In her book, The Complete Book of Women's Running, Dagny Scott recalls trying to find appropriate shoes first as a youngster, and then as an adult runner, in what she calls "the stone age of the sport" – the 1970s. She'd simply find the smallest men's shoes she could find, and stuff the toes with paper towels.
Eventually, manufacturers started making women's shoes that were more than simply small, cutesy-coloured versions of their regular shoes. The same now goes for all running gear: you don't have to make do with ill-fitting men's clothes and footwear. So be specific in your demands and remember that investing in quality kit will potentially save you from injury, and will certainly save you from discomfort.
And while function takes precedence over form for this section of your wardrobe, manufacturers know looking good is inextricably linked to feeling good, so you'll find flatteringly cut running kit that makes you want to head out and run.
Many women have narrower feet than men of the same shoe size – if you are one of them, try brands such as New Balance or Asics, who do a range of width fittings. Alternatively, Nike's PEG custom and adidas's miadidas system allows you to custom-build your own shoe.
Remember, your feet need plenty of room when you're running, so don't let vanity convince you to chose a pair smaller than you really need. Most runners wear trainers at least one size bigger than their normal shoes – if they are too small, you'll end of with sore feet, black toenails, or no toenails at all.
Along with good shoes, a sports bra is the most important piece of kit you need. The benefits they offer are not dissimilar to a proper pair of trainers: comfort and support are the priorities. There's no one right bra for any particular size or shape, and you'll probably try several before you find one that works for you. Perceptions of acceptable comfort and bounce are individual – you might love a bra that a friend simply can't abide, so trust your own judgment.
There are two different styles of sports bras: the traditional, encapsulating sort that "divide and conquer", and compression bras, that "squash" everything into place. If you have wide shoulders then compression bras may be more tricky to put on and take off.
It is important to replace your sports bra once it has worn out. Watch out for elastic that sags, or fabric that piles or loses its shape. Some women find their shape changes so much during their menstrual cycle that they need bras in two different sizes to stay comfortable. So re-measure yourself if your weight changes, you start or stop taking the pill or go through the menopause – you may well have changed size.
If you have had children and breastfed them, the structure of your breasts will be altered permanently. A bra with a higher front will be more supportive and comfortable. Traditional-style bras are best for new mums who are breast-feeding.
Avoid bras with a deep, elasticated band around the ribs if you want to wear a heart-rate monitor. If a bra has catches or seams that rub, try using a natural, oil-based lubricant. Whatever you use, remember it is likely to discolour a white bra.
Watches and Heart-rate Monitors
When Runner's World readers were asked to list their essential kit last year, heart-rate monitors came out on top. Unfortunately for the female runner, using a heart-rate monitor can be an uncomfortable experience, requiring 10 minutes before your run to make an extra hole in the strap of the huge wrist monitor and then another 10 minutes to fit the chest strap under your sports bra in a way that won't inhibit your breathing.
Realising the potential in this market, more HRM manufacturers are producing models for women, and some come with sports-bras specifically designed to accommodate the chest strap without impinging on the performance of either the bra or the sensor.
If you are choosing a watch, go for a female-specific model only to see if it has all the functions you want. Ask to see the specifications for both male/female versions of the watch you are interested in – unfortunately, there are some manufacturers who think that a runner who wants a watch with a baby-blue strap won't also want a 50-lap stopwatch and multiple-countdown function.
The chances of a women being attacked while out running are very, very small. But don't take unnecessary risks: be aware of your surroundings, don't wear a personal stereo; if you need more peace of mind, consider carrying a personal alarm and/or your mobile phone. Then if you turn an ankle you can call for a lift, rather than facing a long limp home.
A more pressing hazard is being knocked down by a car or a cyclist. Wear bright, reflective clothing for high visibility when running after dark; don't assume a driver has seen you and is going to slow down to let you cross.