer, faster, with higher energy efficiency that will last you for hours upon hours. And that’s when you need to turn into your own one-perosn Pit Crew. That means incorporating stretching, hydration, nutrition, electrolyte replacement, pace monitoring, intervals, speed training, and more often than not a whole lot of cursing. And it’s all worth it, every last bit of it. There’s nothing like that feeling on a Saturday morning when you’ve just finished doing an “easy” 12 miles at 8AM, and not only do you have the whole day still ahead of you but you can pretty much eat (mostly) whatever you want and not worry too much about the calories, since you’ve just burned off a good 2,000 or so.
So here’s what I use and generally recommend, although suffice to say that everyone is entirely different. What works for me might be entirely detrimental to you, so experiment, shop around, get a feel for what your body requires and roll with it until you find something that works well with your body. It’s like running form: talk to five running experts, you’ll get five different responses about the way you “should” stride about. And I’m a lot of things — man about town, gentleman spy, oboe enthusiast — but a running expert, I ain’t. So take anything I say as a solid recommendation, but not strict advice.
Shoes — Saucony Hurricane 16
I’m a normal pronator, and thankfully have been lucky with avoiding any arch, heel, or ankle issues in the nearly two years I’ve been running (the only time I’ve had any bursitis, ever, was when I was an overweight guy who stood for far too long at a Cinderella concert). So for shoes I prefer a lightweight build that allow me to strike the ground quickly with a mid-foot strike and use more of the upper legs for power. I started my initial training with a decent pair of New Balance shoes but as I started running longer in preparation for my first race, I switched to the Saucony Mirage and then the Mirage 2, and I can’t say enough good things about them. For me, lightweight shoes and sticking to a mid-foot form has enabled me to run faster while keeping my feet and ankles strong and healthy.
That said, my shoe of choice is the Hurricane 16, and I’m very satisfied with them. They certainly are pricier — about 50% more than the Mirage — but I can totally feel the difference. While not as light as the Mirages, it is still a generally light shoe but with much more ankle and heel support. It feels very sturdy, and the 8mm offset allows me to take advantage of wanting to maintain a midfoot strike (as opposed to the 4mm offset found in the Mirage). It took a little bit of getting used to, but now I can’t ever imagine going back.
Socks — Thorlo Experia
Speaking of shoes, I have a size 12.5 foot and as such, finding proper footwear can be something of a nightmare at times. Even if a store has your size, the selection can be rather limited. But at least I can order socks online without worry, and I always go with Thorlo Experias. They are padded but not bulky, thick in some areas and very thin in others, but always light, snug, and breathable. Your chances of developing blisters are reduced dramatically, and stinky feet don’t always have to be an inevitability. You also don’t want to run in thick cotton socks unless you want your feet to end up overheated, heavy and damp from absorbed sweat, nasty, and disgusting. I think I sounded a bit like Jackie Chiles there…
Leg Compression – CEP Compression Allsport Sleeves
Shin splints are not much fun, and if you’re planning on going longer distances, they can sometimes become an inevitability. Sometimes. While I started with Zensah leg compression sleeves, which I also recommend, I recently switched over to CEP sleeves and don’t regret it for a moment. They feel tighter, breathe better, provide better support, and look entirely less dorky. Now leg sleeves will always look a little bit ridiculous — almost like you’re a fan of Bavarian-style knee socks. Slip on some lederhosen and you’re practically a Von Trapp reject. But they work, and will save you a whole lot of heartache later. Just get a color that works for you (i.e. black), because the first time I bought mine, they were all out of black at my local running store so I had to go with this red-white-blue tye-dye monstrosity which, if I weren’t so gosh-darn confident in my virile heterosexuality, I’d be unearthly terrified of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly coming back from the dead, pointing, and gigglesnorting.
Underwear — Under Armour 9″ Boxerjock Briefs
Chafing is a nightmare under any circumstances, and as a runner you’ve gotta be one step ahead of the skin-on-skin irritation battle. Body Glide, Vaseline, and the like is good for all those problem areas (feet, thighs, nipples) but I also became a fan of Boxerjocks. Let’s face it, you’re going to sweat — a lot — which can make that entire area south of the equator hot, sweaty, stinky, and your basic nightmare. I like the Boxerjock because not only does it eliminate the chafing issue, it keeps the whole area dry and cool and infinitely less stinky. Plus for my fellow Gents, there’s plenty of support for The Boys without strangling the life out of them.
