I started my running career in high school with a few pairs of $7 cotton Soffee shorts and a bunch of old tee-shirts. Pants from Walmart or K-Mart completed my ensemble in winter, along with sweatshirts - yes, I wore good old fashioned Rocky-style crewneck sweatshirts - and drawstring sweatpants. Sometimes I even rocked the sweats with rubber around the ankles. Running doesn't require any fancy gear. You can get out there and run in anything.
However, after I'd been sweating it out in 100% cotton for a few years, I slowly came to realize that tech fabric clothing might be worth the extra $$. Special synthetic fabrics with moisture-wicking technology are far more comfortable then ordinary cotton. It is also true that as a distance runner, you will need to carry certain things, primarily your keys, and possibly some food/fuel, money, and maybe your phone. For these reasons, I truly appreciate innovations like runners shorts with built-in pockets, and a waist pouch to carry things.
Yet, I never could convince myself to buy any fancy new clothing until I started working at specialty running shops. After a few months at both the New Balance store, and Greenwich Running Company, and being exposed to the specialty running apparel nearly every day, my resistance eventually wore down... and I wanted everything! (The employee discount certianly didn't help matters.) At New Balance I ended up buying arch supports and special cross-trainers for the gym. (prior to that, old running sneakers would simply be downgraded to gym shoes) I bought a special lightweight breathable fleece, and quite a few pairs of tops and capri pants. At Greenwich Running Co, I ended up purchasing "The Stick" and nearly bought a foam roller but decided it was far too painful.
Greenwich Running Co was definitely the reason I decided to try Sports Beans; considering they were sitting next to the register taunting me nearly every time someone would grab a handful of the brightly colored little bags like candy. I also became intrigued by Clif Shots, which were good, and GU Chomps, which were flavorful but a little too sugary for my taste. (Note: To this day I still can't stand the idea of consuming straight GU, and would much rather chomp on gummi bears and Sweedish Fish during a race than put anything that literally looks like "goo" into my body.)
Even though my running accessory purchases have been few & far between, I've managed to accumulate quite the collection over the years. Here's a quick snapshot:
- New Balance running fleece - bought while working at the New Balance store. when you're exposed to something you want for days on end, you tend to eventually cave, and so it was with this fleece. After weeks of deliberation, I decided I must have it.
- Wind-resistant mittens - free back stock from NB store. althought they aren't attractive, they DO block the wind and cold, and actually keep my hands warm (no small feat!) through the worst winter months.
- New Balance women's running tanks - my first real "tech" fabric tops. also used at the gym.
- Nathan waist pack - bought at the expo the day before the Philly marathon. Thank goodness I purchased this! otherwise I would have been running with a plastic bag of candy literally in my hand for the entire marathon!
- Saucony running shorts - purchased while working at Greenwich Running Company. I spent the better part of an afternoon trying on every single pair by every single manufacturer in the entire store, and deemed these the best fit and most comfortable. My very first "tech" running shorts.
- LL Bean reflective arm bands- gift from dad so I wouldn't get hit by cars at night.
- Reflective ankle bands - bought recently at the bike shop to supplement arm bands for added visibility. original intent was to use for night bike rides, but I soon realized they could easily be used for night-time running visibility as well.
- Lululemon arm warmers - fantastic, fantastic purchase. LOVE THEM. they cover my hands and have a nifty hole for the thumb. reflective strip running along the entire arm. 'sticky' lining at the top to help keep them from falling down, pockets on the hands for keys and whatnot.
- Lululemon wrist pouch - great for holding keys, Metrocard, credit card, and maybe some cash... when I don't have any pockets. all the accessories at Lululemon are so innovative and amazing but usually a bit too expensive for my taste. The wrist pouch and arm armers were just "could not pass it up." I even tried to get the matching winter gloves with a special static finger tip for operating the touch screen on my phone, but sadly I didn't move fast enough and they completely sold out...
- Smartwool headband and neckwarmer - splurged at JackRabbit this past winter in hopes of insulating myself from the freezing temps and protecting myself from the harsh freezing winds.
- Fluorescent orange arm warmers - snagged at the NYC running show, supposedly made of the same day-glo fabric that construction workers wear for visibility
All of this stuff is great - and certainly very useful - but not necessary at all. I don't think any of this really makes you a better runner. It's just a luxury. You can buy all the fancy stuff, or you can completely go without. Either way, you can still run!
Even with all my gear, I'm nowhere near as 'decorated' as other runners... I see people wired up to their iPods, mp3 players and gps devices. People have chips in their shoes and gps technology in their watches. They wear heart rate monitors and fuel belts that make them look like they're about to go on a mountain trek in the Appalachians. I'm not criticizing... Everyone needs to do what works for them. If music helps you tolerate your run, and if extra fuel & hydration helps you go even farther, then go for it! A little help along the way is fine - as long as it enhances your running experience, and doesn't detract from it.
It's just for me, running is all about freedom. It's about feeling weightless and flying along without restriction. About escaping the monotony of daily life. About clearing your mind. I would hate to complicate things beyond that, or feel burdened by extra accessories. I don't want to have to worry about securing my arm band, or setting my gps, or finding a place to carry my phone. I want to be able to lace up my sneakers and dash out the door. The essence of running is beautiful and natural; to me it's simple and requires nothing more than a desire to get out there. Let's try to keep it that way.
PS - I would however argue that a good pair of sneakers is absolutely essential.