2011-05-21

The Marathon: Part II - The Tools

I said before that in order to run, all you need is time and feet. This is true. Running is perhaps the world's oldest sport, and our ancient ancestors didn't use fanny packs and Nalgene water bottles.

When you walk into a beginners-oriented running store, you are inundated with "must-have" products, each more expensive than the last. Moisture-wicking clothing, special socks, bizarre neon jackets, hats that claim to breathe better than your own head, ointments and unguents, sundry jellies and liquids that "hydrate better than water," and dozens of salesmen ready to send you off with hundreds of dollars of "necessary" gear.

Friends, this is a lie. This is marketing. What you need is simple. I have your shopping list right here.

1. A Good Pair of Running Shoes
This is obvious. Barefoot running fads notwithstanding, in order to run a marathon, you'll need a good pair of trainers. (Across eighteen weeks of training, you might even need two pair.) In general, you need not spend more than about $80 on a pair of shoes.

Refer to the diagram below:


What you should look for is a shoe that is even along lines B and C, so that your foot doesn't roll side-to-side at impact. The shoe should naturally curve from just behind line C, all the way to the toe, to ensure a healthy roll in your stride to the toes. It's okay to have some curvature behind line B, but you should not be striking your heel that far back.

Beyond those guidelines, it is mostly personal preference. In general, I find Saucony and New Balance shoes to be the most consistent. Nike is a close 3rd place, and Adidas is not bad. I stay away from the other brands, personally.

2. A Good Watch
Despite all the many technological advances we've seen in our lifetime, they have not improved much on the running watch in the past 30 years. The classic Timex Ironman Triathalon has been my watch of choice - and that of most runners - for my entire life, and I don't see that changing any time soon. Forget your latest $100 gadget, here's all the watch you'll ever need at Amazon.com for $24.

Maybe you don't want a blatant product endorsement. Fine. But if you plan on undertaking my marathon training schedule, just make sure your watch has the following: A chronograph (stopwatch) with at least a 12-lap memory, and a countdown timer with a "Countdown Chronograph" feature (it starts the stopwatch as soon as the timer has finished counting down).

In order to easily keep track of the fartlek training sessions on our schedule, you may want to splurge on a $30 watch, but don't spend more money than that - please. Don't be a sucker.

3. Shorts
I don't have any guidelines here. There are a lot of expensive and not-so-expensive options out there. The key is to find some shorts that are physically comfortable to wear. In order to finish a marathon, you'll be literally running for hours. You shouldn't spend that time chaffing or adjusting your junk, and you shouldn't have to apply Vaseline.

My personal favorites are these Under Armour compression shorts, but you can find a perfectly good pair of shorts at Wal-Mart for $10. Go nuts.

4. A Hooded Sweatshirt
I bought mine at Target for less than $10. Forget the fancy running jackets and moisture-wicking long-sleeved clown shirts. Rocky ran in a classic ash-grey sweatsuit, and so can you. When it's cold outside, throw on a couple of t-shirts and a hooded sweatshirt, and you're good to go.

5. Diabetes Stuff
If, like me, you're a type 1 diabetic, then you'll need to make sure you're carrying the following with you at all times for emergency purposes:
  • Emergency carbohydrates. A little packet of PowerGel is small and easy to carry, and provides a good enough shot of carbs to get you home if you go hypoglycemic.
  • A cellular phone. I don't take one with me on every run, but if you plan on doing a long run alone, you'd be stupid not to take a phone with you if you have an emergency. Ladies who run at night or in isolated places may want to follow suit.
  • Rapid-acting insulin analogue. You'll probably only need to take this with you during long runs, in case your body runs out of insulin glargine/detemir/degludec/whatever. If you go into DKA, you'll want this stuff around.
This means we diabetics are the dorks running around with fanny packs. But hey, it beats death. Besides, nobody else has the cajones to run a marathon with a condition like this. So you have my permission to sock-it-to anyone who gives you trouble over this.

Up Next: A bit about running philosophy.