After almost a year of running and quite a bit of money spent in various gear and gadgets, I now have a well formed opinion on what is useful and what is useless.
An absolute essential. Don’t run long distances with cotton t-shirts, definitely buy tops made of a technical fabric such as blends of polyester and elastane. My favourites are the ones from Tribesports (I have no commercial agreement with them, they’re just really good). If cotton is absolutely prohibited, I also recommend against running with the t-shirts given at races because they’re usually very loose. Don’t follow this advice and you’ll risk nipple chafing, you’ll be warned: Jack of all trades learned it the hard way in the Bordeaux half-marathon.
Arguably, it’s not as important to have good running shorts as it is to have good tops but it’s so much better to run with very light shorts and I think they’re worth the extra quid. Then again, cotton will provoke chafing inside your thighs, so avoid at all costs.
On cold winter days, tights or leggings are really appreciated but I found that even the cheapest ones were good enough.
Don’t waste your money there. Pricy technical socks are utterly useless. I can’t see the difference between my £2 pair of low-cut Decathlon running socks and my £15 pair of double-walled, padded pair of Mizuno running socks. If you want to avoid blisters and black nails, the solution is in the shoes, not in the socks.
I haven’t tried all the accessories yet but I think most of them are useless (ok, maybe a water bottle is a good thing to have during a long run or a trail). The one accessory I bring to all my races is a wrist sweatband to wipe off my forehead and avoid sweat dripping in my eyes.
I don’t have an opinion on compression gear yet. It might be useful, but to recover and avoid muscle pain, I think nothing beats a long session of stretching after running.
Then again, I’m a big fan of gadgets but I have to admit that most of them aren’t really useful. I would say that the watch is the only one that will help improve your running and at a beginner level like mine, it’s mostly about the timer and the pace: the value of a heart-rate monitor is debatable at best. But I think runners definitely don’t need a phone or an mp3 player. Some will argue that if you need music to run, it’s because you don’t like running.
I’ll finish with the most important piece of gear: the shoes! Of course they’re useful, it is essential to have shoes that fit you and your running style – as you know I’m a strong advocate of minimalistic shoes and barefoot-style running. My piece of advice is to always buy one size above your real size, it will save you from blisters and black toenails, especially if you have a Greek foot or a Celtic foot like me.
Now, I want to make the case that shoes are actually useless, and I’m slowly making the transition to barefoot running (I’ve tested some pretty minimal stuff already). Hopefully in a few months or years, I’ll be able to race barefoot!