Monday, April 16, 2012

Running Essentials

In honor of today's prestigious Boston Marathon, it's fitting that I talk about running. For most distance runners, Boston is it: the bucket list item that you stare at and think, someday I'll do that. It has a spot on my bucket list. But if you want to run Boston, you have to qualify. Which means I need to actually run at least one marathon, perhaps more, in order to get a decent time. {One bucket list item at a time, self.}

Like everyone else, I'm still a work in progress when it comes to running, but I have felt my body getting stronger week after week. On Saturday morning, I ran 13.5 miles in just over 2 hours in the sometimes-pouring rain. Yesterday, I wasn't sore. I was so un-sore, in fact, that I spent the day doing tough manual labor in the yard and I'm not sore from that today, either. It takes time for both your brain and body to build up to higher mileage runs, but it's possible.

The more I run, however, the more I realize the importance of things that help me run efficiently--and keep me comfortable in the process. Here are a few things I simply cannot live without:

A running belt
Nathan Swift Waist Pack
I used to think people that wore these were a bit...nerdy. But when you're out running some serious miles, you need something to hold your water/sports drink and gels/energy chews. I have this one from Nathan. It took some time to get used to wearing it, but I like it. The pouch holds my gels or bloks perfectly and the water flask lasts me the whole run. There are options for belts with more water flasks if you require more than one.

Dri-Fit Clothing

The right (or wrong) clothing can make all the difference in the world. Most of it is incredibly expensive, but it's a worthwhile investment. Are you familiar with chafing? Yeah, it's equal parts terrible and disgusting. For that reason, I like to wear clothing that fits close to my body and wicks away the sweat. Some of my favorite brands:

C9 (Target): the prices are great and the gear is well-made for the reasonable price. I like their long sleeve dri-fit tops and sports bras. The stores tend to have better prices & I have gotten some amazing deals on the clearance rack.
Under Armour: Hands down, they make THE best compression running tights for cold weather. The price tag is mind-and-wallet-blowing but they are a worthy investment for those early morning runs in the winter. I have one pair that has held up well over the season and kept me toasty in 9 degree weather.
Lululemon: They make some of the most beautiful and most expensive women's gear on the market. I only have a few pieces (two dri-fit tanks & a pair of running shorts) but I can say that it is some of the most well-made stuff out there. If you take care of it, it will last forever. I purchased my pieces from eBay or through sample sales online.
Brooks: I just love their Nightlife line of very bright (and very reflective) clothing for morning runs. I have a half-zip Nightlife Infiniti long sleeve top in an obnoxious neon green color that I wear often. It's also well made and in my eyes, a worthy investment in making sure I don't get mauled by a car before sunrise. I bought it for a deep discount on 6pm, which is a company owned by Zappo's. They typically carry last season's designs in clothing and shoes at really good prices.

A good pair of shoes

Just like clothing, there is a big difference between a good and bad pair of running shoes. The right pair can improve your gait and help prevent injury. The wrong pair pretty much does the complete opposite. I recommend visiting a store that will analyze your gait and recommend a shoe or brand based upon your pronation. Most stores don't charge for this service and it's a good way to find a shoe that fits your foot properly rather than buying a shoe based upon how it looks (which is what I used to do). I have always had great luck with Asics and investing in a new pair of shoes every 500 miles. 

The proper fuel

It becomes quite clear that running without enough fuel (read: food) is a recipe for disaster. It takes time to find the right balance and involves quite a bit of trial and error. But when you find something that works: stick with it. If you are training for a race, the rule of thumb is tried and true, nothing new. This means you shouldn't try to eat something new the morning of a race--because it's hard to know how your body will react. Stick to your routine for race day, but don't be afraid to test things out on your regular runs leading up to race day.

I'm still getting there when it comes to the proper food formula. I do my long runs on Saturday mornings and I typically don't eat breakfast beforehand, mostly because my stomach can't handle it. I have no idea why, but it's bad news when I eat beforehand. So, I typically wake up 30 minutes beforehand, take the dogs out and then drive 15 minutes to meet up with my running group. I do, however, eat energy chews or blocks during my run to keep me going. My favorites are the PowerBar Energy Blasts and Clif Shot Bloks. I have yet to find a gel product that I like after some trial and mostly error. I just bought a case of the Clif Shot Energy Gel after hearing good things about the flavor. 

If I have the opportunity to eat an hour or two beforehand, I typically go with a Think Thin bar (chunky peanut butter is my favorite) and a banana before a race. 

It's just that easy: gear, hydration and fuel. Well, that and some mental toughness.

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