One of the great things about running is how little gear you need to get started. Throw on that pair of gym shoes sitting in your closet and go! Well, not really, as you’ll see below, but running isn’t a gear intensive sport. When you start out, you’ll just need some basic running gear. Here are some of the things that you should look into right away and a few more you should consider adding soon.
Must Have Gear
The single most important piece of gear every runner owns is their running shoes. This is the one piece of gear you don’t want to skimp on. While you may be able to get away with that old pair of generic gym shoes in the back of your closet for a few runs, it won’t be long before your feet are screaming for something better.
The first time I went to buy running shoes, I was hit with sticker shock. I was used to spending $60 – $75 for a good pair of leather gym shoes that would last me a few years. Running shoes tend to be on the pricey side, but there’s a reason for that. They’re not just your average, everyday sneaker. A good running shoe will help you put in more miles than you thought you could, while a poor shoe will cause you to give up before you can even get going.
You can expect to spend between $90 and $120 for a good running shoe. There are plenty out there that are more expensive—and may even be worth the expense, if you’re an elite runner—and plenty that are cheaper. I would recommend you steer clear of the cheaper shoes. A bad shoe can cause issues from plantar fasciitis to major back pain. The right shoe will help prevent injury and make your running much more comfortable. Ideally, you shouldn’t notice your shoe at all while you’re running.
Now, don’t just go online and buy a pair that fits and has good reviews. There’s more to it than that. Go to your local running store and have them help you find the right shoe. They can look at things like your gait and pronation to figure out what shoe should work best for you. After they find one, buy it from them. Don’t be a schmo and buy it online after they spent the time helping you find the right shoe.
Don’t be afraid to try other brands or models. My first running shoe was an Asics Cumulus Gel (they don’t make the specific model anymore). They were good shoes, and I liked them a lot, but after a while, I started having foot issues. The folks at my local running store suggested the Brooks Ghost, and the problems went away. It’s not that the Brooks are better than the Asics. It’s that the specific model of Brooks works better for me than that model of Asics.
And figure on buying a new pair at least once a year. Most running shoes will last between 300 and 500 miles. There are strategies to get more miles out of a pair of shoes, but if you run in shoes past their useful life, you’ll likely end up in pain or, worse, injured.
Being a man, I don’t have to worry about a sports bra, but listening to my wife and female running friends, I know that a good sports bra is almost as important as the right pair of running shoes. Some would say more important.
Like running shoes, the right one will make your running much more comfortable, while the wrong one will make you want to quit. There are as many different choices in sports bras as there are shoes. And like shoes, there’s no one choice that works for everyone. Also like running shoes, don’t go cheap. You’ll pay for it in other ways.
I plan to have a guest blogger provide more information on this topic soon.
After a few miles, you’ll realize that you need a good pair of running shorts. There are a lot of options out there, but the two most important things to keep in mind is that you want something that will prevent chafing, and something that will help keep you cool (for summer running) or warm (for winter running). There are three basic options with running shorts: compression, V-notch, and split. V-notch and split shorts can come with or without a liner.
Compression shorts are similar to biking shorts (but without the padding). Some people feel compression shorts help with muscle performance, though for the beginning runner, it’s not likely to be noticeable. They allow for easier leg movement than other types of shorts. Compression shorts tend to be the most comfortable, but they are also the least modest.
Split shorts are designed for performance. They’re split on the sides to allow for better leg movement, similar to compression shorts, though not as tight fitting.
V-notch shorts are the standard running shorts. You can get them from very short to almost knee length. The longer they are, the more restrictive they’ll be when you run, though I think the super short ones, like the split shorts, look a little awkward on men.
Whether to get shorts with a liner or not is a personal preference. If you get shorts without a liner, you will likely need to wear compression shorts underneath, so keep that in mind. Some people prefer that to a liner because it allows them to choose their undergarment (you don’t wear another undergarment with shorts with a liner). Others, me included, prefer the liner because they tend to breath better than compression shorts, so they’re cooler in the summer.
Another option for women is the running skirt. These too come with and without liners and offer similar freedom of movement as split shorts.
Regardless of the time of year, you want to wear a shirt that breaths and wicks moisture away. Cotton is the enemy of all runners. Not only does it not breath (making it unbearably hot in the summer) it holds moisture. After even a short run, a cotton shirt will be very uncomfortable. Worse, cotton is worse for chafing than other materials.
Some people like form-fitting or compression shirts, though I tend to only wear them during the winter as a base layer. If you don’t like form-fitting, a loose fitting shirt is fine, but try to avoid shirts that are too big and baggy. If a shirt is too big, it will tend to rub your arms as you run, and on windy days, it will act like a sail and make your run harder than it needs to be. That’s why you see elite athletes wearing form-fitting gear.
