Although most runners will tell you their closest is overstuffed with colorful tech tees, piles of medals and three of the “but I can always use another” black running jacket (guilty), running is one of the best sports because you DON’T need that much gear. But there’s a difference between “not that much” and “not that great.”
I’ve been consistently running since high school, where I was lucky to have a coach that was friends with a Mizuno rep who really drove the importance of a great shoe. While having the perfect shoe for your feet and the terrain is critical, there are other things that can make the sport more enjoyable, especially for beginners. These are the top 5 things I think every new runner should buy. They don’t have to break your budget, but investing some money into the health of your feet and body can be the difference from running until you’re 40 and winning your 80+ age group.
- Shoes: Don’t be fooled by the barefoot running trends. I was. I hopped on the Vibram Five Finger bandwagon a few years ago, and while I love the idea and think definitely there’s a place for it, it doesn’t work with the type of running most of us do. On concrete. Instead of resulting in natural alignment, they gave me shin splints and blood blisters. Shoes can be pricey, so think about the kind of running you’re most likely to do. Trail? Road? Gym (sorry)? And go to a local running store for a consult and fitting. I wear a size 8-8.5 normal shoe, but a size 9 running shoe. And I’ve worn every brand and type on display. I recently switched to the ON Cloudsters. These shoes are incredible and still kind of mysterious. I love the bright colors AND I haven’t had any sign of the plantar fasciitis that’s plagued me for over a decade. (Knock on wood). TIP: Find your shoe at the local running store, write down the specs (size, model) and search online for a better deal. You can often find the same shoe on eBay or a discount site like this in last season’s colors.
- Socks: Socks are one of those things you don’t see, so fr0m a fashion perspective, they’re often overlooked. When we were training for the Ultra in 2014 I bought some Injinji running socks on a whim (and because I was feeling nostalgic for the 2000’s and toe socks). They saved my feet and kept them from blistering despite the amount of miles we were logging. My other favorites are these breathable Lululemon Speed SocksI’ve had both for three years and they have very little signs of wear.
- Watch: Once you start getting more serious about running, having something to track and time your miles is crucial, especially if you’re going to incorporate speed into your workouts or are training for a race. Garmin sells a GREAT beginner watch for $119. It tracks distance, pace, heart rate and calories. Boom. That’s all you need. You can also buy an app, like Run Keeper, that will track your runs and broadcast your pace and distance, but I’ve found them to be more inconsistent than a watch, especially on trail runs.
- Hydration pack: It’s a given that most people don’t drink enough water, and for athletes this can have serious implications. Stay hydrated. If you’re planning on running in the heat or in a place without drinking fountains, check out a hydration pack or belt. I’ve used both, and, because I have a smaller frame, the backpack style worked best for me. (My husband thought the belt worked best for him but he could stand more movement). All of the packs I’ve tried take a bit of time to get used to, so it’s best to train with them for a month or two before a race.
- FlipBelt: My friend bought me one of these in grey after I gushed about hers, and I can’t believe I ran without it for over a decade. You can barely feel it and it has a ton of storage for keys, phone, credit cards and snacks. It’s smart to keep an ID, cash and something small, like a GU with you, especially if you’re going on a long run. It’s NOT a hydration belt, which I think is actually better for road racing since most races provide hydration stations. They fit true to size.
A fun (but technical) running outfit: In high school we would train in knee length sweatpant gym shorts and spaghetti straps. We survived, but the pictures are humiliating. You certainly don’t NEED a nice running outfit to be a good runner, but I’m a firm believer that looking and feeling great will make you great. My favorite combination is capri tights, a long sleeve shirt and hat (this Headsweats visor is my favorite and I have no idea what happened to it. It’s probably behind the washing machine). This outfit provides full coverage from the sun and is versatile for most seasons. And you don’t need to spend a ton of money. Old Navy has some great running gear (these dry compression capris are seriously cute and 15$) and so does Target (I’ve been wearing their sports bras for as long as I can remember–this one is adorable and on sale!). Recently I’ve been on an Athleta kick and they’ve also recently had some great sales. Check out these leggings and this top.
And finally, a positive attitude. Running as a sport has changed dramatically in the past decade and people who never thought they would call themselves runners are now finishing marathons. But that doesn’t make running easy. It’s important to run smart–train, hydrate, eat healthy, stretch (so bad at this!) and realize that, while some people will inevitably be a one and done BQ’r, there are bad days for even the best runners. The most satisfying part of running truly are the toughest miles, the friendships and community and the amazing feeling of accomplishment for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Happy trails!