My Love / Hate Relationship with Running Gear (and 5 unusual suggestions for you)

Have you noticed that I LOVE running? What started as a hobby after high school to kill time has completely transformed my life.

Sunset

To really drive this point home, here’s a fun story: even though we’re not super religious, my wife and I took the Pre-Cana course (we had a Catholic ceremony) before we got married.

During the class, we were asked what most concerned us about marriage. And my wife, in front of 30 people, said “I’m worried Jason will always run too much and won’t spend enough time with our family.”

HA! I still tease her about this today.

But it’s true: I really do love running. And one of the big reasons that running appeals to me is because of its simplicity. Just lace up a pair of shoes and you’re ready to go.

You don’t need a team,  field or court, or ball. You can run virtually anywhere, with friends or alone. More importantly, even as an adult you can compete almost any weekend of the year in practically any city in the world.

Awesome, right?

And when it comes to running gear, the basics often work best: a pair of running shoes and simple clothes and you’re off to the races (I worked so hard on that pun).

But I think runners today are too focused on their gear. We’ve become obsessed with heart rate monitors and GPS watches. We debate maximalist, minimalist, and actuator lugs.

The latest gizmo promises real-time accurate lactate testing, biosignal sensing, and VO2 Max monitoring.

Am I the only one who realizes that 99% of the progress you make as a runner has NOTHING to do with all this stuff?

Yes, it’s pretty damn cool.

Yes, these toys are fun to play with if you have the resources and time.

But they’re not necessary. Even though I recognize they’re a lot of fun, most runners simply don’t need any of these gadgets.

Today I want to offer a few simple suggestions for running gear – that won’t cost you four figures and require a mechanical engineering degree to understand.

Instead, let’s prioritize the “big wins” of running so we can boost our fitness, run faster than we ever have before, and focus on enjoying the process of training.

These are excerpts from my book 101 Simple Ways to be a Better Runner

If this approach appeals to you, I’d love for you to check it out. It’s also available as an instant download if you don’t have a Kindle reader.

Ready? Let’s do this.

Stop buying such expensive shoes

Dr. Bernard Marti, the leading preventative-medicine specialist at Switzerland’s University of Bern conducted research that showed the most common variable among injured runners wasn’t training volume, the intensity of workouts, or frequency of races. It was the price of their running shoes. Runners who paid more than $95 for their trainers were more than twice as likely to get hurt.

Expensive running shoes tend to have all the bells and whistles: a very elevated heel, lots of motion-control “technology,” and plenty of “shock guidance systems.” They haven’t been proven to help you run faster or keep you healthy, but you’ll sure pay extra for them.

Stick to shoes that are generally in the $80 or less price category. They tend to have fewer motion-limiting features that tend to increase your risk of injury.

Additional Resource:

Want a home gym for $20?

Gym memberships are expensive. The average person pays about $500 annually to belong to their gym and more than half of people over-estimate how many times they’ll visit the gym when they first sign up.

Instead, get a 10-12 pound medicine ball. You can do a full body workout in ten minutes by doing simple exercises like lunges, squats, dead lifts, chest press, and ab work with a med ball. Many exercises can be done standing up – perfect for runners who should be doing some of their strength work while standing (it mimics the demands of running).

Additional Resources:

Heart-rate monitors don’t make you faster

Too many runners think they need the fanciest gear to help them get faster. Heart rate monitors aren’t necessary to be a good runner, but they can be a useful training tool for a more advanced runner.

There are two specific types of workouts that lend themselves very well to heart rate training: recovery runs and tempo runs. It’s important to make recovery runs truly easy so a heart rate monitor can keep you honest and make sure you’re not working too hard.

Tempo workouts are typically run at about 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. You can use a heart rate monitor to determine your max heart rate and then work at the correct percentage. It may not be completely accurate, but it can be a valuable tool to help inform your workouts.

Additional Resource:

Keep a Training Log

As the wise saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed.” Besides being a valuable learning tool, you’ll be thankful that you have records of what you did every day later in life. Talk about a helluva heirloom for your grandkids!

You can choose to use a hard copy training journal – any notebook will work – but there are also online options for you. Websites like www.dailymile.com or www.runnersworld.com/log are very popular. And of course, a plain old Excel spreadsheet works fine too.

