This story is part of an ongoing series aimed at new runners.
With running clothes seemingly as smart as your iPhone, it can be overwhelming to know just what you really need to gear up for a run. Actually, it’s not much.
Function and comfort should be at the top of your list; once preferences are narrowed down, you can have fun with fashion, flair and color. Forrest Gump hit the road in a pair of khaki pants and a button down shirt, and Will Ferrell’s character, Frank “The Tank” Ricard, opted to go streaking in “Old School.” (We do not recommend copying the style choices of either of those movie characters.) The best running apparel combines performance-oriented function with comfort and fashion.
Chances are you have some athletic clothes in the back of a drawer that are fine to get you started. That said, there are some basics that will make any run more comfortable. A previous “New Runner” installment focused on appropriate footwear—running shoes—but you’ll also need a shirt, shorts and socks. A hat and watch are useful accessories, and women will want (and need) a supportive sports bra. As for price, good options are available at every price point.
There are preferences aplenty when it comes to running bottoms. Men can choose from traditional sport shorts of varying lengths, split shorts, compression shorts, knickers or tights. Women have all of those options plus running skirts. It comes down to what performs well for you and what makes you feel good during a run. Look for pieces made of lightweight, sweat-wicking material with good drape that doesn't bind as you move or impede your stride. You can also shop for additional amenities, such as pockets, reflective highlights, wide waistbands and drawstrings.
Ladies need to begin their ensemble with a properly fitting sports bra. Meant to minimize motion during the high-impact effects of running, sports bras generally work by way of compression, encapsulation or both. A bra should move moisture away from the skin and have a comfortably snug fit without rubbing or digging. If possible, go to a store where you can try on different styles. And don’t be shy—ask for sizing advice and do jumping jacks or run in place to find a perfect fit.
Technical Running Shirt
Short sleeve, long sleeve, singlet and tank tops—they can all work. The only “right” option is what works for you based on your style choices or the weather conditions. Don't wear a cotton T-shirt. They soak up sweat and that can lead to chaffing, discomfort and chills. Instead, look for a “technical” shirt, generally made of synthetic fibers that wicks away sweat and breathes, leaving you feeling cooler in hot weather and warmer in cool weather. Flat seams and seamless construction help eliminate chafing in high rub zones.
Feet take a pounding when you run. Thankfully, the proper sock choice can help reduce foot friction, impact and blisters. There are great options made from synthetic fibers, cotton and wool or some kind of blend. Look for smooth seams, moisture-wicking properties, a secure fit and the proper cushion to suit your preference—you may need to try a few styles before you find your perfect fit. Over-the-calf compression socks have become popular in recent years to help reduce muscle vibrations and increase circulation, but be aware that most of those models provided added warmth too.
A basic sports watch can track your time while running. Fancier models can track distance, steps, heart rate, calories burned and stride rate, with options for downloading and analyzing workout data. The price generally increases along with features. The “best” watch is one that you can operate, has the features you need and fits within your budget. There are also phone apps that perform the same functions.
While any old sports cap will do, a running specific hat or visor can make a run that much more enjoyable by soaking up sweat, blocking the sun and keeping hair out of your face. Look for a moisture-wicking fabric, a soft brow band, an adjustable back, a ponytail port (if needed) and enough of a brim to help shield your eyes from the sun.