Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Salon: What We Talk About When We Talk About Running

Today's post is a continuation of a conversation Verena and I have been having on and off for the better part of the last three years. Why does everybody tell you that running is such a cheap sport and that all you need is a pair of running shoes? And if that is true, why do we have so much running stuff? Do we really not need most of it?
Verena and I started running around the same time and started running together two years or so later. We spent the the end of my time in St Andrews running, going to spinning classes, discussing our current running shoes, the running shoes we were going to buy once the next shoe in our rotation was going to break, good and bad sports bras, the fact that Verena thinks most of my sports clothes are too tight or too short and trying to find good deals on sports clothes in general.
I think it's also fair to mention that Katharina thinks my persistence in running in cotton t-shirts is ridiculous
We've been running all alone in different cities for the better part of 18 months now but we still spend our time talking about running shoes and workout gear.

Katharina:I started running while writing up my undergraduate project, trying to deal with the now ridiculously seeming stress I was putting myself under. I used a pair of old trainers that I think I had bought three years earlier and that had come nowhere near that 500k mark. At that point I was mostly running in yoga clothes, listening to Robert Ullrey's Couch to 5k podkast ( Two months and an undergraduate thesis later I first treated myself to a pair of lululemon pants, had my gait analysed and got myself a new pair of running shoes.

I am still in denial about being a 'runner'. I have little to nothing in common with spandex clad near-olympians sprinting through the park at 6am on a Saturday morning. Or with the lean beef jerky types training for their umpteenth triathlon/iron man/ultra marathon.
I secretly wish I had the stamina to train for a triathlon and get a good time...
I sometimes still wear the same shirt that I had when starting to run (incidentally an old one of Katharina's - thanks!), and breathe like an asthmatic bulldog running after the ice cream van. But I have persisted for a few years now, and maybe it's time to admit that I actually like it. I started to run with the popular Couch to 5k running plan (hiphop version - I will always associate Eminen with my early runs), starting at 6am because I was so ashamed that someone would see me. I quickly discovered I had splayed feet and needed 'real' running trainers. Since then I have gone through quite a few pairs (and in the process became an expert at making use of warranty statements on shoe boxes). To my own shame I have to admit that I recently acquired a pair of running tights (and fell on my face on the initiation run, breaking them in the process). I have recently joined the increasing number of weirdos enjoying running in toe shoes. I have only overtaken one person whilst running, and it felt fantastic. I then turned round and saw that the person was well over 60 and had a wooden leg.

We got the idea for this post because I ran (haha - good one) into someone who was proclaiming that running is not only a great sport, but it is also one of the cheapest ones out there - you only need two legs (or one, or none). After hearing this, I just started a calculation in my head of how much money I have spent on running shoes alone. And how much you can spend if you really want to.

Almost every beginner's guide to running that I looked at on the interweb tells you that it is totally ok to run in t-shirts, shorts, sweatpants, ball gowns, etc. - the only thing you really need is a good pair of shoes.
Unfortunately choosing a 'good pair of shoes' is a bit like signing up to a cult: there are motion control shoes, running flats, stability shoes, neutral shoes, shoes against suspination, and (maybe the current trend) minimalist shoes. I felt as beginner that I was pretty much at the mercy of the guy in the shop trying to sell me shoes - and I still feel that I don't really have much of a clue of which shoe is "best". 
I guess there are about 10-15 established manufacturers of running shoes. Their products are put through tests and assessment by e.g. runner's world every year. And these are are mostly what you would find in a shop doing a gait analysis. At the same time, these models are all in a higher price range.

I currently have 3 pairs in my running-shoe rotation. One pair with quite a lot of support for long runs (though those have been getting shorter and shorter). One pair with little support that is more of a forefoot one that I really like for short, fast-paced runs. One off-road pair that I wear when it's raining or when there's some snow on the ground. If I had to choose one pair I would probably chicken out and go for the support one because I know they will get me through short runs in the dark, long runs when I'm tired, and everything else you could throw at me (even some ice as I found out this winter). Currently, those are a pair of Brooks GTS (which are normally around $100 unless they are on sale).But, once you are wearing running shoes you like and you are running for more than 500 metres or so all the other stuff becomes important as well. There is nothing worse than a sports bra that doesn't fit. Or trousers that keep falling down or keep riding up. Anything that chafes. Oh, and contrary to Verena's opinion, I think the only time it might be ok to go running in cotton is if it's a t-shirt and you are going to the gym.

I think it's all got a bit to do with personal preference. I like running in football shorts (of a certain brand, and one particular model). They're great. Have pockets. Don't chafe, ride up, fall down. For this kind of thing, I don't see how 'specialist' equipment could make my running experience better. Most running tights don't even have space for my housekeys, let alone a tissue.