For most practice or short runs, any light pair of shorts does just fine. But for longer runs, speed work, hill work, or races, I swear by my CW-X compression shorts. At about $85 retail they aren’t cheap, but still worth every penny. The support for the glutes, hamstrings, IT band area, and reduced stress on the knees makes them worth the purchase. I also have another pair in the 3/4 tights size for colder weather. I’ve had IT band issues in the past; good compression gear can really make a difference on helping out with those longer runs and staying injury free.
As far as shirts, there’s no real preference. Any good, light moisture-wicking material does just fine. If you’re running in a regular cotton shirt, especially over longer distances, I guarantee you’re doing it wrong. I live and train in South Florida, where it’s almost always hot and muggy, so staying cool and dry is paramount. Keep your material thin and breathable, and you’re good to go.
Pro-Tec Athletics IT Band Compression Wrap
After running the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon, I came down with a pretty painful IT band inflammation (detailed both here and here. The pain it caused in my knee left me sidelined for entirely too long, and it forced me to integrate new stretching techniques into my training regiment. Thankfully I was able to recover my running mojo relatively quickly. To be safe, I started wearing Pro-Tec compression wraps on both legs, just a few inches above the knee, and they help tremendously. The tight but NOT uncomfortable fit along with a padded section that covers the IT band stabilizes the area and keeps the band from pulling on the knees. THIS WAS A LIFESAVER.
Hydration — Camelbak Dart Hydration Backpack
I wrote pretty extensively about my love of the Camelbak Dart backpack in this post here. Go check that link out, but in a nutshell I am a HUGE fan of this product. I don’t like belts all that much (except for see below) and I despise handhelds for long runs. The Camelbak Dart goes comfortably on my back and holds 50 ounces of water, easily accessible via tube at a moment’s notice. The thing can be a bit of a pain when cleaning, but otherwise there’s not a thing I don’t love about it.
Hydration — Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity
Remember when I used to spout endless about how much I hate fueling belts? I sort of still do… but time and experience changes things. I was using a 20-oz. Thermal-Life before (a handheld bottle) and I enjoyed it over short runs, but over longer runs I discovered it to be a bit of an annoyance. The holding hand would get hot and sweaty and I’d be shifting the bottle from hand to hand every few minutes to avoid overheating. Meh. I bit the bullet and decided to go with a belt, but only on my terms. I tested a few and ended up going with the Amphipod Full-Tilt Velocity system. It holds a single 20-oz bottle and has a pocket to hold my fuel and car/house keys. I usually run with the bottle in the front and slightly on the side, and it sits there very comfortably as I get my miles in.
Armband — Armpocket Xtreme I-30
I need my tunes. Period. They try to discourage you from running with them, because they’re a distraction or you can’t hear incoming runners, cyclists, automobiles, battletrucks, etc. but a pox on all their houses. A good set of tunes or a gleefully entertaining podcast can make the difference between an exhilarating long run and an overlong, merciless cycle of doom. My Android phone slips easily into the Armpocket, which has a good fit on my arm, secure and snug but never too tight, plus with room for my drivers license, debit card, gels, and house key. There are elastics to keep your cell in place, and you can actually manipulate the touch screen through the plastic screen. I never really use that feature, but I’ve tried it and it does work. Mostly.
Headphones – Jaybird Freedom JF3 Bluetooth Earbuds
When I run, I need my audio, period. My problem with traditional headphones/earbuds is threefold: 1) Sweat and wind can cause your earbuds to slip or be pulled out from your ear, 2) Excessive sweat (which is gonna happen while running) can short out your earbuds, resulting in a silence you never wanted in the first place, and 3) Accidentally yanking on the cord can pull your earbuds out, sometimes rather suddenly and even painfully. I wanted something that would go in my ears, stay in there, and be entirely cordless. I did some research and decided to go with the Jaybird Freedom JF3 Bluetooth Earbuds, and I have to say they were pretty remarkable. The pairing to my Galaxy S4 was quick and easy, the sound quality is reasonably good, they stay inside my ears even with sweat and wind, and since they come with a lifetime warranty against sweat damage, they never even began to start dimming or fading. So yeah, this was a great choice for me and my running audio needs.