By using a training log, you can look back at your training to see how you were able to run such a fast race or find the errors in your running that led to a poor performance. If you don’t have the past records, how will you know?

Change into a pair of minimalist shoes when you run workouts

One of the most beneficial times to run in minimalist shoes is when you’re running fast. This is an advanced technique but will help you build foot and lower leg strength to help you prevent injuries. You’ll also reinforce an efficient running stride, helping you improve your economy.

Remember that this is an advanced strategy so if you’re not comfortable with racing flats, spikes, or other minimalist shoes you should first start by running easy in them. Once you’re ready to wear flats for a workout, do your warm-up and warm-down in your regular trainers and reserve your “fast shoes” for the fast portion of the workout.

Additional resources:

The Most Important Advice about Running Gear

Gear Junkie

Even if you describe yourself as a gear junkie, recognize that the vast majority of fitness gains come from training correctly – not the gear you have.

You could buy the latest Nikes and a $1,000 NBA game ball but that won’t make you Michael Jordan.

And similarly, the latest biometric monitoring device and analytic software won’t make you Mo Farah.

So focus on the fundamentals: smart training, consistency, and staying healthy. Become a better athlete, get stronger, and never stray from any single training stimulus.

Soon, you’ll be outpacing your gear junkie friends as they fiddle with their foot pods.

Want more actionable, bite-sized pieces of running advice? Pick up my book on Amazon here or as an instant download here.

Now I’m curious – even though I have a love-hate relationship with running gear, I want to know what your favorite piece of equipment is right now. What can’t you run without?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

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Comments

  1. Christine says:

    Saucony Triumph ISO’s. LOVE the wide toebox and perfect cushioning.

  2. Metronome!

  3. My favorite running gear is my iPod, sun glasses, and my minimalist shoes. I completely agree that less is more.

  4. I used to run with so much stuff. Phone, bluetooth headphones, heartrate monitor, etc. It finally got to the point where I hated getting ready to run. I still loved running, but getting all the crap ready to go every time was a headache. These days I run with a GPS watch and sometimes a metronome. It is so nice just grabbing my stuff and going out for a run without worrying about all that gadgets.

    The shoe thing is a little tough for me. There are some very good shoes with NO added structure that will set you back more than $80 so it’s a bit of a judgement call. That being said, my favorite shoes right now (Skechers of all things) cost me $34 online so maybe there is something to the price. I also wonder if that study is skewed. It could be that people spending $180 on a pair of shoes are doing so because they got injured in the $140 shoes they were wearing before, which replaced the $80 shoes they started with. I imagine you could take someone with good mechanics and a strong core and put them in any shoe and they would be fine.

  5. I cant run without my ipod shuffle. I have often had a panicked second or two when I think I’ve left it somewhere. Its funny, I’ve adjusted when I’ve forgotten socks, gloves, water… but I am sure if I set out on a run and forgot my ipod I’d call it a day

  6. A hat. I have to run with a hat….is that gear?

  7. I used to run with a bunch of crap, but now it’s my dog, my gps watch (which I ignore unless I need to know where I’m at in terms of mileage), my shoes, and the clothes on my back. It’s a great time to unwind at the end of the day or plan my day if I run in the morning. Plus, it tires my dog out and a tired dog is a good dog!

    Unfortunately I have to disagree on the shoe idea, at least for my N=1 experiment. I’ve tried lots of different shoes from minimalist to maximalist and what’s worked best for me are my Hokas, though it’s only been a few months. You could argue that they are different from a traditionally thick shoe in that they are lighter and have a lower heel to toe drop. I’ve found that since I switched to them my legs feel fresher week in and week out.

    Also, a shout out for Superfeet inserts! I started wearing them last year and many of my foot problems disappeared… almost as if they were magic. Unfortunately they don’t make me any faster.

  8. I do like my Garmin. My inner geek enjoys the post-run analysis phase only slightly less than the actual run.

    Other than that little gizmo the only thing that I won’t leave home without is my handkerchief! I suffer with allergies so it is very rare for me to complete any run without suffering a runny nose at some point. Hanky to the rescue!