So tell me about the outfit you're currently running in. If you added up how much you spent on everything, would you die from a heart attack?
©Verena Kersken
-Fivefinger Komodo Sports shoes(bought for 99eur in the sale)
-Injinji toe socks (on ebay for 10eur)
-Football shorts (if they're not on sale they cost about 25eur)
-Nike sports bra (25eur on some website)
-Helly Hansen thermal (under €20)
-T-shirt (skull design, €1.50 from the 1 Euro shop)
-Hoodie (I guess those can easily be obtained for about €20)
-Nike gloves (€5 from TkMaxx)
-A buff (I would guess €12 -15)

I am quite surprised how easily this adds up...what about you?
I just realised that I buy most of my stuff while travelling....anyhow, here is my roundup:
-Saucony Kinvara shoes (bought for $99 not pictured because I forgot to put them in the picture...)
-Thorlos  mini crew socks ($15)
-Lululemon Runder Under Pants ($92, impulse buy at the lulu store, lovelovelove them!)
-Lulu sports bra ($58)
-IronMan Thermal ($12 or so at TJMaxx)
-UnderArmour top (€19 at TKMaxx)
-Rain jacket (not a clue, that one was a present from my parents, I have a second one I got for €59 at TKMaxx)
-NB gloves ($12 on sale at TJMaxx...I bought the expensive ones because they match my bike judging!)
-Fleece headband to keep my ears toasty (€5 or so about 10 years ago...that was a good investment :) )

At least both of us are missing out on the really bells and whistle stuff: heart rate monitor, GPS, compression socks...
I think the really shameful section is the footwear.

My tights were about as much as my shoes....I find that actually quite scary....but they're very pretty, have reflective stripes and they are I guess I got two for the price of one...

See, but with the tights, you don't change them every couple of months. With shoes - you should. I am not even sure, whether that is actually the case, but that's what they tell you.

I think what it's really all coming down to is an honest answer to a couple of questions:
-Is this piece/level of equipment necessary?
-Is it making my run better (either is it making me feel better, or if you're into that, making me faster/last longer)?
-What level of quality is there - and what is best for me?
-Where can I get honest information about things?

I think I noticed in the last few weeks of how easy I fall into the trap of reading up about things, getting more and more interested in them, wanting to try them out, and spending money on them - without changing the amount I run or the speed. Eventually I will end up with the equipment of a professional athlete, but will still run the duckpond round I have always run. Maybe it's also an image thing - I mean, I wouldn't mind having some of the umph of the dude or lady on the poster in the running shop.

I think you are completely right about the whole reading about things and then wanting to try them thing.
The thing is, even if I (consciously) know that having a fancy heart rate monitor is not going to make me run more or faster or whatnot, I am still secretly convinced that the second I end up buying said fancy heart rate monitor I will magically transform into that triathlete you were talking about earlier.
But overall, even if you try not to buy things you don't actually need, it still adds up.

I just think it's a bit of a scam... I mean you re told you don't need anything - BUT good shoes (which will cost you), and then of course all the cheap stuff is crap, so spend some money.
Then, maybe the biggest piece of irony... you read 'Born to Run', read about these little indigenous people who run superfast and far in a loincloth...and go out to buy minimalist shoes for the same price as walking boots.
And proper clothes because you would be freezing in this weather :)
I think that's rather subjective. I am wearing shorts, still (or rather, again)
Well, you might not be the only one on the short-front.

While we were thinking about our own running clothes, we did some super empirical research (i.e. we asked a few of our friends to take pictures of their running gear and asked them to tell us a bit more). If you are as nosey as we are - here is what we heard back :)


©Alex Chase
-Headphones - Philips SHQ4007 (around £40)
-two eGear Guardian lights, one red and one white (about £15 each) 
-aLOKSAK dry bag to keep my iPhone in (4 for £10) 
-Under Armour Draft Catalyst shorts (£28)
-Coreshorts (£35)
-SmartWool Mini Crew socks (£17)
-Nike Vomero 5s (£74)
-not in that picture is the LP knee brace (£17) that I occasionally wear
-Under Armour Compression t-shirt (£26)
-Howies merino NBL Classic (£55)
-old Gap t-shirt (£9)
-my next purchase is a Brooks Essential Run Jacket II for £60-odd...

So if I had to replace all of my running gear tomorrow it would cost over £300, but then I'm not a good example for keeping things cheap. I think I'm just too much of an [Katharina did some censoring here :)] when it comes to having nice things haha... Nobody *needs* £40 headphones, but mine do sound amazing; and there are cheaper shoes out there, but mine are designed for people who under-pronate; and a pair of shorts could cost less than a tenner, but mine are made from recycled plastic bottles... It's probably a placebo effect (or just in my head), but I do feel that if I have stuff I'm happy with, I'll run better.

I started running last January, and made it through to June going 3 times a week until my knee gave out. I kind of quit for the rest of 2012, and I restarted again this January (with a new stretching/yoga program: fingers crossed...). I'm not sure it would be fair to call myself a "serious runner" yet, but I am very committed. 
Things I won't leave the house without: headphones and my iPhone running RunKeeper: I like to keep track of where I've been, but I really need that app telling me how far I've gone and how fast I'm going every few minutes for motivation/to make sure I'm pacing myself.


