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While running is surely one of the most affordable athletic activities, there are a few absolute necessities that every runner will need. Before you strap on your old high school gym shoes and put on your cotton tube socks, take time to do it right. While this is not an extensive list of specific items, it does identify the two areas that I see my customers about on a daily basis: the right shoes and the right socks.
Lacing up (with the right shoes!)
First things first, running shoes are the first essential that comes to mind when talking running. The right shoes will help you avoid injury and any discouragement that can be faced by running pain. Running is hard enough, let shoes help with some of the work!
There are many at-home tests that claim to help determine a proper running shoe. The wet foot test (which shows your arch height) comes to mind. However, these tests do not reveal the shoe that will work for you. Your arch is just one component of a proper fitting shoe, it does not determine what shoe or even what type of shoe you need.
Each shoe company has many different shoes that are split into different stability categories: neutral, guidance, stability, and motion control. In addition, many of the companies have several shoes that fit into each category. I do not mean to intimidate your shoe buying process; however, I do think it is downright impossible to fit yourself with only the assistance of a wet piece of paper, a stamp of your foot, and Google.
I would have to recommend going to a local specialty store and letting a professional assist you. You might think this is bias coming from me, a running specialist at a specialty store. However, I know that this is the best and proper way to find a shoe. It is our job and passion to fit you properly. We can tell you what shoe will work for your foot shape, your arch, and your needs. It is the easiest way to find your “sole” mate.
Even for those individuals who are looking for the “less is more” feel, the right shoe is still important to achieving the best injury-free results. The benefits of bare foot running are appealing, however, these runners need to consider the surface they are running on in order to know what shoes are necessary.
If you are planning to run barefoot on unforgiving concrete or pavement, it may be optimal for you to choose a shoe that has a little more protection between you and the road. Believe me, your knees will thank you. There are shoes such as the Brooks Pure Project that allow a minimal feel without taking away the entire cushion and arch that conventional shoes offer.
If you are a trail junkie, you can run in a shoe that is completely minimal with a more rugged outer sole such as a Vibram Five Finger shoe. The trail and grass take the impact away from your body in a way that running on roads cannot.
More so than anything when starting to run barefoot, it is important to make sure that your form is correct. No minimal shoe will make you run with a mid-foot strike. Some may be able to assist, but it is the responsibility of the runner to learn and practice these techniques. Again, consulting with the local running specialty store will be the best for runners who want to run barefoot. There is usually someone there who is practicing the mid-foot strike that can assist with the proper minimalist running gait.
Let me take this opportunity to share some of the best running advice you will ever get – GET OUT OF COTTON ANYTHING. Cotton is hot, and not like hot girlfriend hot. Think of cotton socks or cotton clothes as a towel. You use a towel to dry off. Where does the water go? Judging by the weight of the towel after drying off, it would have to be in the towel. This is what happens to your sweat when you wear cotton socks and cotton clothing. Cotton is a fiber that is meant to soak up moisture. You do not want your sweat soaking into your clothes or into your socks. It is heavy, hot and uncomfortable.
More importantly, it is essential to get out of cotton socks. Because cotton is a natural fiber, it can break apart easily. Once the fiber is broken, it forms into little knots or balls. You can see this if you look at an old pair of cotton socks. With that, the sock looses its shape and you end up with a big frumpy mess on your foot. Why is this so bad? When your sock looses its shape and the fibers start to dwindle, hot spots form, and from this a blister is born. While blistering can be from a number of things, the most common thing that I encounter is the cotton sock culprit.
So what should you wear? Synthetic blends. Anything that has a synthetic fiber blend is going to be much better for you. It is better because it is a longer, stronger fiber—the opposite of cotton—and it will hold its shape much longer. While these can hold a hefty price tag, it is worth every penny to not have a humongous blister boiling on the ball of your foot.
BE WARNED: just because it has an athletic company’s logo on it does not mean it is a running sock. Look at the back of all socks before buying them. If there is even .0001% cotton, do not buy it. It is not worth it.
With these two items properly purchased, your running will certainly be more enjoyable and you will be well on your way to researching about the latest GPS system that is a must have in the running community, but for now, just run without the aching knees and boiling feet. Run happy friends!