You may not be the fastest runner out there — or maybe you are. Either way, if you run outside in the elements, you need to make sure you’re protected from them, and that you’re comfortable and safe. Putting on the correct running gear before going for a run is the easy part, and while a new pair of running shoes won’t turn you into Usain Bolt — especially if you rarely run — they can absolutely improve your overall performance to a surprising degree.
Of course, you can always choose to run in your ordinary clothes, such as your beach shorts and your favourite football team shirt. While this might work for casual, short-distance runs, such clothes are not designed to meet the demands of serious long-distance running. Whether you’ve been running for a while, but still don’t have the proper kit, or you’re completely new to running and want it to become part of your daily routine, this article is for you.
Choosing Your Running Shoes
Vine ropes are to Tarzan, and katanas are to samurai, as shoes are to runners. It doesn’t matter what other gear you have if you get this crucial point wrong.
For years, professionals have depended on gait analysis to determine the best shoes for them.
In the context of running, gait analysis is a process used to identify the biomechanical abnormalities in the gait cycle. In layman’s terms, it assesses the way we walk and run.
The usual process in high-street running stores starts with recording a short video of you running on a treadmill for around 20 seconds, or 10 to 20 strides. You will be wearing a neutral shoe with hardly any cushioning, which will allow the analyst to get the most accurate picture of how you’d run naturally. The analyst will use the data to determine the best type of shoes (neutral, pronation, supination, cushioned, flat, ramped or level) that suit your gait, however, this doesn’t answer the questions about fit and feel, which are the most important factors. Why? We can change our gait through 1-to-1 coaching, or learning more from a wearable, such as the Milestone Pod, and so move from a pronator to a neutral gait, but we cannot change the size of our feet. Too narrow and the shoes will eventually hurt the toes; too wide and you may experience bruising around the toes as the foot slides (as well as ankle pain, as the heel cup is not holding the foot in place).
You’ll then put on a second pair of shoes and run again. This shoe will be based on your foot type, dictated by the results of your initial analysis. We recommend that you ask the running shop staff if you can run up and down the store or, preferably, outside. There are plenty of runners who run differently on a treadmill compared to outside. Also, treadmills are embedded with their own cushioning, so a slightly cushioned shoe may feel too firm on the ground.
After the second recording, the data from both videos will be compared, so that the analyst can offer you the running shoes best suited to your gait.
This method is not without its sceptics, however, and it’s wise to educate yourself before opting for a shoe based on gait analysis. The best advice is to trust how you feel, not what the running staff tell you will work in time. Running shoes are not the solution to the majority of injuries in running, so, to be a better runner, seek a running technique coach.
There’s no denying that comfort — in running terms, this is the absence of pressure points in the shoe from the ground or the internal structure of the shoe, which may hurt the foot — is important for performance and to mitigate the risk of injury.
When you’re shoe shopping, follow these tips:
- Try out multiple pairs and don’t feel like you are being difficult — you want what’s best for you
- Explain whether you are a newbie or an experienced runner — this doesn’t affect the type of shoe that’s right for you, rather, it will allow the salesperson to consider price versus quality in their recommendation
- Explain your niggles and any history of injuries — chances are, if the salesperson knows anything about running, this information will help.
- If the salesperson doesn’t perform any tests of flexibility, question their knowledge of the body. No knowledge of foot structure or leg anatomy can be a red flag
For most people, the best running shoes are neutral with average cushioning, however, be aware that pronation of the foot is a natural phenomenon. Overpronation (when the ankle moves towards the ground and overlaps the inside of the shoe — what your salesperson should be looking for) affects the body’s natural alignment and causes increased impact on the foot whenever weight is put on it. This puts people at more risk of developing injuries — sometimes severe — from overuse.
Fixing overpronation is not as simple as buying a shoe with a firmer sole under the arch or ankle. If the salesperson describes you as an overpronator, the first thing you should do is ask why. Flat feet? Navicular drop? Lack of strength in the lower leg? Previous history of ankle twisting or pain? All of these are red flags and you should seek advice from a specialist. It might be that having a stiff heel cup would “hold” the ankle in place, as the arch height and foot strength are fine. Again, if the salesperson has not indicated the reason for overpronation, seek better advice.
Aside from fit, the cushioning of the shoe is likely the next feature you will “feel” when running in store. More often than not, a heavy runner will require more cushioning than a light runner. This has nothing to do with weight, instead, if you make a loud noise when you “slap” your foot to the ground, the extra cushioning can lighten the load imposed on your joints. Cushioning for forefoot runners is rarely a concern.
Ultimately, if you have to make a decision about a shoe based on comfort, do not pick the shoes if you can answer yes to any of the following:
- Does the shoe feel tight around the forefoot and toes?
