Running can be a minimalist sport. You can absolutely run with just a cotton t-shirt and socks, swim trunks and a $20 pair of tennis shoes from the discount store. And don't ever let lack of finances keep you from starting to run, because many people do just fine with cheap shoes and what they already have in their closet. But let me just say—I love running gear. And the gear and clothes I wear do make my running experience much more fluid and enjoyable.
Let's start from the top and working down to my feet.
In the winter I either wear a ear band or a full winter cap on my head. I sweat a lot, so whatever I wear needs to be made out of a wicking material. In the summer, I wear Buff bands. They are great for keeping my hair and the sweat out of my face. I prefer the half sized ones instead of the headband or the full sized. They are a great value at around $15. For sunglasses, I am currently in between ones. I have Maui Jim's that are from their sport line, but they are pretty old and the polarize film is starting to distort the lens clarity and so I am on the hunt for a new pair. The key with sunglasses and running is that you don't want the bottom of the sunglasses to "sit" on your cheeks. When they do, they fog up from your body heat. And that annoys the heck out of me.
I rarely go out for a run without a gps watch on me. I know, I probably should take on a more caviler attitude about just going out for a run to, well, run. And I don't obsess over it, but I like to look down and see what my pace is or how far I have gone. I was always a Garmin girl, until my beloved Garmin 305 Forerunner died. I bought this Garmin Forerunner 15 to replace it and noticed it kept dropping the gps signal and subsequently shorted my time and distance tracking on me when running on the trail and the battery wore out before me on runs longer than 6 hours. A friend of mine raved about her Suunto Ambit 3 endurance watch and so that is what I wear (and love) now.
For my chest and body, I'm not real picky about tops but they also need to be made of wicking material. Obviously, if you are a woman and more on the chesty side than I am, invest in a few really good sports bras. Just make sure they don't have any plastic or metal components to them against your skin or you will really end up feeling them. I wear a number of layers in the fall, winter and spring. When it is cold out, the key is that you want to fill a bit chilly when you step outside. If you walk out your door feeling comfortable, then you have way too many clothes on.
The other thing I wear on my body is my Ultraspire running vest. I only use the back hydration bladder when I am doing long runs. I have tried hydration belts but they don't sit on my waist right and bounce around. And camelbaks bounce too much on me as well. This brand is the first I have found that I forget I even have on. The large front pockets are really nice for carrying one small water bottle in the bungie pocket, and my cell phone, gu, tissues and whatever else I need in the zipper pocket. At the top is a small mesh pocket for a key or a gu and the other side has a magnet close small pocket which is perfect for my medicine, but designed for salt tablets for endurance runners. They come in women's and men's cuts and have many adjustments to help them fit nicely on different types of bodies. However I have to admit, I am currently coveting a Salomon vest that has larger pockets and front hydration.
Another great option, if you don't need to have liquids on you, is a race belt. The big expandable pocket will fit a cell phone and a few gu packets. And you can attach your race bib to it on that special day.
As far as shorts and pants go, my favorites are my Lululemon Speed Shorts. They have a built in liner that fits perfectly and doesn't "ride up" on me and a wide fabric waistband which is so comfortable. I do not like long shorts when I run, so these are the perfect length for me. I know some people are uncomfortable in short shorts and for them Lulu makes a longer version and a men's version. Yes, $55 seems pretty steep for a pair of running shorts, but trust me, you will wash these multiple times a week just so you can wear them again on your next run. I tend to wear shorts deep into the fall and early in the spring as I would rather have my legs start out a little cold on my run and wear a long sleeve top. For the colder months, I only wear running tights. I don't like anything loose fitting because the slapping and the swishing annoy me. Tights also keep you warmer and if you get a good pair that wicks, will keep you drier as well. I think men tend to feel uncomfortable and perhaps unmasculine in tights, but you can also find them that are a little looser in the crotch and mid-section and are still tight around your thighs and calfs. And if you are still uncomfortable, throw on a pair of gym shorts over them.
Let's talk cleaning your running clothing before we move on to the all important calfs and feet. Your running clothes are going to get ripe—sometimes even after you wash them. Every few months I do a few loads of my running and yoga clothes on the permanent wash setting (but still on cold or warm temp) to get a deep clean. Don't use fabric softeners as they can clog the pores of the breathable fabric and never, ever, ever put your running clothes (or any sport clothes for that matter) in the dryer. Always air dry. The heat from the dryer can harm the special tech fabric and it also causes piling.
On to my super sexy secret to happy calfs and no shin splints—compression sleeves or socks. I tend to only wear them on my weekend long runs and really feel they make a difference in how tired my legs feel and how quickly I recover from my long run. My favorite pair are these 2XU guys. These might be a good idea for beginners as well who have gotten shin splints right off the bat.
Obviously, just wearing compression sleeves wasn't sexy enough for me—I have to pair them with toe socks. I am unlucky enough to have toes that are really susceptible to blisters.
This was one of my smaller blisters from my 50K this spring. And I had my toe socks on. For the most part, my injinji socks do the trick for blisters though. I am learning how to tape my toes for these longer crazy distances.
And of course, this wouldn't be a gear post without talking about shoes. As I said above, there are those people who really can get away with a $20 pair of cheap running shoes and never have one problem with their knees or feet. I am not one of them. And at least for your first pair, I highly recommend going to an actual running shoes store (not just a sporting goods store) and getting properly fitted. You will probably spend over $100 on them, but after that you know what type of running shoes you need (stability, neutral, high cushion, etc) and can order your next set online for less money—or you can go back to your running shoe store and support your local economy. They say to replace them every 6 months or every 300-500 miles. I'm pretty hard on my shoes and put a lot of miles on them, so I rarely get 6 months out of mine and I tend to get a new pair every 300-400 miles. Anything more than that and my knees start bugging me and my feet feel tired all the time. Put some new dogs on them though and I am good to go.
Hopefully this has been helpful for those of you interested in running or in ramping up your runs to include longer distances. I have ran 4 marathons, 2 50ks (32-33 miles) and am set to run a 40 miler next month and a trail marathon in November—I am not saying I am an expert on any of this, but I know what has worked for me. I'm happy to try and answer any of your questions in the comment section or by emailing me directly.
Now get out there and pound some dirt! XoXo