©Bettina Trueb
- hat, 30€ (?)
- thermal long sleeve (gift)
- running hoodie, can't remember how much it cost!
- running tights, don't remember but they were on sale and a very good bargain!
- 3/4 tights for extra warmth, stolen from mum
- gloves, 20€ (?)
- socks, no idea
- shoes, 80€ (end of season sale, down from 120€)


©Sally Newman-Carter
-trainers £70
-socks £10
-running capris £20
-t-shirt £12
-running bra £25 (but totally worth it!)
-jumper/jacket £15
-sweatband £3

I dont mind spending this on it all - the only thing that really wears out and I have to replace are the trainers, the rest of it has lasted me years. The only thing is I run 5 times a week and can't wash it all quickly enough so I do need duplicates of everything + seasonal variations of course.
I certainly did not used to consider myself a runner, but I think the marathon [I ran a few year ago] changed me - I definitely am now! How many miles per week depends on what stage of training for a particular race I'm at, it can range from 15-30.
The one thing I never run without is my phone - not only for security should I get injured or something, but more importantly(?!!) the runkeeper app! I use it to track every run to keep a record of my pace, improvements, distance etc. absolute essential!

As you can see - running isn't cheap. However the reason may be that getting into running is highly corelated with an interest in running stuff (which of course needs to be tried). I think we all have something we had for a number of years, and it just turned out to be the best piece of equipment... but there seems to be room for more at every corner.

I guess what it boils down to for me is the following: 
Whatever sport you do, there is no point in doing it if you will end up hurting yourself. For running, that starts with what shoes you wear and ends with wearing clothes appropriate for your run. Wearing sweatpants and buying yourself a yoga book is probably going to be cheaper. Though, if I'm perfectly honest, I have spent just as much money on a yoga mat as I spend on a pair of cheaper running shoes. It's the best mat I've ever had. And it gets me doing something in the morning before I head to work. 
But back to the running gear - we wouldn't know what kind of shoes we like if we hadn't tried them at some point. I discovered that I do actually quite enjoy landing on my forefoot by accident - I was in the store buying some trusty Brooks GTS and didn't want to leave because it was raining cats and dogs outside. After chatting with the salesperson for a while he told me about how he had shifted from midfoot-running to forefoot and let me try out the model he liked. I walked out with a second pair of shoes that day and haven't looked back. Yet, if you had asked me whether I would ever buy a pair of forefoot running shoes when I walked into the store I would have told you 'no way'.

I guess that's true. (You should all try fivefingers - just saying... also they should probably give me a free pair for saying this... ).
But, as Alex said, it is more fun to run in 'nice stuff' - whether that stuff is new, exciting or just works. In the end you will end up spending money on a bunch of clothes that you will wear twice and then keep in the closet. You will spend money on dressing appropriately for every weather. You will replace your shoes regularly because you will wear them out. You will end up with umpteen pairs of running socks. At the same time, you will hang on to your 5 year old hoody because it just feels the best.
Trends in running will keep on coming - and I am sure I will fall victim to a few. But maybe I will end up with the perfect leg wear, which will finally convince me to sign up for a race. I am still unsure of how to tell apart fads from useful developments - or which sources and people to trust on equipment advice (not those who spend a fortune on a yoga mat). I am still convinced that no one who starts to run will end up only spending €100. But that's ok. I mean, considering the time you spend doing it - money well spent.

So the bottom line should be: you don't need a lot of stuff for running - if you have comfortable sports clothes that will work, then you're set. The only thing you should probably spend some more money on are running shoes, but if you don't want the newest model and don't care about their colour you could even get those fairly cheap. it took us an endless debate to arrive at the conclusion put forward by every running site out there. Well done.

But we have pretty pictures :)

1 comment:

  1. As I didn't get around to talking about my running habits before Katharina and Verena wrote up the post (shame on me), here are some comments. Unfortunately, at the moment my running habit isn't a "habit" at all. I work too much and I just can't bring myself to get up at 6 a.m. When I get home from work, I'm hungry, tired, and all I want to do is sit on the sofa and stare into space (or the TV). Plus, I live in a city where it's raining most of the time, and when I exercise after work I prefer to do it in company, so I go to a power yoga class or kayaking.
    I also travel a lot for work, and I have a (probably totally unfounded) phobia of hotel gyms. Since I often travel to countries where it's not safe to run on your own as a woman and not knowing the area, I don't run on work trips. On the weekends, I travel 5h to see my boyfriend or he comes to see me, and I don't want to interrupt our "together time" by skipping out for a run.
    This means I end up running perhaps once a month (on weekends when I'm at home by myself), which is totally pointless and means I'm not getting anywhere in terms of stamina. It's really frustrating and I hope I'll be more motivated to run during the week when it stops getting dark at 5 p.m. (but whom am I kidding, this totally didn't happen last summer).

    Nevertheless, I have a set of running gear for each season, although I do try to save by buying it in the sale, or at Decathlon, and I wear my running shirts to yoga and kayaking, where I also recycle my old running tights (they dry fast). I don't see the point in spending a load of money on something I don't use very regularly. Again, the one exception I would make is for the shoes. I have weird feet and legs and my right hip gives out when I run too much in the wrong footwear (this has happened, I was better about running regularly when I was still in academia). When I bought the ones I have right now, it just so happened it was the end of the season and when I had my gait analysed it turned out the ones that fit best were on sale.


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