So you’ve decided to start on this journey and you’ve set out your reasons for it (remember you were honest with yourself about it). So where do you go from here (assuming you’ve already gone to see a doctor and gotten their approval, especially if it’s been a while, or never, that you’ve done any form of exercise)?
You get thee to a running shoe store of course. Your shoes are THE most important investment you will make. Now I know that shoes can be a bit of a hot-button topic and there is a lot of information that will get shoved down your throat. And I know it can be intimidating to go into a store to buy running shoes if you’re carrying a bit extra weight. Well let me tell you something: get any hesitations you have of going into that store right out of your head!! Right now. I’ve gone to several and I think that being super helpful and kind is part of the hiring process. I’ve been in there when people who literally looked like they have never worn a pair of runners have walked in and said they wanted to start running. WOW I almost had tears in my eyes by the time I left. The staff working there treated them like gold. It takes a runner to understand the work that goes into it and I think most runners are proud of someone starting the journey for themselves. If you wanted to be a cynic, you might say they’re just trying to sell shoes. And maybe that’s true but when they ask what you’re training for and they start sharing their stories about running that have nothing to do with any product being sold, I like to think it’s because they realize the valuable role they play in helping you get to where you’re going.
So there you are, standing in front of the wall o’ shoes wondering which ones do you buy? Don’t bother looking at colour or brand or price. Not just yet. A reputable shoe store will have staff trained to do a quick analysis on your way of walking and they can see if your feet roll inwards (overpronate), stay straight (neutral), or roll outwards (underpronate). This can help choose a shoe with the correct support.
What other things are there to consider when choosing a shoe? You’ll hear the term “drop” a lot. The drop is the difference in height between the front of the shoe and the back. Most shoes will have a heel that is slightly higher. There are a few brands out there, namely Altra, that are making “zero drop” shoes so the forefoot and heel are level.
There’s cushioning as well. Some are marketed for maximum padding. Hoka One One is the one that immediately comes to mind. There are some shoes that have less cushioning.
Then there’s the fit. Do you like a snug fit or a little more wiggle room? Do you have wide or narrow feet? Different brands and even models within brands all fit differently so you can’t just discount an entire brand because of one model. Fits even change from year to year as manufacturers tweak designs.
But the biggest thing of all is to try on the shoe. Go for a short jog around the store, or if you’re really lucky, the store will have a treadmill. Yes you feel silly. Deal with it because once those shoes hit pavement, they’re yours. I’d rather run back and forth a few times and know that it’s not quite the right fit, than to slap some money down and be stuck with them. It may take a few pairs of shoes to find what you like and what feels comfortable. Don’t be surprised if that changes as you spend more time on your feet.
If buying pretty colours helps you get shoes, then do it. But if you’re open to getting less popular colours, they can sometimes be cheaper. And I know I said ignore price but what I mean is try not to let that be the deciding factor. Cheap shoes that are poorly made may not only be uncomfortable but can actually cause injury. I know shoes can be expensive but think about it this way: when you start out, you’re not going to be putting a ton of hardcore miles on them so they will last longer than they will in a year from now so splurge as much as you can as an investment in your health.
And my biggest piece of advice: be open to change. Those shoes may have fit you well when you start easing into running but after a half an hour you’re developing blisters. For years I was hooked on Asics GT-2000 shoes. Loved them. I’d walk in, grab my size, and walk out no questions asked. But then the fit changed and I was starting to get blisters between my toes. I bought a pair of Saucony shoes and they felt great, until I would get blisters after running 5 km. While following an ultra running site, I saw that a large number of people were divided between Hoka One One and Altra. I tried the Hoka One One first (Bondi 4) and felt like I was running on pillows. It took a little bit to get used to it but I thought the extra cushioning would help with my nagging hamstring issues. It didn’t help as much as I would have liked. On a whim I tried Altra and I have been hooked ever since. I like the wide toe box which lets my toes spread and the zero drop means that I feel almost like running barefoot but I’m not.
And don’t worry what your friends are running in or what some athlete tells you to buy. In fact, don’t even listen to me. It’s your feet that are in those shoes and no one else’s so make sure they fit you. That’s why shoes can be a point of contention: everyone “knows” what’s best. The problem is that the human body is never the same one day to the next and each person feels things differently, so how can you say with any certainty what is best? That’s why it’s all up to you.
Clothes are another expense but you don’t have to drop a mint on high-end clothes. I’ve gotten some great gear from Costco and Wal-mart. The way I see it, I’m just buying stuff to sweat in and make stinky so why am I going to spend a fortune on it? The biggest thing is to avoid cotton as it just holds moisture against your skin and can cause chafing. Technical fabrics are light and absorb sweat without being gross. I’ve worn a few shirts that were drenched, and I do mean drenched, in sweat but I couldn’t tell until I actually touched them with my hand.
Socks. Get lots. I like double layered ones that help to prevent blisters. For my long runs, I wear toe socks from Injinji. I thought the fabric between my toes would bother me but I can’t even tell it’s there. Again this is another area that can get a bit costly but if you have a few pairs and rotate, they’ll last longer. I have socks that are several years old so the investment was worth it.
I used to wonder about the runners in their tight clothes and when I started running, I wore baggy sweatpants and shirts. It seemed like it would be comfortable but that flapping fabric that kept slapping my shins got really irritating really quickly. Wear whatever makes you comfortable and gets you out the door. I get it if you want to wear bigger clothes. I totally get it. I didn’t feel like I had earned a pair of running tights for a while. And I still feel exposed when I do but I like not having the encumbrances of extra stuff batting around my legs or billowing around my arms.
If you’re dealing with colder weather, you’ll need a few extra layers. I love merino wool and use an undershirt as a base layer. I have some fleecy tights for cold days and some wind stopper tights for really cold days. When it’s a super cold day, I’ll wear tights under the wind stopper pants.
A good running jacket will have zippered vents in the arm pit area to help, you know, vent. My biggest complaint with running jackets is that many are water resistant but they keep moisture in as well. What that means is that when I get in from a run and I take my jacket off, there have been times when I have had sweat frozen onto my long-sleeved shirts. I wish I was kidding. Some jackets are worse than others for this so it’s just a matter of research and trial and error.
If it’s cold, a toque and neck warmer are essential. Gloves or mittens are a must. When it gets warmer, I prefer to have a cap with a bill to help keep the sun out of my eyes. There are some companies making baseball-style hats and trucker hats specifically for runners.
That’s the basics for gear. There are watches and apps and music devices and I will give my input on those things too. But really, they are nice to have. Shoes and clothes are kind of non-negotiable. Especially in public.
Do you think I missed something? What is your “gotta have” basic gear?