To prepare for the first race he has ever signed up for, Ian Galloway went out last week and got himself a big bag of motivation. Having not run in a few years, he went to a sporting-goods store near his home in Toronto and loaded up on gear, from new shoes to a spiffy tuque. It's not just helping him run, it's making him run.
"If all my gear is sitting right at the door, I know I really have no excuse. All I need to do is get dressed and step out the door," says the 35-year-old graphic designer, who is set to run a 10-kilometre race this spring.
Mr. Galloway is hoping to get a runner's watch for his birthday. And to help him keep rocking on the road, his wife gave him an iPod nano.
The amount of running gear on the market is endless, from clothing to heart-rate monitors and other tech gizmos to gel packs and nutrition bars. For those who are just starting to take up the sport, it can be tempting to buy one of everything, in the hope that doing so will improve performance.
But Mark Chancey, founder of TheRunningCoach.ca, gives new runners this advice: "Never mind all the gizmos for now. First, decide if this is something you are going to stick with."
Jamie Armstrong, a running coach and founder of Method Personal Training in Vancouver, says that, as with training, new runners should start off slow with the gear they get and gradually move up to acquiring more.
"You've got to go through an event or at least a time of training before you go crazy on this stuff," he says. "Get the bare essentials, train for it [an event] do it, and then go, 'You know what? If I had this, I'd maybe be more comfortable; if I bought that heart-rate monitor, maybe I could train a little more effective.' "
Shoes are by far the most important piece of gear for any runner, but not all shoes are alike.
John Stanton, founder of The Running Room, suggests that new runners take the time to have their gait analyzed. It's a process that takes only a few minutes and will determine the right shoe for the way your foot falls with each step.
"You want to think of shoes as being like eye care, that they're prescriptive to your body mechanics," Mr. Stanton says.
Most shoes are designed to fit one of three categories. Someone who is an excessive pronator, meaning they have a floppy foot, should have a motional-control shoe, whereas someone with ankles that roll inward as they run will need a stability shoe, while someone with ankles that roll to the outside or has high arches will best be served with a cushioning shoe.
The right shoe will not only compensate for a particular gait's weaknesses, it can keep runners off the injury list. And that's going to keep them on the road.
Besides a good pair of shoes, there are a few items every beginner should have, Mr. Stanton says. These include socks, shorts, tights, tops and, for women, a good sports bra.
"The old cotton sock is long gone," he says. "Anybody who's worn one of the new technical socks knows that they keep your foot cooler in the summertime and warmer in the wintertime." A good sock will prevent blistering as well.
While it's possible to go running in just a cotton T-shirt and a regular pair of shorts or sweatpants, getting a technical shirt, shorts and tights can make any run a much more comfortable experience.
"With cotton, it holds the sweat and then you get chafing," Mr. Stanton says. Technical shirts and shorts wick moisture away from the skin and allows it to get to the surface of the fabric, where it evaporates easier.
There is a ton of tech out there for runners, and much of it can be quite costly, Mr. Armstrong says. A high-end heart-rate monitor, for instance, can cost up to $500, he says. Three of the more popular gizmos are pedometers, watches and heart monitors. Some watches combine all three and more. "In many ways, it's like having a silent coach," Mr. Stanton says.
These kinds of devices can be of great benefit for runners who want to keep track of every element of their training, Mr. Chancey says. "For those who are serious about training, the heart-rate monitor keeps you in your heart-rate zone for when you need to be there. And it really focuses your training," he says.
But they are hardly necessary for those who are just starting out. If anything, simply get a waterproof digital watch and work up from there, depending on how much number-crunching you want to do.
FOOD AND DRINK
In a normal climate, water is not necessary for any run of less than 30 minutes, Mr. Chancey says. For runs between 30 minutes and an hour, drinking water about every 20 minutes is essential to stay hydrated. For runs longer than one hour, it's best for runners to take along a sports drink in order to replenish the electrolytes that are lost through sweat, Mr. Chancey says.
As for nutritional boosts, while there is a wide range of energy bars and gels that promise to deliver a quick shot of carbs, they are not necessary for most recreational runners, Mr. Chancey says.
"Generally you would be looking at the half-marathoners to anyone running farther than that and really out to set a race-goal kind of pace," he says. "The recreational runner who is doing 10-, 11- or 12-minute miles, they really don't need those gels."
The same is true for energy bars, Mr. Chancey says. While they have great value for performance runners, there is a much cheaper alternative for weekend warriors who might get hungry a few kilometres into a run. "For recreational runners, you can get by with a banana," he says.
But for any run of less than 10 kilometres, most runners will not need any food to get them to the finish line.