Reader Question: Getting into Gear?

>> Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bridget writes:

"I'm a new runner and just started a 5K program. I feel like now that I'm running more miles and more days every week, I need to invest in better shoes, clothes, and other gear. My problem is that since I'm still so new, I don't know what to get and what to pass on. I went to look at shoes this past weekend (those are what I'm most concerned about) and the wall of choices overwhelmed me."

"I don't have a huge amount of money to spend, so I want to spend what I do have wisely. Please help!"

Bridget. Thank you for writing us! Your issue is common . . . and I'm happy to have the opportunity to write about this topic. One of the reasons I love running (versus biking and other expensive gear-heavy sports) is because all you really need to participate is a good pair of running shoes. We'll get back to what a "good" pair means in just a moment.

But first . . . I want to impress upon you that what I just wrote really is true. Running is simply putting one foot in front of the other. In theory, you don't need any gear to run. Especially with the new barefoot running craze. There are, of course, a MILLION (or more) different items that can help make your journey to the start line more comfortable. And a ton of stuff you might just just like to have. The way to pick is really up to your priorities and, of course, your budget.

1.) Shoes, at least in my opinion, are where you should focus the majority of your hard-earned dollars. We've all read that a good pair of shoes should last you between 300 and 500 miles. What does this mean exactly? Well, where you fall in this range depends on factors like your weight, the type of surface you're running on, the type of shoe (cushioned versus racing flat, etc.), and possibly your foot strike.

It's confusing, but you can usually feel when your shoes are, well, dead.

I advise you to -- if possible -- visit a running-specific store and chat with the staff about what kind of shoe you might need for your foot. Whoever helps you will likely ask about your running history (miles per week, goals, injuries, etc.) and maybe even watch you run a bit to see what kind of shoe is right for you.

Running shoes are divided into a variety of types, including:
  • Cushioned (high arch)
  • Motion-Control (low arch)
  • Stability (medium arch)
  • Trail
  • Racing
If you'd like the basics on each type, Runner's World has a down 'n dirty guide. Now, read carefully for a moment: What is so very important to note is that the most expensive shoe is not always the shoe that's the best for you (or the best in general). People are smitten with the Kayano (by Asics). But unless you need high-mileage stability help, all that extra cash (and, seriously, they cost like $140) is going toward features you don't need. Beware getting sucked into the "more expensive is better" mentality.

In reality, it may take you several shoe brands and models until you find a perfect pair. For example: I started running in Adidas trail shoes. I kept with that model for a while, but when they changed the design. Much to my dismay, it no longer felt right. I then switched for several years to Mizunos -- Wave Creation and Wave Riders. After a while, I craved more cushioning, so I -- again -- switched. I was a fan of Gel Nimbus (Asics) for a long time, but then I developed a foot issue, and no matter how much I tried, I just didn't like the fit. At the suggestion of a running store clerk, I tried out a pair of Glycerins (Brooks), and they felt the best a shoe has ever felt.

However, they also recently changed the model . . . and the new pair simply don't fit well. I was lucky enough to find an older version online, but don't know what I'll do when this pair is kicked. I'm also experimenting with Vibrams, as many of you already know. I love them for runs under the 10 mile distance.

Bottom line: Shoes are where to invest. They keep your feet happy. And unless your feet cooperate, you won't be happy running. Let the experts help and don't shy from less expensive models. As well, do price-comparison shopping online. You may want to hit up a store to get the best fit . . . and then Google it for the best price.

*** However, keep in mind that different models often have different fits. Stick with what you know works, but keep an open mind as your needs change.

2.) Clothing, too, is important because you may deal with chafing and other issues. There's nothing worse than coming back from a run with some awful pain like that. Keeping a few key pieces of tech fabric stuff (versus good old cotton!) will help with your overall comfort . . . and these items can last a long time. I'm still wearing the same cold weather tights I bought when I was a sophomore in college (GULP, that was like 8 years ago!).

As the weather becomes cooler, layering is your friend. We outline a good fall/winter running wardrobe in our How to Suit Up to Set Out post. Never underestimate the power of tech fabrics for cold weather. As you run in the cold, you will still sweat. If that sweat collects on cotton . . . and it will, trust me . . . gentle breezes can make your life a nightmare. It's just plain uncomfortable.

For those of you who regularly sweat gym-style, a couple pairs of shorts and sleeveless shirts work well. Just because you're around lots of people, you need not buy a new outfit for every visit of the week. Mix and match . . . but seriously, most people are too busy finishing their own sessions to care about how you look.

Also: Sale rack stuff is just as good as the flashy new pieces. In fact, I buy the majority of my pieces on sale. Of course, when I'm looking to indulge (which isn't entirely as frequently as I'd like), I enjoy Lululemon.

And to keep those items clean and smelling fine, follow these suggestions from our Take the Stink Out of Your Workout Gear post.

3.) Everything else is up to you.

But as we mention above, you honestly don't NEED anything else to run. There are watches. Fuel belts. Hydration packs. Compression sleeves. iPods. You name it, it's sold for running. The following are some posts dedicated to other types of gear that may interest you. Again: You don't need this stuff to have a successful run.

Though, some of these things might make great additions to your Christmas, birthday, or other gift lists!

I more-often-than-not use my old fashioned digital watch to time my runs. Though I have a hydration pack, it really only helped me a handful of times this past summer. I'd rather spend money on entering races than having the most up-to-date gear. And I'm thinking many of you out there would agree with me. It's the feeling I get from running that matters, not looking cool and having all the latest accessories.

Do you have any advice for Bridget? Any great gear that we forgot to mention . . . or that you simply can't live without? We'd love your input! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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