Running Essentials

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If you’re just getting started, don’t be befuddled by terms like wicking, pronation or GPS. Get everything you need - not what the shop assistant wants to sell you – with our guide to key kit essentials.

If you’ve been running for a while, you’ll probably own a version of most of these items. But if you’re a beginner, this list should get you on the right track and help you enjoy years of safe, rewarding running.

1. The Right Running Shoes

Why? A good running shoe is the single most important thing a runner needs. There are two key words though: running and you. Firstly, don't run in a shoe designed for any other sport, because it won't provide the cushioning and stability that the repetitive action of running requires. Secondly, go shoe-buying with patience and an open mind, to a specialist running shop. Unfortunately, just because you like the look of a shoe and it fits, it doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Arm yourself with an up-to-date RW Shoe Guide, then head to a good specialist retailer. They'll spend time analysing your running style and history before making suggestions. Try on a range of shoes across different brands, styles and sizes, jog around in the shop, and don't be afraid to go elsewhere if you don't feel any of them are right for you.
Expect to pay: £60-£90
Read more: How To Choose A Shoe | Interactive Shoe Finder | Spring Shoe Buyer's Guide 2009

2. A Sports Watch

Why? If you’ve stepped up to a training programme, a specialised sports watch will come in very handy. We're not suggesting you become time-obsessed (leave the watch at home for leisurely recovery runs and long, slow sessions), but once you've passed those early months, structured speedwork sessions and carefully paced racing are a surefire recipe for running faster. Most speed and distance monitors will be able to store lap times and mile splits, let you upload a training plan and download incredibly detailed stats to your computer, so you can get the most out of your session. Being able to see patterns in your training can help identify mistakes too: do you set off too fast and tire quickly? Just how steep was that hill? There’s a huge variety of kit available, from add-ons for mobile phones and iPods, to powerful wrist units with footpods.
Expect to pay: £10-£300+
The next step: RW Test: Speed and Distance Monitors | GPS: Your Questions Answered

3. A Technical T-Shirt

Why? Technical (or 'wicking') T-shirts move sweat away from your skin to the outer surface of the fabric, where it evaporates. They feel light, cool and comfortable against the skin, unlike cotton, which gets heavy and damp when you sweat. They're usually made from nylon (or brand names like Coolmax, Dri-FIT or Climalite), and the good ones work so well that they're virtually wearable straight out of the washing machine.
Expect to pay: £15-£35
Read more: Men's T-Shirt Reviews | Women's T-Shirt Reviews

4. A High-Impact Sports Bra

Why? There's only one excuse for not wearing a sports bra when you run, and that's being male. Otherwise, no matter what size you are, you need to arm yourself against the irreversible effects of gravity as you run. Why? Because once the ligaments around the breasts stretch, there's nothing you can do to shorten them again. Normal bras reduce breast movement by around 35 per cent, but a good sports bra achieves closer to 60 per cent. A- and B-cup sizes normally suit crop-top compression styles, while larger sizes require moulded cups. Either way, look for a bra which has been designed for high-impact activities.
Expect to pay: £15-£40
Read more: How To Choose A Sports Bra | Sports Bra Reviews

5. A Training Log

Why? Every run is an achievement, and a training log, whether on paper or online, is a record of that. More importantly, it helps to show where you've gone right and where you may have gone wrong in your training. If you want to build on a successful 10K from last year, for instance, you can discover what the key ingredients were in your build-up by checking your log. If your marathon didn't go to plan, your log doubtless has the answer. Did you really do as many long runs as you thought? Or did you take enough rest days and cross-train enough? Some people record everything from the weather to what they thought as they ran, others just note the bare-bones, such as routes and times. Either way it spares your poor family from some earache."Did I ever tell you how magnificently I came back in the second half of the Luton Half-Marathon?" "No! Mum - tell it to your log!"
Expect to pay: Nothing
Read more: Diary Products | RW Training Log

6. A Bag Of Frozen Peas

Why? Promptly icing an injury is the best way to minimise tissue damage, but ask any expert and they'll tell you it's one of the most underused treatments there is. If you'd rather go through months of physio and running at half-speed to clear up your injury, fine; but we'd rather use the quicker (and much cheaper) option of reducing the inflammation with a bag of frozen peas as soon as it happens. Here's the drill: wrap a bag of frozen peas in a damp tea towel and compress it firmly against the injury site for 12-15 minutes. Try to elevate the injured area. Repeat this hourly, or as often as you can for the next three days. You can use it again if you feel twinges as you gently stretch out the injury on subsequent days.
Expect to pay: £1-2.50
Read more: The RICE Method

7. A Heart Rate Monitor

Why? Runners are notoriously bad at judging the effort they're putting into a run. A heart rate monitor gives you an objective snapshot and helps you know whether you should be speeding up or slowing down for the particular session you're doing. (It's surprising how many of us take our recovery runs way too fast, for instance.) Also, a monitor can help to reflect your improving fitness and act as an early warning signal if illness is approaching. Most heart rate monitors will also be able to calculate your target training zones. A basic model will just report your heart rate, while top-of-the-range versions will be able to count calories and produce reams of other stats.
Expect to pay: £10-£300
Read more: Heart Rate Monitors: The Basics | Complete Guide to Heart Rate Training

8. A Comfortable Drinks Carrier

Why? Think of your body as a car engine. Carbohydrate is its petrol, but water is the oil that keeps all the internal processes moving smoothly. You can lose more than a litre of water an hour through sweat, and this will start to affect your efficiency if you don't replace it. Drinking regularly throughout the day will put your body on top form, but if you're training for more than an hour you should top up your fluid levels as you run. There are various ways of carrying water, but it's important that the method you choose doesn't affect your running style. A bottle belt can carry plenty of liquid, but make sure it doesn't bounce; a hand-held bottle is convenient but it carries less liquid, and the bigger ones may weigh you down.
Expect to pay: £3-£25
Read more: Drinking On The Run

9. A Complex-Carbohydrate Energy Drink

Why? A professional sports drink is the best way to take in large quantities of easily digestible energy. You can use it before training (particularly useful for pre-breakfast runs); during sessions lasting more than 90 minutes; and in between speed reps to help you stay stronger for longer. Half an hour after training is the key window for restoring muscle glycogen and fluid, and a sports drink is a convenient way of doing both. Good sports drinks are made with 'complex' carbohydrates - usually maltodextrin - which pack more energy than 'simple' carbohydrates such as sucrose and fructose. Some also contain minerals to speed water absorption and replace what you've sweated out. Whether you go for powder or a ready-mixed version, the real key is simply to find a brand that you like drinking.
Expect to pay: 40p (powder sachets) to £1.50 (ready-mixed) per 500ml
Read more: A Quick Guide To Sports Drinks | Complete Guide to Hydration | Sports Drinks Reviews

10. A Lightweight Jacket

Why? A running jacket makes training in cold or wet weather easier to face, and is a must if you're training in high country. The key factor for runners is breathability - how well the jacket lets sweat escape. It's a matter of personal preference, but for urban running it’s better to pick a showerproof, highly breathable jacket over a fully waterproof one that steams up rapidly on the inside. Either way, look for a model with plenty of vents built into it, and a slim running cut that allows easy freedom of movement without excess fabric getting in the way. A light mesh lining can help the jacket to feel less clingy, though an unlined option is better if you're seeking minimal weight.
Expect to pay: £30-£130
Read more: How To Choose Winter Kit | RW Test: Lightweight Jackets