Nutrition/Fueling — GU Energy Gel
This could be the most subjective item on my list. You need to refuel and feed your body energy while out on long grueling runs. Some people like nuts, raisins, trail mix, peanut butter and crackers, bananas, or some combination thereof. But what works beautifully for Runner A will give Runner B ridiculous stomach pains. I never get hungry during a run — save for when we run past that bakery every morning on Las Olas, damn you guys!! — but I still need to refuel, and for that I like GU Energy Gels. I pop one about ten minutes before a run, and continue to take one roughly every 45 minutes. The fructose and maltodextrin digests easily, delivering 100 calories of energy without causing me any stomach-related issues. And speaking as someone who has digestive issues, this is more than worth its weight in platinum. It tastes OK too. You’re consuming flavored gel, and that’s exactly what it tastes like. Lemon-Lime and Orange work pretty well; I’m not a fan of anything too sweet or strong, like chocolate, peanut butter, or coffee flavors, while I’m running. Your mileage may vary, but GU gels have worked very well for me.
Tracking/Pacing — Garmin Forerunner 610 Watch
I told myself I didn’t need one of these for a LONG time. For the most part, you really don’t. A regular plain-jane watch with a stopwatch feature ($10 at any place cheap-ass watches can be found) can be used to time your runs and intervals. A GPS-equipped smartphone (which is pretty much all of them) combined with a $4 running app can track your runs via satellite and provide you with tons of information after your run, such as a map of your route, average pace, time, splits, etc. So why spend $300 on this particular puppy?
Because it’s So. Freakin’. Cool.
It does all of the above, and more. First of all it’s rather sturdily designed, so it can weather your training as hard as you can. The touchscreen is responsive but not sensitive. You won’t be accidentally swiping and selecting when you don’t want to. The screens are customizable to deliver whatever information you need. You can program intervals so that if you use a Run/Walk method (as I do), a beep and vibration will remind you of when it’s time to cool down and when to warm up again. You can measure your heart rate to make sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard or too easy, or if you want to maintain heart rate at an optimal fitness level. Your runs are stored and automatically uploaded to the Garmin Connect website via home computer with the included ANT device plugged into a USB port. You can run virtual races against your past performances to up your game, download maps from the website and get step-by-step directions on new routes. I love this thing. Is it necessary to have one? Absolutely not. But it’s a totally fun running toy. And if you’re putting in all these endless hours and miles, indulge yourself once in awhile.
Running Apps — Zombies, Run!
I covered Zombies, Run! extensively in this blog entry, but here it is in a nutshell: a compelling audio adventure with numerous missions, upcoming new missions, an element of gameplay, and integrates entirely with your existing running tunes. Plus zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. Zombies what chase you. As your music plays. VERY highly recommended to make your long runs so much more fun.
Running Apps — Endomondo Pro
There are a ton of tracking apps for your smartphone, but I started with Endomondo and, until I started tracking with the Garmin, enjoyed it quite a bit. Enable your GPS, enter your planned mileage, and go. It keeps track of your mileage, tells you your mile splits and estimated completion time, and keeps track of your progress. When you finish your run, it uploads your results to your web account for later review. It will even post to your Facebook if you want it to, and why not? Show off a little. Even with the creepy female computer voice it uses for updates, it’s a very useful app for very crafty runners.
And finally, there’s the basic stuff that doesn’t need individual endorsements. Pre-run, the best meal for me is oatmeal and peanut butter. Warm, filling, and full of energy. Post-run, I drink about a 14 oz bottle of lowfat chocolate milk. With just the right amount of carbohydrates and protein, it’s the perfect recovery drink. Gatorade while on the run; I try not to dilute it by alternating with water, but hydration is still hydration. A 5-Hour Energy Drink before the run provides a good energy boost, but that’s it for caffeine for me. And after those long, LONG runs, if you’re not taking an ice-bath, you’re just being silly. You’re silly.
More recommendations to come as I try out new stuff. Thanks for taking the time to read mine!