Running is a free form of exercise! You’ve heard that, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that running is probably the most expensive “free” sport on the planet. Yes, you can literally run naked through the streets if you so desire, and local ordinances permit it, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you do so. Just think of the chafing! The sunburns in places the sun doesn’t usually shine! GAH!!!
All kidding aside…you’ve probably walking into your local sporting goods store and been astounded at the vast amount of gear that goes along with running. If you are a new runner, you might be hesitant to spend the budget of a small country on stuff that you aren’t really sure you’re going to use long term. However, investing in a few key pieces of equipment can make your foray into running a much more enjoyable and injury-free experience.
So, you may be asking yourself: Running gear: do I really need all this stuff? I’m going to try to answer that question for you by identifying at least a few items that you may wish to invest in, and a few others that can probably wait until you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for awhile.
Here are a few “must haves”
- One pair of running shoes and socks. Note, I did not say “tennis shoes”. With the dozens of brands and literally hundreds of styles, how do you know which pair is right for you? You need to do your research. Go to a store that specializes in running (not your local big-box store) and have one of their experts watch you run. They will be able to identify aspects of your gait and running style (do your ankles roll in or out, do you land on your heals, how “heavy” is your foot strike, will you run on pavement or trails, etc) and recommend a shoe that may help minimize wear and tear to your body. Not everyone needs a stability shoe. Not everyone needs cushioning. Try on LOTS of shoes and let them help you pick one to start with. Most of these stores have very generous return/exchange policies and if after a few runs the shoes just don’t feel right, you can try something else. Along with the running shoes, you want a pair (or two) of socks designed for running. Synthetic fabrics (as opposed to cotton) will keep your feet drier and you will be less prone to blisters.
- Running shorts. You want something on your bottom half that is made of technical fabric. These fabrics are designed to be very lightweight and move moisture away from your body (hence, less chafing). The types of shorts you choose are entirely personal preference. Short-shorts, longer styles, bum huggers, capris, running skirts/skorts, even pants are fine. Wear what you are comfortable wearing. Finding a pair of shorts with a small pocket for your car key or an energy gel is a nice plus. Depending on how much you like to do laundry, I’d recommend at least two pair, but you could get away with one. Whether you decide to wear underwear is also entirely up to you. If you do, make sure you find a pair that are designed for running/sports. Putting cotton skivvies under a pair of $60 tech shorts means you just wasted $60 on shorts that will wick sweat since it will all be soaked up in your undies.
Now, if you happen to be a dude, you could literally stop right here, throw on your shorts, lace up your shoes, and hit the road. However, the majority of our readership happens to be female, so we’ll keep going 🙂
- Running shirt. Again, technical fabric is really important in a shirt as well. The type of shirt you choose will likely be dictated based on the climate where you live. Shirts designed for running can keep you warm in cooler weather and cool and dry when the heat is cranked up. One or two shirts is usually sufficient to get you going.
- Sports Bra. If you are a woman, this piece of equipment is just as important as your running shoes. And, like running shoes, there are fits and styles to contain every shape and size of breasts. Many running stores have sales people training in bra fitting and they are a great resource. So are your running girlfriends. Ask them about their favorite brands, what they like and don’t like. When you go to try on bras, make sure you give them a real workout. Don’t be afraid to run in place, jump up and down, and move side to side. You want to make sure your girls are locked and loaded and that the bra is going to provide the support you’re after. If you are a bit more blessed in the breast department, expect to pay upwards of $50 for a good sports bra. Gals with less to manage can often get away with less technically complex bras.
There you go – 4 pieces of running gear you really do need to get started. Now, you can certainly supplement this with other gear and gadgets. A few ideas to get you started:
- A watch, regular or GPS, for timing your runs. Your smartphone can double as a running watch through a number of good apps.
- Hat, sunglasses, etc. If you are running where it is sunny, these may become essentials for you.
- Something with which to play music. MP3 player, your phone, a iPod, etc.
- Climate-specific clothing. If you live in an area with 4 seasons and you don’t plan to only run inside on the treadmill – because why would you???? you will need different clothing for different temperatures.
- Fuel belt or hydration system of some kind. This becomes more important as you increase your distances, although in warmer weather, you should really carry water with you anyway. Grabbing a bottle out of the fridge is fine, but holding a bottle for a longer run can actually throw your gait off as your arm fatigues.
I hope this clears up what you may and may not need to get started with running. For the veteran runners out there, what is your single most important piece of running gear NOT listed in the first 4?
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Bari is an avid runner and sometime triathlete, learning the importance of training smart but also having fun. She loves to share a good beer with friends and has been known to host virtual toasts on Twitter. When she isn’t running, biking, swimming, or trying to lift heavy things, she’s playing on her phone or trying to figure out how to pay for college for her twins who graduate in 2015. Bari lives in West Michigan and loves to encourage new runners and triathletes to reach their goals.