Running season is truly upon us, and for those gearing up for a big marathon in 2017, now is the best (and only) time to update your gear. This is to allow you a few weeks or more to settle into it so that come race day, you aren’t fumbling around to adjust to it. From how a sole feels as you strike the ground to how to set pace parameters on your digital training assistant (or even your headphones, which are prone to slipping out when you are drenched in sweat), all this is part of a training regime.
Here’s the gear you will need:
Let’s begin with the basic and yet most essential part of your run. Some may make you go faster, but mostly shoes keep you comfortable, which is crucial when you are pushing your body beyond its limits. Good shoes reduce the chances of injury and absorb the strain of a good day of training.
Training shoes: Puma Ignite 500
The Ignite is the new proprietary sole construct by Puma. As good as they are for their short distance shoes like the Ignite Speed 100 (think Usain Bolt), these are very reliable trainers for long distance running. The shoe is stable and grippy and has ample toe room. It could even be a great shoe for your first marathon. I have used a lot of Puma gear, and as much as I didn’t like their earlier shoes, this current pair shows a distinct ground-up rethink for the entire series.
Race day shoes: Adidas Adios Boost
There are few run-flats I can think of that compare to the performance of this model. The version 2.0 was criticised for having a constricting toe box, but the third and latest upgrade takes care of that. It was adjudged the most successful upgrade of the year, but I still miss the grippy lugs that were present in the previous version.
Gel-based: ASICS leads the pack for gel-based cushioning (as opposed to foam-based). From Nimbus to Kayano, no runner is unfamiliar with their sub-families. It is also currently the only brand to offer extensive 3D foot-mapping and gait analysis, which can help you identify the best fit for your feet.
Cushion maximum: Hoka One One
These are maximalist shoes i.e. maximum cushioning with a minimal heel-to-toe drop. Most running shoes have a drop of about 8-12mm, maybe even more, but these Hokas are different in that they provide cushioning aplenty, but with a toe drop of no more 4-9mm, which means that it is easier to do a mid-foot strike. Also, they are super-light, in spite of all the cushioning.
Overall: On Running
These Swiss-designed shoes are among the most comfortable I have run in, even though their silhouette, with air-cushions, can seem a bit alien. Among the lowest toe-drops in racing shoes, these are a great pair, delivered right to your doorstep in India.
Heart Rate Monitors
Heart Rate Monitors, or HRM, are all the training rage. It is the new way to train, not to merely get faster but to become stronger. The slower your heart beats as the faster you glide is all down to controlled and methodical training. Most new HRMS connect to and display phone notifications and also double up as activity monitors, so they calculate how much you walk on a given day, and remind you, ever so naggingly, when you’ve been idle for a while. Any of these brands listed below will get the job done.
This is the latest triathlon-specific wrist-device with an inbuilt optical HRM. The battery is disappointing, and unless you plan to finish an Ironman distance triathlon in less than 10 hours, it will die on you. For training, it is a versatile tool and can throw up more statistics and data than one may even feel the need for. For example, I now know the time I spend on the ground, which foot I use more and just how much I bob up and down while running. They have another model called the Fenix 3 HR, which will do all this and then some, and also comes in a chunky “boy’s toys” style metal body.
TomTom Spark Cardio
This is for someone who isn’t into extreme or ultra sports — more a beginner to medium-level fitness enthusiast. It tracks all the usual metrics and has a very unique design, with a joystick-like button to control it all. The new version can also store and play music, through a Bluetooth headset. The battery drain isn’t too significant for anything up to 2-3 hours of training. The option to upload and run courses (or off-road tracks) is another great feature that has been added on.
This is first a fitness band with a wrist-based HRM. It will record your activities, but it doesn’t have GPS. What it does have, though, is an innovative bio impedance analysis which tells you about your fat and muscle mass. The device passes a micro-current, and the time taken to travel across your body tells it how much resistance it faced, thereby helping it assess your fat percentage. I prefer not to be reminded how chubby I am every day, so I’ve decided to not opt for it yet. TomTom was the brand which pioneered wrist-based HRMs, and with bio impedance, they’ve raised the bar yet again.
This too has some of the features mentioned above, but given its meagre battery and lack of detailed tracking and monitoring, it seems to be mostly for those whose idea of fitness is purely recreational. This is not a serious fitness tool, even if you opt for its sporty avatar.
