One of the great benefits of running is the lack of expensive hardware. Or so you would think. Shoes, iPods and hydration reservoirs, to name a few items, can really put a hole in your pocket. With that in mind, it’s worth looking after them.
We’ve enlisted the advice of some top kit experts to give you the definitive answer to your queries in our Q+A guide to keeping your gear running.
Q: How can I tell when it’s time to replace my shoes?
A: It’s tough – your favourite pair of shoes might feel like an old friend; reliable and with you every step of the way. But however well you treat them, at some point they’ll let you down. Make sure you keep an eye out for telltale signs that they’re past their prime.
"As a rule of thumb a pair of shoes should last you 500 miles. However, this also depends on, among other things, your weight, running style and the terrain you use them for," says Martin Exley from Brooks Running. If you are unable to calculate your mileage there are two other ways to gauge whether there’s life in the old shoe yet.
- Visible evidence – excessive wear on the outsole or, for severe pronators, a break down in the heel area often indicated by the uppers tending to tilt inwards.
- The 'feel' of the shoe. It won’t feel as bouncy as it once did. Over time the ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) in the midsole of your shoe is compressed as you run, squeezing the air out and deadening the spring in your step.
Q: How can I make my shoes last longer?
A: "Don’t put them on the radiator to dry – the heat will destroy the adhesives. If they are wet, stuff them with newspaper and leave them to dry naturally," says Exley.
Bargain bins might offer great shoes at a fraction of the normal price, but beware – if they are old models, it means they've been decaying as they've sat on the shelf. An old shoe won't offer the same protection as a newly made one, even if it hasn't been worn. "Over time things like ozone and UV from sunlight will affect EVA negatively and break it down," says Derek Campbell, an advanced concepts materials engineer at Brooks. "Do some research, and if the shoes are over four years old, steer clear."
Q: Is it alright to use my running shoes for other sports?
A: You wouldn't use your ballet pumps for rock climbing. In the same way, "only use your running shoes for running – this is what they were designed for," says Exley. Other sports can ruin your running shoes – for example, cycle clips can damage the soft uppers of running shoes.
But Route 1 to wrecking and stretching your running shoes is to hit the tennis court or five-a-side pitch in them. "They are not designed for the kind of lateral movement that these sports require."
Q: Can I use one pair of shoes for all my running?
A: No. Take a nice pair of ultra-lightweight road-racing shoes on a few trail-running events and watch them disintegrate before your eyes. Gritty and stony surfaces will damage a road-racing shoe, which is built for flat, even, asphalt surfaces. Get yourself a trail shoe designed for the rough terrain. You’ll use each different pair less and they’ll end up lasting longer as a result.
Q: Should I keep racing shoes for races and only train in training shoes then?
A: Have at least two pairs of running shoes to help prolong their life and not wear out too quickly. Do some training in your race shoes though, to get a feel for them and to ensure they are worn in before race day. Don’t try anything new on a race day – that especially includes wearing a brand new pair of shoes.
Q: How can I stop my shoes from smelling?
A: Regular hand washing and drying, and using clean socks should all help prevent odour problems. You could also use an antibacterial spray between washes. This will help to kill the bacteria and fungus that cause the shoes to smell in the first place.
Q: What’s wrong with putting my running shoes in the washing machine or tumble dryer?
A: The cardinal rule of running-shoe care is never put your shoes through the washing machine. "The heat and detergents from a washing machine cycle and tumble dryer break down the adhesives holding your shoes together," says Exley. The best thing to do if you need to wash your shoes is to do it by hand in lukewarm water. Laborious, but worth it if you respect your shoes - and your wallet.
Q: How long will my sports bra last?
A: Most sports bras will survive 30 to 40 washes before losing their support. "As a rule, we’ve found that for every one pair of running shoes you will need three sports bras," says Selaine Messem from LessBounce. Assuming a pair of shoes lasts 500 miles, that’s a nifty 167 miles per bra. "There’s some evidence that hand washing may make them last longer too," says Messem.
Q: Can I put sports bras in the tumble dryer?
A: No. It's tempting with a load of wet running gear you want to wear later that day, but it’s worth remembering that sports bras are technical garments. "The heat can damage the structure of the bra and it will lose its support. When it doesn’t fit properly it’s no longer doing its job," says Messem.
Q: How do I know when my bra is on its way out?
A: It might sound obvious, but if your bra is falling apart, or even has a small hole in it, there’s a strong chance that it’s not doing the job it was designed for. Here are a few other markers to look out for.
- "A really common sign that the elastic has gone is when a once comfortable bra starts to rub," says Messem. This is a sign that it’s no longer fitting or supporting you and it’s definitely time for a new model.
- Look out for bobbling. Once a bra starts to bobble it’s a good indicator that it may be nearing the end of its useful life.
