I’ve always been a runner. Not too seriously—I wouldn’t even call myself a Weekend Warrior since it’s never been a strictly weekly thing—but I’ve always loved tying on a pair of running shoes and hitting the road for anywhere between five and 15 miles. I must have the endurance gene or something (or maybe just a few screws loose).
You’d believe, then, that I haven’t ever really given much thought to the gear I run in. It’s just never seemed like that worthwhile of an investment.
It wasn’t until I started training for the New York City Marathon last month with Team USA Endurance, the official New York City Marathon team of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), that I began to realize what a difference the right gear can make. Speaking of which, the USOC is one of the few Olympic organizations in the world that receives zero government funding and relies solely on donations from people like you and me to pay for athletes’ training, nutrition, travel, and equipment. It’s not ideal, and there’s a real need for contributions, but the upside is that donating even the smallest amount allows you to say you helped your country win medals. If you’d like to support the United States’ Olympic efforts in Sochi and Rio, I’ve set up a donation page in accordance with the USOC here. It’s certainly worth it, and every bit helps.
Since I started my training, I’ve written two blog posts in which I’ve brought in two of the USOC’s elite trainers to explain how both strength training and three different kinds of marathon training can greatly improve your performance on race day. In this post, I’d like to draw from my own experience to tell you about the products that have been most helpful for me, a first-time marathoner. There are three in particular that I feel have made a big difference through little details.
TomTom Multi-Sport GPS Watch
Technically a multi-sport watch, this amazing little piece of fitness tech is great for runners, but also triathletes. It’s got a built-in swim sensor to measure distance, speed, efficiency, laps, and strokes in the pool; and since the watch module can pop right out of the strap, you can hook it up to your bike with the available bike kit that includes a handlebar mount and wheel sensor that measures cadence and speed. There’s also heart-rate-monitor compatibility via Bluetooth, but you’ll have to pick up a chest strap separately. As for running, the GPS functionality is killer. TomTom has been making GPS devices for automobiles for years, and the watch finds a signal faster than any other model I’ve used. The screen is my favorite part: It’s big, clear, and allows you to prioritize which information is displayed the largest. For example, you can have your big number be pace, and relegate time and distance to the two smaller sections (if, like me, you tend to watch those digits way too closely while running). Switching this up happens with the click of exactly one button: You just cycle through configurations until you find the one you want. All of your interactions with the watch (except for activating the backlight, which is done by tapping the screen) happen through a four-direction touchpad below the display. Menu navigation is extremely basic, and a quick burst of vibration for each click means that most of the time you don’t even have to look down. And if you’re doing all your running when it’s dark outside, as I am, Night Mode will keep the display illuminated throughout. Plus the thing just looks cool. If Apple designed a GPS running watch, this would be it. $200, tomtom.com
New Balance Glow in the Dark 1400
There are obviously a lot of great running shoes out there from a lot of respected brands, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about what best fits your needs. One of my needs, for example, is to not get hit by oncoming traffic when I’m running before sunrise. This shoe, which New Balance touts as its “most visible,” incorporates three levels of visibility in its design. In regular or low light, the shoe’s fluorescent yellow and green colorway is bright enough for subway conductors underground to sense its presence. (Okay fine—it’s really, really bright.); and when darkness falls it’s got the usual reflective surfaces; but when it’s really dark—as in, winding roads with big trees, tight turns, and no streetlights—this shoe glows in the dark in the coolest way possible. It would be Tron’s shoe of choice if he were partial to green. On the tech-spec side, it also falls right in the sweet spot—for my preferences, anyway—weighing in at just 7.1 ounces with a synthetic mesh upper that makes it feel even lighter. There’s also a 10mm drop, which puts it just shy of minimalist territory, but close enough that it doesn’t feel like your average clunky running shoe. They’re also a perfect fit for the orthotics I recently picked up to improve my running form (which they have) and prevent injury, another game changer altogether. $90, newbalance.com
Nike Pro Combat Hyperwarm Dri-FIT Max Compression Tights
I never thought I’d be the guy running through Central Park in running tights, but after I started noticing them on every other guy that passed me on my 5:30 a.m. runs before work, I had to pick up a pair to see what all the hype is about. Now I can’t imagine doing a morning run without them. The first advantage you’ll experience is the warmth; you can say good-bye to that chill that bites you as the door opens and then lingers for the first mile. But what I really like about these things is the compression fit, which still manages to allow a full range of motion. I feel more together, and my running form improved instantly upon wearing them. And when you’d expect them to make you overheat, they don’t, thanks to the moisture-wicking Dri-FIT fabric. In terms of the smaller details that can become larger issues on long runs, the elastic waistband is comfortable, and all the seams throughout are flat, so chafing will never be an issue. Granted, I still wear regular running shorts over these to store my nutrition (Clif Shot gels, if you’re interested), but that’s only due to the lack of pockets. $60, nike.com