Good headgear is useful to protect you from the sun, especially when running long into the day. Halo bands have a nifty strip to ensure that sweat is dissipated to the sides, and not into our face. When you’ve been running in the heat, sweat has salt aplenty and will burn if gets in your eyes. Headsweats is another good brand, one which does more caps than headbands – they have an extensive range, from reflective caps to cycling-specific ones and even some thermal gear.
Eyewear may not seem like a very major accessory, but it can help a lot during a long endurance event or when training in tropical climes. Post 8 AM, you need sunglasses not just to help deal with bright light but to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays.
The leading name in sports eyewear, their last release was the EV Zero range which remains one of the lightest pairs to have rested on my nose – they’re delightfully there yet not there.
This is another technically very sound brand, and their Pivlock Arena series is an industry standard for single-lens sports frames. The Approach Max is a personal favourite, with a wide viewing angle and a fairly composed footprint.
A popular Italian brand with some great designs, the Genetic is the one I would vouch for. The rubberised side and adjustable nose-piece make for a comfortable non-slip grip.
Training hard is all about the recovery you manage in between sessions. The better your muscles rest and rebuild, the more effective your next training session promises to be. For this, compression gear is a very wise investment. During training, by holding your muscles together tightly, they don’t let lactic acid accumulate, which otherwise leads to that familiar burning feeling in the muscles when you are pushing hard. This delayed onset of pain reduces muscle fatigue and helps you perform better. Also, wearing compression gear post session quickens recovery, so that you can bounce back to training hard again. 2XU remains my reference brand for all my exercise routines, as also post-workout recovery. CEP makes compression socks which are great for race-day. Skins is another good brand, but it runs a size too big for most Indians. The Swiss brand X-Bionic is simply superb, but more suited for colder climes.
While many of us can run fast, to run long means a serious depletion of the body’s essential nutrient levels. Even the pros need to rehydrate and nourish the body for a 42.2k race. Planning what to eat or drink can make all the difference between finishing strong and running out of energy before the finish line. Remember, over-hydrating is as risky as dehydrating, and the only way to get this balance right is to work with a range of products and to use them over long distance training, to see what works best. I rely on GU Roctane gels (gooey but effective) and Clif blocks (very jelly-like). Then there is a relatively new and homegrown brand, Fast & Up; they have a range called ProTotal which they claim can give your body a complete performance upgrade. I’m a sucker for explosive adjectives, so they had me at “salmon protein hydrolysate”. And if none of these are available, then some flat cola works fine. I just add some pure rock salt crystals to ensure I keep mid-race cramps at bay.
Things you don’t need a.k.a. The Dispensables
There is a host of products out there which are touted as being essential for your race and yet, you wouldn’t miss them even if you tried. Most people tend to fall prey to slick advertising and end up stocking up on these. These include (but are not limited to):
Special chafing creams
Just use some good old Vaseline or get any gel-style deodorant; they work just as well to prevent chafing in your tender areas. Apply a thick layer. To make sure, repeat.
Aome people swear by them, but they are just cumbersome. It is easier to simply grab those tiny water bottles at hydration stations and hang on to them for the next few kilometres than to be trotting along, with the belt oscillating from side to side.
OK, it’s not that you don’t need it, but it’s more useful if the analysis allows you to choose any shoe rather than just from one brand. The whole exercise of telling you how precisely your foot moves and then prescribing you an off-the-rack running shoe isn’t convincing. The best way to know what shoe works remains to take them on a good few runs, totalling at least 50 km. Unfortunately by then, it’s mostly too late to return them, which is why each run only helps you narrow down the hunt. That said, the 3D foot-mapping by ASICS can certainly help you realise your physical build-up, which you can then use to train your weaknesses away.
Again, a very moot point and this one has plaque-holders on both sides of the elite-amateur divide. Some say it can alleviate injury, others feel it is purely a placebo. If it works for you, great, but don’t make it your designated doctor.
Proper gear serves two purposes. Firstly, it motivates; every time I’ve gotten a new pair of shoes, shorts, a singlet, or even socks, I have wanted to use it almost immediately – and that is very useful in months when training seems like drudgery, like the heat of May or the cold of December. Secondly – and this is most important – good gear will always get you across faster and stronger. It might mean shaving off only a few seconds from your previous best, but when it comes to achieving your new personal record, a few seconds it all that matters.
The author is a well known sommelier. He started running to keep up with his eating and drinking habits. Along the way, he picked up biking and swimming for diversity. Today, several marathons, half marathons, Brevet rides and a few triathlons down, he is on his way to participating in his maiden Ironman. His motivation remains the same: nothing should come between his food and drink!