If you’re just getting started on your running journey, you might have noticed other runners prancing around in shiny, technical apparel. And you might have wondered, my dudes, what exactly is wrong with throwing on an old college t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts to run?
The answer is: nothing! Whatever you feel comfortable wearing is what you should wear. However, performance apparel – while a little bit pricier than stealing your roommate’s clean laundry – offers comfort benefits to keep you feeling (and smelling) fresher for longer.
Here are some key terms you might find when you’re looking to upgrade your running clothes:
Moisture Wicking: This kind of fabric is designed to pull moisture away from the skin. So while you may be sweating like a pig because you wisely chose to do your run at lunchtime on a 97-degree day, your shirt is also working hard. It’s gathering sweat off your skin and moving it to the exterior of the garment so it can evaporate, thus keeping you cooler, drier and more comfortable.
Moisture-wicking material also works in cold-weather conditions. If you’re dressed in layers and start to sweat, a moisture-wicking base will keep perspiration from collecting on the skin and causing a chill (or worse, hypothermia).
Ventilated Mesh: A little different from its moisture-wicking counterpart, this kind of fabric allows the skin to “breathe” thanks to small, evenly spaced holes in the material. As body heat escapes, cool air flows in, helping to keep your core temperature regulated.
Antimicrobial: Some technical apparel is treated with antimicrobial, or odor-fighting, agents. This prevents the growth of bacteria and mildew, which can lead to that dreaded funky scent that just won’t go away.
Compression: You may have seen the fancy socks or leg sleeves at local races, or even on some of your training runs. Compression gear – which includes socks, leg sleeves, shorts, and tights – is said to improve performance and recovery by basically being really, really tight. This increases blood flow, enabling more oxygen to reach your muscles, while also removing the acids that build up during physical activity. The jury is still out on whether there are actually significant benefits to rocking compression gear – either during or after your run. But it looks cool, and it feels kind of nice, so there’s no harm in trying it out!
Compression can also refer to super-tight baselayers designed to be worn on cold-weather runs. In chilly conditions, you’ll want to dress in layers, and the one closest to your skin should actually fit as close as possible to your skin. Tight-fitting clothes trap body heat, so you feel nice and warm when you start to run.
UV Protection: Fabric with built-in sun protection helps guard against harmful UV rays; essentially, it’s like wearing sunscreen without the grease or that strangely pleasant scent. The higher a fabric’s UPF rating, the more defense it offers. Just keep in mind that any exposed skin is going to need sunblock.
Flatlock Stitching: Chafe no more! Flatlock stitching helps prevent discomfort because the seams are sewn, well, flat against the garment. This discourages irritation (so you don’t have to Body Glide your entire self before every run) and also helps the clothing last longer.
If you’ve got young kids, a crazy schedule or that pesky thing called a job, you’ve probably found yourself trying to squeeze in a workout before dawn or after dusk. In some ways, running in the dark is awesome: no one can tell if you’re on the strugglebus, it’s kind of primal, and there’s a serene quality to being cloaked in darkness. Plus, you can pretend you’re a superhero.
Reflective Gear: Wearing white is a good start, but tons of running companies now make shirts, shorts and even shoes with reflective detailing, designed to catch the attention of drivers (who are looking for road signs and other cars, not for runners). The more illuminated you are, the better. You might think reflective vests look silly, but you’ll look a lot sillier as the hood ornament on somebody’s car, so if you’re running at night or early in the morning, just wear one. Reflective tape is an alternative, but then you have the task of remembering to apply it to your clothes before in-the-dark runs.
Lights and headlamps: Carrying a flashlight or attaching flashing lights to your clothing is a great way to catch the attention of early morning or nighttime drivers. Wearing a headlamp will illuminate your path and help you see imperfections in the road; however, from a distance these lamps can look like porch lights, so make sure to pair them with other reflective elements.
Streetlights: If you can, stick to well-lit areas. These roads tend to be more heavily traveled, but you’ll have a greater chance of being seen, and the overhead illumination might help you avoid faceplanting into that pothole there. Win-win!
To the left, to the left: Beyoncé knows what’s up. Anytime you’re running on the road, but especially when it’s dark, stay to the left, facing traffic. Some people think it’s really important to check Facebook at 4 a.m. while they’re driving. Unless you want to be the subject of their next status update (“Dude, was that a person? #Oops”), make sure you’re in control. This means running toward traffic, so it’s easier to get out of the way if you don’t think a driver sees you.
Crank it…down: Running without music < running with music. And if you dragged yourself out of bed before the sun, or laced up your kicks after a long day at the office, you deserve to have the most fun you possibly can out there. So bring your jams, but keep the volume turned down, or just use one earbud. Since your sight is compromised in the dark, you want to be able to hear if anything is approaching.
