Aside from training, gear is the most important part of running. Proper gear can make the difference between a successful run or race, or an absolutely miserable experience. So for the next few weeks we will look at running essentials and why they are so important.
Last time we covered shoes, today we are going to look at clothing. In many ways clothing is the easiest part of gear, because a lot of it comes down to personal preference, but for the beginner it can seem overwhelming. So I’m here to share a few basic things to keep in mind when shopping for running gear for the first time.
The most important thing to remember is to avoid wearing regular cotton when running. Your clothes will just get soaked with sweat and will not keep you cool (and will likely chafe). For any running clothing, the key is that it is moisture-wicking, which will draw the sweat off the skin and across the fabric, allowing it to evaporate faster and not become saturated with sweat as quickly, which will help you stay cool and comfortable. The most common moisture-wicking fabric is called “tech” fabric. This is the fabric runDisney uses for their race shirts (except for the 5ks, those are usually just regular cotton tee shirts). It is a synthetic fabric with a satin-like feel to it.
The other common material runners wear is bamboo fabric. Especially in the runDisney crowd, you’ll see a lot of people running in shirts from Raw Threads. Their shirts have all the same benefits as tech fabric (moisture-wicking, breathable, and lightweight) but with a feel more like soft cotton, plus lots of really cute Disney inspired designs. Most of the shirts pictured in Addie’s article from last week were from Raw Threads.
Some people prefer one type of fabric to another; others will wear just about anything. What you wear comes down to two things: that is a fabric label led performance or athletic wear, and what you are most comfortable in.
The good news is, if you are planning on running lots of races, you won’t have to buy shirts for long! Many higher end races, like RunDisney events, give tech shirts as part of their swag. So it can be very easy to find yourself with a closet or drawer full of running shirts. But you have to start somewhere, so you will, inevitably, have to buy at least a few and likely more if you plan on making race costumes. Suggestion: Shop CLEARANCE at your local box store, especially as the seasons start to change. Summer running apparel will be on clearance NOW as stores begin to stock for fall.
Once again, the key thing to remember is comfort. Some people like tank tops, some like tee shirts, some like to go shirtless (for guys) or in just a sports bra (for gals). You need to run in whatever you are most comfortable in. I personally like to wear tank tops in the spring and summer, and either a long or short sleeve tee in the fall and a tee and performance jacket in the winter. But I know people who run in nothing but tank tops no matter what the weather is like. A general rule of thumb is to dress like it is 20 degrees warmer outside than it actually is so you don’t overheat. It just takes a bit of experimentation to figure out what works best for you.
An important aside: lots of people are tempted to race in the shirt they were given at the expo (if a tech shirt is part of the swag). It is commonly accepted in the running community that it is a bad idea. Some people are superstitious and say it “jinxes” the race and that the race shirt should only be worn post-race to celebrate participating/finishing the race. I’m not a superstitious person, but there is a practical reason for not doing this as well. You should never wear running gear to a race that you have never worn before. You never know if the fabric is going to irritate you, or cause you to chafe, or otherwise be uncomfortable. If you wear a shirt that you just got at the expo, you could find yourself a few miles into your race and completely uncomfortable, which can throw you off your game and make it hard to keep up your pace or even finish. If you do a test run in the garment (getting as close to your race conditions as possible) you’ll know what the problems are and will be able to account for them (cut the tag, use Body Glide on an area that is chafing from a particular seam, run in a different shirt, etc.). This holds true for all running gear: if at all possible, avoid running a race in brand new gear that you haven’t had a chance to train in. Don’t wait until a race to try on your costume, no matter how silly you might feel running around your neighborhood in a fluffy tutu and fairy wings, it is essential that you test everything out so you know you can comfortably go the distance in the costume.
There are lots of different options for bottoms. There are shorts, skirts, capris, pants, leggings, etc. There are loose fitting cuts, and there are compression fabrics. When I first started running, I was very self-conscious about my legs. My default clothing is jeans and a tee shirt all year, so the idea of wearing not just shorts, but “runners shorts,” which to me always invoked images of lanky men in bright colored shorts that came only about 6 inches off the hip, was not at all appealing. So I started with a pair of basic “athletic” pants. They were made of performance material, but unlike many running-specific pants, they did not have any compression. I also started running in the fall, so I thought pants were a good idea so I would be comfortable as the weather got cooler. Once summer rolled around, I was more comfortable with myself as a runner, and really uncomfortable running in a pair of black pants in 80-90 degree weather, so I got myself a running skirt. I will still probably never be comfortable in those “runner shorts” but the skirt has opened up a whole new level of comfort when running. Many running skirts (like those from Raw Threads) have built-in compression shorts, which I never thought I’d like until I tried them. Sparkle Skirts are another popular choice at RunDisney Races, Addie even wrote a tutorial on how to make your own running skirt. We will discuss compression wear in detail in a future installment of the Gear for Beginners series.
There seems to be a lot more bottoms options for ladies than for guys. Most of my male running friends either run in basketball shorts or compression, although I do know a few who sport the “runners’ shorts” look.
Yes, there are special undergarments for runners (or more accurately athletes in general). We all know about sports bras, so I won’t say much about those, except I highly recommend getting fitted for one at Victoria Secret or other specialty bra store. Even if you don’t purchase from them, knowing your proper size will help maximize comfort and reduce jiggling. And your sports bra size is not necessarily your regular bra size. I found that for a proper sport bra fit, that I had to go up a cup size from my everyday wear. But every lady is different, which is why getting fitted is a good idea. But beyond sports bras there is also athletic underwear.
When I first started running, I didn’t think they were necessary and I just wore my normal underwear. Then summer came and I started having problems with bunching and chafing and it being the only thing I wore that was drenched in sweat. So I broke down and bought a pair of undies made with tech fabric. And I am so very glad I did.
While I would say it’s a personal preference thing for women (I’ve heard of a few women who forgo underwear completely when running), as good pair of athletic underwear is essential for guys.
Most athletic underwear for men tend to be boxer-brief style. This is for a reason. They allow for some compression of the upper leg (since many men tend to run in baggy shorts) and they keep everything in place, which reduces discomfort and chafing.
I have a confession to make. I LOVE running socks. I don’t wear any other type of sock. I believe that because of the way runners abuse their feet, that they should give special attention to their feet. We previously went over how important a good pair of shoes is, but in my opinion a good pair of socks is right after shoes on the list of essential gear.
Not only are running socks moisture wicking and breathable, but most brands have slight compression to help reduce swelling. My favorite brand, Bombas, doesn’t have those annoying toe seams and also has a blister guard at the heel. Feetures is another good brand, and the advantage to their socks is that they have different cushioning levels to meet your needs. Balega is also popular.
Things to Remember
- Avoid regular cotton when running
- Look for gear with “Athletic” “Performance” or “Tech” fabrics
- Wear what you find most comfortable
- Never race in clothing that you haven’t run in before.
The jacket pictured in this article can be purchased online. TMSM is very excited to publish the “Racing Disney” runDisney series by Addie Clark and Tali McPike. Please keep an eye out for more of their amazing and informative articles! If you missed of the articles in this series make sure you check them at www.themainstreetmouse.com/tag/addie/ and www.themainstreetmouse.com/tag/tali/
If you are planning on running in a runDisney event and have questions, or have participated and want to talk about your experiences make sure you visit our runDisney Forum at http://goo.gl/RLB5ka
- Racing Disney: The Importance of Tapering - January 4, 2016
- Racing Disney: Running (But Not Racing) at Walt Disney World - November 30, 2015
- Racing Disney: How Running Changed My Life - November 23, 2015