  9. Such a great article! I often find myself getting caught up in new gear and what I should buy or need to buy when in reality, I’m not a pro, I’m not sponsored, this isn’t my full-time job. I just need to be active to maintain my sanity.
    I can’t run without my phone because I use MapMyFitness to log my run or bike and also need my music when I run. There are times where I will leave it at home but it’s not that often plus I like to have it on me in case of an emergency whether with me or if my daughter needs to get a hold of me.
    I did purchase a HRM a few months back but it’s because I need to watch my heart rate in a workout class. I knew I pushed it too hard a few times and don’t want to pass out so it’s just to warn me when I hit 160 and shouldn’t push any further and back off.

  10. Treadmill! Talk about a love-hate relationship. Now that daylight savings time is here, theres more daylight after 5pm…………….means more running outside. Finally!

  11. Francis says:

    Funny you mention footpods in your article, thats actually one item i cant go without for treadmill runs At least, and its a big help for when my Garmin cuts out unexpectedly.

  12. Nice article! I laughed out loud about the expensive shoe. Last year I stepped up my running game and started logging a lot more miles and doing longer races (5 miles & 10k). I had been running in Adidas shoes and had zero injuries so I thought maybe I should go to the local running store & have them check me out & recommend a shoe. Longer story shorter I purchase a $130 pair of Newtons. Low & behold 1 month later I have plantar faciitis! I never thought anything about the toe to heel ratio being lower than I was used to and they just didn’t work out! So I would have to agree on the expensive shoe thing! Hard lesson to learn!
    Anyways… my favorite piece of running gear is my hand held camel bak water bottle. My mouth gets so dry running I can’t even run 3 miles without sipping some water!

  13. Mike Goyne says:

    I would agree with most of this article, however I would say that there are always exceptions to the rules. Some of us have unusually wide feet and need a shoe that fits accordingly. (4E width) I have tried a 2E and it just bunches the foot too much. I have been measured and confirmed the width. (can you say “Hobbit feet”) The problem with this is that there are few companies that make affordable shoes suitable to run in with these extra wide widths. I have also noticed a significant difference with a stability shoe over a neutral cushioning shoe. I have found some shoes with the wide widths that are in the $60-$80 range, but they have not been suitable for the foot health for me.

    Inserts, Inserts, Inserts
    I will say that they best thing I purchased for my feet has been some quality insoles. Knock wood, but no plantar faciitis problems thus far and no other feet ailments.

    Socks
    The final thought on the feet would not be complete without a mention of the socks. Most of the time I run with an inexpensive, no show sock from a popular chain department store (that starts with a W and ends in mart!) But, for my long runs I always wear a quality, padded sock and my feet have not gotten any more blisters. Now if someone can just figure out how to get rid of blue toenails we are in business!

    I do agree, though, that running with less distractions is very therapeutic. No phones, music, etc. Just get out and go!

    • Mike Goyne says:

      When it comes to the shoes, I always jump on sales and coupons to help keep the cost down. After finding the shoe that works I have remained brand loyal and store loyal. The clerks have come to know me and always cut the price for me.

  14. I too have to have my tunes for longer runs. I love my GPS watch so see where I’ve been though I don’t take it too seriously. Last week my phone died my watch died and I misread my route sheet. It was kind of funny and I realized how dependent I was on the stuff. So I just ran and later re-created my route on map my run. It’s all good remember to not make it too complicated.

  15. Cap. Keeps sun off my balding head and out of my eyes.

    That and shorts. OBVS.

    Everything else is negotiable, including shoes.

    Close though is a stop watch to keep the times for my log. I can get distance from MapMyRun or other websites.

  16. Sometimes I wear shorts.

  17. Marilyn says:

    I love my old-school 305 Garmin watch with HRM. My physio encouraged me strongly to wear the HRM, and now I can see why. It really helps me stay in the correct zones for enhancing my fitness. Funny thing when I ran NYC Marathon in November, there were about 4 of us, standing close to me in my starting corral, all wiearing the same old school Garmin 305.

  18. i must have my garmin 610.

  19. I love your article! I am all for the simpler (and less expensive!!!) ways of running! One thing I dont want to go without is my Ismooth running app for Iphone. Easy to program for interval training. (Free version work well) GPS, log, (and all stats go with it!!!) communication, music playlist, weather station in one.

  20. Jennifer says:

    It is not necessary, but I love my GPS watch. I am so obsessive…I have to know my pace and my mileage. If I forget it, it is like that day’s run didn’t happen because I can’t see it on the computer. Crazy…I know!