- Does the shoe feel too long?
- Does the heel rub?
- Does the ankle lift out of the shoe when walking or running?
- Does the foot make the upper (the part of the shoe that covers your toes, the back of your heel, and the top and sides of your foot) bulge when in the shoe?
- Does the shoe feel too hard or firm when you run?
Keep in mind, however, that running shoes cannot guarantee that you’ll never sustain an injury. There are many factors that contribute to this and what helps one individual might hardly make a difference to another.
Choosing Your Running Socks
There is nothing better than slipping on a nice pair of socks when running. Aside from sweat management and chaffing, socks have little performance benefit (they won’t make you faster). However, they are incredibly important for comfort and protection against the harshness of the shoe. Fit, feel and moisture management are key to buying the right socks.
When looking for running socks, choose socks that:
- Are in the right size. Also consider whether you need a high cuff to help with running in mud or the rain
- Are designed to keep your feet free from moisture and sweat. This will reduce friction and, consequently, prevent painful blisters. Look for indication that the brand has considered this on the packaging
- Provide extra cushioning. This can help the shoe fit better to provide additional comfort.
A case for running socks
You might be wondering why running socks seem so obscure, especially when you consider the attention that running shoes get. When it comes down to it, socks are socks, and it can be difficult for brands to get runners excited about them. You may be tempted to stick with your normal socks, but these will prove more expensive in the long run because of the damage they can cause to your feet. If you are looking for durability, consider nylon as a material, however, nylon is not a moisture-friendly as other synthetics.
Running socks now benefit from technological innovation — they are made with double layers, which absorb friction and wick moisture away to prevent blisters. Ask any runner what one of the biggest hindrances to them carrying out their daily running routine is, and they’ll tell you it’s the development of painful blisters.
Choosing Your Running Shorts and Tights
Running shorts must be able to wick away moisture and sweat while you’re running. They also need to be lightweight with liners to avoid restriction and chafing. It’s important to find the right balance — shorts that are too tight can cut off your circulation, so opt for looser-fitting shorts with a drawstring to prevent them from moving uncomfortably when you’re in the middle of a run. Different brands of short will have different cuts, so always try before you buy or, at the very least, refer to the sizing chart and ensure you’re able to get a refund if you need one.
Tights are a must as the weather starts to get cold. Not only do they help protect against rain and wind, but they also keep you feeling warm.
There are various types of shorts available, so how do you now which one to choose? Let’s take a look at each more closely:
- Compression shorts
These are tight-fitting shorts that aim to increase blood flow, muscle support and prevent chafing, and they can easily be worn under loose shorts for an extra protective layer. There is little evidence that compression shorts (not socks) better your performance, instead, consider these as a tighter, warmer layer to make you feel snug.
- V-notch shorts
These classically styled shorts are probably the most popular and have an upside-down “V”-shaped cut-out, which provides a greater range of movement for runners.
- Split Shorts
These are very similar to V-notch shorts — so much so, that runners themselves may even confuse them with each other. With split shorts, the cut-out is not part of the leg seam, but created by the front panel overlapping the back.
Choosing Your Running Tops and Jackets
Choosing the right running top is an equally important decision. Cotton tops can be worn, but are not advised for long distance running. Cotton as a material will retain more moisture than a synthetic material, which can lead to excessive friction and chafing on the nipples — you want to avoid the dreaded nipple bleed at all costs.
A top-range performance top will “wick away sweat” and give you better air circulation. In truth, skin evaporation is the best mechanism of cooling you down, so introducing airflow is the best way to cool down. Some fabrics are reversible, so they will keep you cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cold. This is vital when you’re out running during colder months and your body’s constantly working to regulate your temperature.
A top should be tight, but not figure-hugging. You don’t want to restrict movement, nor do you want your top flapping around while you’re running. If you opt for a long-sleeved top, make sure the sleeves are cuffed, so they stay on your wrist. This will prevent them from running up your arms and making you cold.
We all have days when we wake up knowing we should go out for a run, but it’s just too cold and miserable. To stay warm and dry, invest in a wind-breaking and rain-resistant running jacket. You need not worry about extra weight, as today’s jackets are made from synthetic fabrics that are so light that some men’s large jackets weigh in at just one ounce!
You might be tempted to wear a rain jacket, but, while weather-resistant, you’ll want to avoid them, as they have almost no ability to vent and breathe.
When choosing the right running gear, don’t be tempted to compromise quality for price. Consider it an investment in your health — with the right shoes and socks, you’ll prevent blisters from forming, while the right shorts, tops and jackets will give you flexibility in movement and are able to resist the weather — there’s then no excuse not to go out for a run.