Saturday, January 4, 2014

Gear I Love

Over the last couple of years several friends who were interested in starting a running or walking program have come to me and asked "What do I need?" With the New Year upon us, and perhaps some of you looking for the same info, or maybe you're just interested in exploring new options, I thought I'd share the things I love and some tips along the way.

A lot of people say "Oh, running is a cheap sport, all you need is a pair of shoes." An experienced runner will laugh, knowing how false this really is. Yes, your most important piece of gear is a pair of shoes. Don't go to a big box store and just find a pair there based on price, style, or color though. If you're going to invest the time into taking this on, then spend the money on the right pair of shoes. To do this, you should visit a specialty running store and go through a fit process. A pair of running shoes will cost you about $110-$140. Good running stores will have an excellent return policy as well, so be sure to ask about it. If you run in a pair of shoes for a couple of weeks and discover that they are wearing weird, causing your problems, etc., they will take them back and help you find another pair. I have done this on more than one occasion.

A local running shop is also a great resource to learn about group runs, training programs, and other activities in your community. Sign up for their email list and/or follow them on facebook or twitter. There are often fun runs, training programs, shoe demos, and other informational sessions. This is also a great way to learn about sales. I'm fortunate to have five very active running stores within 10 miles from my home, and, between all of them, there are activities almost every day of the week.

To go with your shoes, you need a pair of socks. The old adage is "cotton is rotten." Cotton will absorb moisture and hold onto it. This can lead to a whole range of problems, including blisters. You will find that there are a variety of styles of socks for running. A basic pair will set you back about $10. As you increase mileage you may find that your needs will change. For example, the socks that worked for me as a new runner no longer do. I've discovered that the longer I'm on my feet, the more a couple of my toes rub together and cause pain and blisters. If I could have stopped partway through the 2012 Army Ten Miler and cut off my little toe, I would have been more than happy. Since then I have started running in Injinji toe socks, and have not had any more problems. I'll even wear them if I know I'm going to spend the majority of the day on my feet, like walking around the parks at Disney World. They look a little weird, and can be hard to put on, but they don't feel awkward at all. You'll also get fun comments from TSA agents if you were them while traveling. This is a change I've definitely been happy with.

Ladies (sorry to any guys reading this), your other most important piece of gear is a good supportive bra. I've been rather blessed in this area so to speak, so a cheap, basic bra I can just pull over my head won't work for me. Some women say they need to wear two of these just to stop the bounce. If you wear a well fit, properly size bra, this should never be an issue. There have been more times than I can count that I've been in a race or just a training run and winced when someone has run by in an obviously ill fitting bra. It looks painful and I can only imagine how it feels for the woman wearing it.

The first step is to be properly measured. Sure, you may think you know what size you are, but studies continually show that most women are wearing the wrong size. You should do this yearly, more frequently as you lose weight. Don't rely on Victoria's Secret. A woman in an online running group I belong to mentioned a few months back how much different her size was when she was measured at a specialty store vs. what they told her not long before at VS. I pointed out that it was because the larger band size she was fit in isn't sold by VS, and they certainly won't going to lose a sale. So, go to a specialty lingerie store that has a wide variety of styles and sizes. Call ahead in case they require an appointment for a fitting. Here in the Annapolis area, I love the staff at A la Mode. And, be prepared, a good sports bra can cost anywhere from at least $40-$70. My favorite right now is the Anita wireless maximum support.

Shirts are one thing I generally don't spend alot of money on. Admittedly, most of my tops these days come from races. As with socks though, you should be looking for quick drying technical fabrics. Some of my favorite ones are from the C9 collection at Target. Keep your eyes out for sales and coupons, too. More importantly, these fit larger ladies like myself very well. This time of year, too, it is important to layer well. I went for a run the other day in 40 degree temps. I wore two long sleeve shirts and was very comfortable. The general rule of thumb is to dress as if it is 20 degrees warmer out, since you will obviously quickly warm up once you start moving.

If you discover that you have problems with friction and chaffing, there are several products on the market. The one you are most likely to find in your local running shop is Body Glide. It looks like a stick of deodorant, and you just apply it to wherever you are having a problem - bra line, feet, etc. My favorite product though is Mission's 5 hour Anti-Chafe cream. It comes in a stick version, too. I stock up when Mission offers a sale, but it can be found in some big box sports stores, too. Check Mission's website for more information. And, I don't just use this for runs, it's great for when I wear skirts, dresses, or shorts, too!

Finally, you need some bottoms. Again this is a personal thing of finding what works for you. There are tons and tons of options, especially for women. Due to my thighs, I need something with good coverage that doesn't move. My favorites for a long time now have been Moving Comfort's 7.5" compression shorts. I have mostly stopped wearing these for runs, but still rely on them for gym workouts. It took a long time to convert me, but for my runs now I pretty much solely wear Sparkle Skirts.

Friends have sworn by skirts in general for a long time, but I never found one that was comfortable and with shorts that stayed in place until I was introduced to these. I have never had a problem with the shorts, but the thing that really sold me on them were the pockets. There is a large zipper pocket in the waistband, and a small one on each leg. When I head out on a run I can put pepper spray in a leg pocket, and my phone and keys in the zipper pocket, and not have to worry about carrying anything in my hands other than a bottle of water. I'm so in love with the pockets, that I've started wearing these over my winter tights now that colder temps have arrived in Maryland.

I listed things I've learned over the years and some of my favorite gear. What's yours?

Note: I was in no way shape or form compensated for any of the products and gear I've mentioned here.