All gear and no idea

This was a phrase that R introduced me to at a recent race as we were warming up together and watching the other runners as they arrived.

The last few races that I’ve entered have been small, club-run events, set up for people training for a marathon. As a non-club runner this has been particularly terrifying: everyone has their gel belts, compression socks, club vests, camelbacks, caps and Garmins and such a panoply of kit is slightly overwhelming to me as a Sunday afternoon runner.

However R likes to reassure me that the best kit doesn’t necessarily signify expertise or speed.

And indeed, what I’ve discovered of late is at least one reason why these runners have so much stuff and that is fear.

Fear, it seems, can encourage you to indiscriminately spend money on all manner of training aids in the hope that they will solve the problem of 26 miles on race day.

I’ve spent money on physiotherapy, a gel belt and isotonic gels, ibuprofen creams and protein powders. My birthday and Christmas were vehicles for more sports kit: gloves, headbands, reflective tops, leggings and a running backpack. I’ve ‘invested’ in yoga classes to try to counter injuries and on pre-race race entries to try to counter race-day fear. The other day I even bought a ‘Well Woman’ drink (and promptly threw most of it away – it’s really synthetic and just not nice) just because I thought it might help the fatigue from the day.

So, to new runners thinking about kit what do you really need?

1. Trainers
photo 4If you spend money on anything spend it on good trainers that fit properly, that you’ve tested on a treadmill in the shop and that suit your gait and running style. Functional and well-fitted doesn’t have to mean ugly. There are so many nice looking trainers around now, but the primary concern should be a good fit and the right level of support.

For running on grass and trails where the ground takes some of the impact I still love my Vibrams. For road running and lots of impact training I love my Nike free 5.0. They are a good, wide fit, which suits my feet and the minimal support and drop suits my toe-striking running style.

2. Socks
Good ones which cushion your foot absorb sweat and prevent blisters.

3. Sports bra
Women only. Obvious reasons.

4. Cold weather kit

Ready to run!
Ready to run!

No one likes being cold, even those runners you see out on the chilliest of mornings. So how do they do it? Good warm weather kit.

A full length pair of running tights does miracles for keeping the cold out. I love my RonHill and MoreMiles bottoms, then I tend to layer up on top: sports bra, vest, fitted full-length running top and then an over-top or jumper for when it’s really cold. My favourite top is a Rab jumper that R bought for me which is breathable but keeps me toasty warm.

Layers mean you can strip down as you run, and I often find myself finishing a run in a vest with two other tops tied around my waist (but I’d personally prefer this than risk being cold especially on long runs when the weather can turn when you’re miles from home). This also got me through training in Chicago in the winter, making even a chilly Spring run in London not too bad.

5. Gloves and a headband
photo 2Really an extension of good cold-weather kit.

Even if I’m in a vest my hands always seem to be cold so I like to run in gloves. My headband serves a number of functions: firstly I used to get the worst ear ache when running in the cold and this solves that problem. On top of this it holds my headphones in and keeps my hair back. It also acts as a good sweatband too. Basically a must for me!

6. Bright kit
For night runs or even early mornings and grey days in the winter I make sure I’ve got a florescent  top on. Safety first!

7. Gel belt and gels
The latest additions to my arsenal. The first thing I’d say is if you are running less that 17 miles, gels are really not necessary (nor really are isotonic drinks in my opinion). If you can eat and run, Scott Jurek style, you might not even need gels at all. However, considering until lately I struggled even to hold water down while running, gels act as a good compromise.

gelThere are loads on the market and it’s about finding what works for you. They come in different flavours and consistencies, some with added caffeine, and the best way to see what works is trial and error on your training runs. If I’m going 20 miles for example, I’ll aim to have one between 9 and 10 miles, one at 14 to 15 miles and one in reserve in case I hit a wall at 18 miles. I’ve found that taking them a little at a time and swishing them in my mouth before swallowing is most effective. I take it slowly so a gel will last about a mile. I bought the gel belt as more than one gel in my pocket was logistically tricky and it also makes them easier to access.

So, as I write this with a Runners Need bag next to me, containing my new Nike Free 5.0, which I’ve convinced myself I need in case my other pair implode on race day – who in their right mind doesn’t have a back up pair of trainers right? – I’m asking myself am I now too all gear and no idea?

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