Q: What should I look for when I’m buying a new bra?
A: Do some research and talk to a retailer to find the most suitable model for your needs. If you’re training for a marathon for instance, explain this and they’ll be able to help you find the right bra.
"Most important of all is the support it gives you. This depends on your body shape, as well as the make of bra that fits you best," says Messem. Remember, it has to fit well and if it doesn’t when you buy it, it’s certainly not going to as it ages.
Losing weight will also change your body shape so it’s worth remembering that dropping a few stone might require a new bra.
Q: Will tumble drying damage the Gore-Tex waterproofing on my shoes/jacket?
A: While much of your kit should be banned from the tumble dryer, waterproof products, such as Gore-Tex, are the exception. "The heat from tumble trying actively improves and rejuvenates the double water repellent treatment (DWR) on your garment," says Jonathan Bell from Gore-Tex.
Q: Why is my waterproof jacket starting to leak?
A: "Make sure you choose the right garment for the right use," says Bell. You’ll damage a lightweight jacket if you use it to run down bramble-strewn trails.
Look for holes or tears: cross-country and trail running lend themselves to thorns and foliage that can rip the fabric. If everything is intact, the waterproofing treatment may have come to the end of its life. If this is the case you need to buy a recommended waterproof spray product and re-spray it.
"The more you use your garment, the more quickly it is going to deteriorate,” says Bell. If you’ve worn your jacket every day for a few winters it might be time to get it re-treated.
Dirt will stop water from beading and rolling off your garment. The DWR treatment lowers the surface tension of the water droplets and that’s what stops the water from soaking into the fabric. "People underestimate the importance of washing their garment," says Bell. "It’s the washing and drying that helps the waterproofing layer to perform most efficiently."
Q: How can I keep my T-shirts from smelling?
A: Choose made-made-fibre T-shirts that wick away sweat from the body. Cotton T-shirts absorb sweat very easily and provide the perfect breeding ground for the odour-causing bacteria that feed on your sweat.
There are a number of detergents on the market specifically designed for athletes. And some people swear by using baking soda in a wash cycle. Baking soda neutralises the acids that cause the smell created by the bacteria breaking down your sweat.
Make sure you wash your T-shirts on a hot wash, too. Sixty degrees will help to kill the problem-causing bacteria and odour-causing molecules.
If all else fails, throw your T-shirts away. It might well be an expensive solution, but worthwhile if you find a sudden increased popularity among your fellow club runners on training runs!
Q: What’s the best way of cleaning out my reservoir if I’ve been using energy drinks in it or if I’m putting it away in storage?
A: Use a sterilising tablet as you would for a baby's bottle. "Fill up the bottle or bladder, drop the tablet in and leave it overnight before washing it out and hanging it up to dry," says Richard Samuels from Zyro, distributors of Camelbak products.
Another quick and easy method is to keep the empty bladder in the freezer to prevent any microbial growth in it.
Q: How often should I need to replace my reservoir?
A: If you follow the instructions and look after it you shouldn’t need to replace it. Companies such as Camelbak offer lifetime guarantees on their reservoirs.
Q: What features should I look out for if I’m going to buy an MP3 player?
A: Choose a model that uses solid state flash memory rather than a hard drive memory. "Hard drives have moving parts that can be damaged if it is used for running," says Josh Welensky from Advanced MP3 Players.
Many more manufacturers are using solid state flash memory now as the price comes down, but ask your retailer before you buy.
Q: How can I keep it safe when I'm running?
A: Holding it in your hand is not only annoying but likely to result in it landing on the ground at some point. The solution? Buy a silicon skin or arm strap for your product to protect it from water, sweat and impact damage. Most of the main manufacturers now offer a wide range of accessories to suit all shapes, tastes and terrains.
Q: What should I do if I get my MP3 player wet?
A: "It’s not necessarily fatal," says Welensky. "Don’t try and open it or turn it on. Leave it in a cool dry place until it has completely dried out (up to a week). If there hasn’t been any damage to the circuitry it will often start to work again."
HEART RATE MONITORS
Q: Will I damage my HR monitor if I wash the strap?
A: Washing the elastic strap regularly in the washing machine at 40ºC ensures it gives you reliable measurements and maximises the life of the transmitter. However, the curse of the tumble dryer strikes again, as the heat will damage the elastic.
Q: How am I most likely to damage my HR monitor?
A: "By either forgetting to detach the transmitter from the strap and washing them both under running water, or alternatively, not washing the strap at all. Any dirt will impair the functioning of the transmitter," says Toyin Fatile, technical support supervisor at Polar Electro UK.
Storage is key to maintaining your monitor, too. "Don’t keep it stored in a damp environment. Sweat and moisture may keep the electrodes wet and the transmitter activated. This will shorten the battery life," says Fatile.