For Part 1 of this series, click here. Or scroll down a little until you get to the second most recent post. Reader’s choice.
Last weekend, I ran the second half of the SF Marathon, my third half-marathon. It was a widely attended run, probably one of the biggest–if not the biggest–running event I’ve participated in. For most larger runs, they usually host an “expo” event where you can pick up your materials before race day, mostly for convenience for both the runners and race organizers (and it gives sponsors a chance to hock their wares). So on Saturday, I went to Fort Mason to pick up my bib, timing chip, and shirt. What I saw there astounded me. Imagine a huge warehouse filled with various booths and vendors all selling various running-related products. Attire. Wearable tech. Food and drink. Products and services to help you both prepare and recover. Admission to future races. Basically, if it had anything to do with running, it was there (and for a one-time, great deal, too!). And the only thing I could think:
Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not knocking any specific product or service. I’m sure they all do wonderful things, and if I keep on doing this running thing, I may start using some myself. But one of running’s main appeals to me is its simplicity: As I said before, you probably have everything you need to go for a run right now, without having to buy anything special. Even more true for beginning runners! Plus, you probably won’t know if any of that cool running gear works for you unless you actually, you know, run regularly. In my humble opinion, if you find the act of running loathsome and a drain on your soul, a compression shirt and super-tight running shorts aren’t going to make the experience significantly more enjoyable. So for beginner runners, I recommend doing a couple of short runs (a mile to two miles to start, at whatever pace you’re comfortable at, and at least once a week for several weeks) wearing whatever you’d exercise in.
However, if you find that you enjoy running–or at the very least, you want to keep doing it–then I do recommend looking into one running-related product: running shoes (even if you’re perfectly fine with what you use now). Not because I think they’ll make you “faster” or it’ll make running easier; rather, it’s a health thing.
Here is a quick anecdote about my experience with running shoes.
When I was preparing for a 10K run–my second “official” race–I ran probably two-three times a week in my regular Nike “Free Run” shoes. After several runs, I noticed a dull ache in my left knee that would flare up. It wasn’t the normal sort of workout ache you know would feel better the next day, and while the pain wasn’t excruciating, it was also worrisome. After talking with some more experienced runners, I went to my local running store (“On the Run” in the Sunset!) to get fitted for a running shoe. I’m not going to pretend like I understood the specifics (something about “pronation” or “amateur-nation” or whatever), but scientific explanation aside, the way I walk/run requires a shoe with a lot of support, cushion, and stabilization. By constantly pounding my legs into concrete (I mostly run on concrete rather than dirt trails), I was putting a lot of stress on my feet, which traveled up to the knee (and other parts of my body). And the shoe they suggested (The Beast by Brooks, which indeed looks very beastly. As in ugly, not Marshawn Lynch-strong) would help alleviate that stress. I also got an in-sole to go with it, and after breaking in the shoes, that particular pain went away–a huge relief. For one, nobody wants to be in pain, but two, if you know you’re going to have a particular pain arise, it may discourage you from running–so my new shoes gave me the confidence that I could go on a longer run without worry.
Now again, everything in that anecdote is specific to me. I’m not saying you need to get running shoes. Nor am I saying “stabilization” shoes are better–I know runners who do better with a “minimalist” type of shoe. It all depends on your particular foot and how you run and walk. However, I look at it like this: If you are going to get into any hobby or activity–and depending on your commitment–you need to equip yourself properly. If you wanted to play guitar, what makes the most sense for your purposes: a cheap one from a big retail store or a fancy one from a music shop? I can’t answer that for you, just as I can’t tell you which shoes are “best.” However, if you are going to get into running, then I do believe an appropriate pair of shoes is the most important decision and investment you can make–and really the only one you need in terms of gear.
To close, one more personal take: At the end of every race, I take a picture of myself. Most of the time, I’ll look like a Nike advertisement–Nike shirt, shorts, compression pants, socks, whatever. Because let’s face it: The Nike brand is cool. And most of us want to look cool. However, I have one exception: my shoes, which are either Brooks or Asics. And considering Nike made its bones as a shoe company, I can’t help but find that amusing. When it comes to the most important gear, it doesn’t matter how cool and flashy it looks (and my running shoes look like senior citizen shoes) as long as it gets the job done. Seems like an applicable lesson to many parts of life.
Keep on pushing the pile, friends!