    Oh, and my Nike Flyknits…I love them…they feel like a sock!

    • I’m the same, if it didn’t happen on Strava did it really happen? It’s almost like I shouldn’t have bothered.

  21. I guess I’m one of the people who run with gear although I must admit it is a fairly simple set-up. Aside from my running clothes and shoes, I do bring my heart rate monitor (with chest strap and stride sensor) and my phone + waist belt. That’s about it. Oh yeah, my headphones too. Long runs are better with an audiobook. 🙂

  22. Rodney Small says:

    I-pod nano.

  23. I can’t go for a run without short-tights on under running shorts. This isn’t due to some blood recirculation, hyper oxygenation of the muscles thanks to compression or anything like that, it’s all due to the fact I don’t train enough, I eat and drink too much and am getting fat thighs that chaff!!

    • Yeah, I have been wearing those ever since my vasectomy. It was required at first and now I find I like having compression shorts on while I run.

  24. I “need” my phone with MapMyRun in my running belt, because I tend to get lost a bit too often. However, my occational runs without it do feel pretty liberating.

    Regarding shoes, I really like my last-year-model Montrail Fluidflex that I can pick up for under $50. (MSRP is still a reasonable $95.) Great semi-minimalist trail shoe with plenty of cush.

  25. I have to say the expensive shoes might not always work. I did the whole shoe fitting and got a $120 pair of mizunos, and sauconys (twice!) and the best shoes i have worn are my $80. asics. No black toes or blisters! The only problem now is that i cant find any more:(

  26. I swear by my Newton’s- when I switched out of them, I broke my foot. I will absolutely call it a day if I forgot them. The only other thing I would say I 100% need is a good sports bra 😀 It’s taken some time to find the perfect one, but a good sports bra is priceless if you need to lock and load!

  27. My Garmin.
    For two reasons, logging my runs on Strava is my record that I look back on instead of manually writing it down; and secondly I find running is my escape from everything and when I run my mind wanders and my pace ends up drifting so having my Garmin helps me keep my pace consistent.

  28. I try to keep it simple: my Brooks , comfortable clothes , and my “lucky” Cubs hat that is now faded and rough but has guided me through over ten years of rural running.

  29. Heart rate monitor to keep me from going too fast ( and getting injured ). So it makes me go slower, but in the long run it makes me go faster ( by not getting injured ).

  30. My smartphone and Pebble watch (though I tend to forget the watch on occasion).

  31. Garry Crossland says:

    A hat or Buff. Gotta cover the dome!

  32. Newtons and sunscreen. My feet like ’em and my freckled Irish skin needs it.

  33. Sherry N says:

    Good sports bra (the girls like to be hugged tightly), my amphipod hand held water bottle (I panic w/out water!), and my phone. As a woman who often runs alone I would never run w/out my phone. I have a Garmin but seldom use it, I find I am a slave to it when i wear it. I’d rather run according to how I feel.

  34. Current obsession is socks – cushioned or compression or both or whatever catches my eye. Other than that hang up just a watch or if away from my known routes a GPS watch.

  35. My tunes! running with my playlist playing through runkeeper. Oh, and my polar watch.

  36. Definitely a good hair elastic. I’m pretty sure I’ve run in jeans (when I’ve forgotten my spandex), non-running sneakers, no socks, regular bra (womp womp)… and several other “necessities” that I’ve forgotten along the way. But the hair thing? UGH I hate hair in my eyes/mouth/face especially when I’m sweating.

  37. Great article. My Nike zooms and iPod shuffle and I’m off to the races.

  38. so I don’t need to run with a go-pro and take a selfie every mile to get better?! haha, I had to comment…I really like your article!

  39. my Garmin and my brooks ghost. it took me a long time to find the right pair for me. I usually get older models, so the price is in the range you mentioned in your article.

  40. Thanks Jason for such honesty about running gear and what people need to approach the sport. I am amazed at how many wearable devices have come on the market and what they can track! I Personally I am a pretty minimal runner and have continued to try and use less when running. Without trying to overwhelm people I recently wrote a post on four popular running apps (http://www.3simplechoices.com/running-apps/) and with so many options I would enjoy hearing what you use to track and motivate your training.

Trackbacks

  1. […] then, I was even more of a running gear purist. Besides a cheap Timex watch, I had no other gear. I didn’t even own a foam […]