The sky is blue, the birds are chirping, and the sun is glinting through the trees that are providing just the right amount of shade. You are on PTO or independently wealthy, and since everyone else is trapped at work, you have a beautiful new trail to yourself. Your steps are light, your pace is smooth, your breathing is easy…
Then you trip over a root and sprain your ankle. You don’t have a phone, so you can’t call for help, and you’re not sure exactly where you are anyway. You didn’t bring water because this was just going to be a 30-minute jog, and now you’re getting dizzy from dehydration. Your ankle is the size of a watermelon, you’re lightheaded from hunger, and it’s getting darker.
Then you get eaten by a bear.
Don’t be this guy.
Trail running is one of life’s greatest pleasures: it allows us to connect with nature and ourselves by removing the restrictions of clocks and concrete. Trails make running a joy rather than a job; plus, the softer surfaces give our joints a break from constantly pounding the pavement.
But trail running can take a wrong turn (literally) in an instant. Before you head out, prepare for the off-road ahead:
Know where you’re going: GPS is a modern miracle, but it might not always function properly when you’re deep in the woods. In unfamiliar territory, run with someone who already knows the trails. Or at the very least, study a map before lacing up. Trails can wind around and switch back on themselves; “I’ll just turn around and retrace my steps” can lead to a whole lot of “Have I seen that tree before?”
Tell a friend: Or your wife, or your brother, or someone who will care if you’re not back in an hour like you said you would be. If you do get lost, it’s better to have people start looking for you early rather than relying on your boss to realize you haven’t shown up for work in a week. And bring your phone; reception might be unreliable, but even enough signal to send a text message can save your life.
Bring water: Even if you don’t think you’ll need it. You probably won’t, but in case you do make a wrong turn and end up in the heat for three hours instead of thirty minutes, you’ll be grateful to have it.
Pay attention: It’s easy to zone out on the trail, but the uneven landscape demands constant surveillance. Rocks, roots and divots in the ground can bring your run to a painful end. Keep your focus just in front of you, so you’re able to react to any change in the terrain.
Remember you’re a visitor: Running in the woods is like swimming in the ocean. Sharks own the waters, and bears, mountain lions, wolves and snakes lay claim to the forests. You’d be miffed if you saw a grizzly in Target, so why should wildlife react any differently to your presence on their turf? Before you take on a new trail, find out what you should expect to encounter on it.
Runners speak their own language, and Rosetta has yet to Stone it. Whether you’re checking out a cute marathoner at the gym or you just want to understand what the heck a buddy is talking about, we can help! Here are some terms to make navigating this tricky vernacular a little easier:
PR: Personal Record. If your runner hits a new PR, he’s run his fastest time ever over a certain distance. Congratulations and maybe celebratory beers are in order! (Sometimes this is represented as PB, or personal best. Of course, PB can also mean peanut butter, a very common runner staple. You’ll need to rely on context clues to distinguish between the two.)
PW: Personal Worst. The exact opposite of a PR; this is your runner’s slowest time over a certain distance. Steer clear and tread lightly for a few days. Runners hate PWs.
BQ: This is a major achievement, and it means running a time that allows someone to enter the Boston Marathon. For a non-professional runner, this is akin to qualifying for the Olympics, so act accordingly.
Negative Split: Though it sounds terrible, this is actually awesome for your runner! Negative splitting (yes, it has a verb form as well) means running the second half of a race faster than the first. It indicates smart pacing and a strong finish, and it can be tough to pull off, so slap on a smile and give your runner some props.
Positive Split: You can probably figure this one out: running the second half of a race slower than the first. It’s very common, but sometimes runners still get bummed out about it, so give yours a pat on the back. He’ll get it next time!
Taper: This occurs in the final few weeks before a race, when your runner drastically cuts his mileage to make sure he’s rested and ready to hit the starting line. This often results in the “taper crazies,” characterized by manic pacing, wild eyes and general misery. Try to engage your runner in relaxing, non-athletic activities, like knitting or binge-watching Mad Men. He might hate you in the moment, but he’ll definitely thank you when he runs a new PR! (See how easy that was?)
Marathon: 26.2 miles. Always. Every time. All of them. Not every race is a marathon, but every marathon is 26.2 miles long. When your runner tells you he’s training for a marathon, “Where is it?” and “What’s your goal?” are appropriate questions. “Oh really, how long is this one?” is not.
Hitting the Wall: Cyclists call this “bonking,” because they’re silly*. This is the point at which your runner experiences a significant drop in energy, whether it’s due to dehydration, lack of food, or simply too much training. It can happen during a race or on a normal run, usually somewhere past the halfway point.
Hydrating: Yup, drinking. Runners are occasionally ridiculous.