A basic tech shirt isn’t too expensive, and once you start running races, you’ll have more than you know what to do with as these days, most races give out tech shirts instead of cotton.
Like shirts, your running socks should be made from moisture wicking material and not cotton. Running-specific socks are designed to keep the seams from the pressure points to avoid creating blisters. Some running socks add padding, though I prefer non-padded socks and relying on my shoes or additional inserts to provide the proper foot padding.
Nice To Have Gear
When you start running more than a couple of miles in the summer heat, unless you happen to run somewhere with a lot of water fountains, you’ll need to carry water with you. I know some runners who will just carry bottled water. When it’s empty, throw it away. It works, but after a while, you’ll probably get tired of carrying it. And there’s no reason to generate more trash when you can get a nice reusable water bottle.
There are a few options here. One is a handheld bottle with a strap that holds it in your hand so you don’t have to actually grip it. I’ve used several of these over the years, and they are plenty of decent ones out there. I’m currently using the Nathan SpeedMax Plus. It carries twenty-two ounces of water and has a nice sized pouch to carry a couple of gels or chews along with your car keys. Some come with pouches big enough to hold your cellphone.
Another option is the water belt. These are belts that hold one or more water bottles and usually have a pouch for holding other gear (gels, keys, cellphones). I’ve used several of these over the years and found the ones with the bigger bottles are uncomfortable for me. The bottles tend to bounce around, which gets pretty annoying after a while. Not everyone has the same issue though. What I am currently using for longer runs is the Amphipod RunLite Xtech 4 Plus Hydration Belt. It comes in a four bottle and two bottle version, though you can add bottles later if you need more. The pouch has holders for running gels, which is a nice bonus. You don’t have to open the pouch to get to them.
Another option, if you’re running really long distances, is a hydration pack There are a lot of good options out there, but for the beginning runner, they’re probably overkill. They have the advantage of carrying more water, but during the summer they can keep your back from cooling off.
Smartphone with Running App
You probably already have a smartphone, so all you need is a running app to track your miles. Which app to use is a whole topic by itself. There are good options by Strava, RunKeeper, and RunGo, among a slew of others. Many paid running programs have apps available to help you track your progress. Any one of these apps is a good starter option to track your mileage.
To carry your phone while you’re running you’ll need either an armband or a belt with a pouch (or possibly a handheld water bottle with large pouch). If you go for the armband, you don’t need to spend a lot of money, but get a good quality band so your phone doesn’t go flying off your arm mid-run. I’m currently using the TRIBE Cell Phone Armband. The velcro on this style of armband tends to wear out over time, but fortunately, they’re not that expensive. My current one has almost two thousand miles on it.
Many people like to listen to music when they run. I’m no exception. The music helps me zone out and relax while the miles tick away. You may get away with your standard earbuds that came with your phone, but after a while you’ll probably want something more built for running.
The key features to look for are water resistance (both sweat and rain) and how well they stay in while you run. Over-the-ear headphones tend to get uncomfortable during the summer, so I would avoid those for running. The in-ear headphones that wrap behind the ear tend to be the best option.
Bluetooth headphones are getting to be more affordable (and reliable). I would stay away from ones that are just two small earbuds that you stick in your ear. If one falls out while running, you may never find it. Ones that have a connector that goes behind your head are a much better option. My headphones of choice are the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium. They have the added advantage of not completely drowning out the world around you, which is important when running on the street.
After a while, you may find that your running app isn’t giving you all the information you want. Or maybe you want to go run without dragging your phone around. The next step is a running watch.
Running watches is another topic that needs its own article (or several). The basics though are deciding whether you want GPS (so you can ditch your phone), onboard music (so you can really ditch your phone), a heart rate monitor (which is almost standard now), and other sports tracking (biking and swimming being the two big ones for runners).
There are a lot of quality options from companies like Garmin, Fitbit, Suunto, and others. If you have an Apple Watch, you can use that too, though it’s not really designed for running and many find the battery life too short for longer runs. If you look at reviews of the various watches, you will inevitably find multiple Garmin watches and at least one FitBit watch. It seems like everyone else is playing catchup. Both Garmin and Fitbit make great entry level watches for the new runner. The choice usually comes done to which one your friends use so you can “hook up” with them. My current watch is the Garmin ForeRunner 935. It’s since been replaced by the ForeRunner 945, which means you can get it a little cheaper.
There’s lots of other gear that you can get into as you progress in your running: lights for running in the dark, cold weather gear, heart rate monitors, running glasses, hats. The running industry is huge and companies are aways trying to find the next big thing we’ll want to buy. But for the beginning runner just starting out, this should get you going.
One last bit of advice. Keep it simple in the beginning. Don’t go out and buy everything all at once. Get some miles under your feet. You’ll figure out what you need and what you don’t.