It’s a little ironic that as an adult, I voluntarily run half marathons and long distances. I voluntarily wake up, sometimes before 6:00 a.m. while on vacation, to run a half marathon. This year, I’ve committed to run four half marathons and am fundraising for Youth Outreach Services, a Chicago organization that helps provide services for at-risk teens in Chicago who have been impacted y abuse, violence, homelessness and other situations beyond their control that I am lucky to have never experienced. During my training, I’ve learned a lot about myself, but I’ve also learned a lot about the gear that runners need when they hit the road.
When I was growing up, I loathed just about any form of physical activity. My hand eye coordination is…not that good and I have an uncanny ocular reflex that causes me to blink and cringe away whenever any object — ball, stick, snack…anything really, is thrown in the general vicinity of my face.
Suffice to say, I was more likely to be picked last in gym class than to win an award beyond the participation trophy, but I’m pretty much okay with that. Even so, I always liked the social camaraderie of team sports so I would join recreational leagues and ride the bench on JV until I finally wised up my senior year of high school and joined the journalism club instead.
When I did play field hockey though, I remember enjoying the competitiveness of the games, and the concentration that the drills required, but I absolutely loathed the long runs we did at practice. Whether I was running around the field, the track, or a neighborhood adjacent to the high school, I was usually fantasizing about tripping, breaking my ankle, and never running another lap again.
And yet, this is now something I do for fun in my spare time. Go figure that one out. Here are a few must-have products that I take with me on any long run and will pack along for my half marathon this weekend.
Clif Shot Bloks
You can’t run 13.1 miles — or longer — without running out of steam. Most road races have stations every two miles or so with water and/or sports drinks, which is helpful, but I like to carry Clif Shot Bloks with me for runs that last over 60 minutes, which for me is usually somewhere between five and six miles.
The cubes are chewy like gummy candy and they provide quick, chewable energy to runners while training and racing. They’re like little 33 calorie jolts of energy, electrolytes and in some flavors, 50 mg of caffeine. When I’m running 10 miles or more, I generally chew one or two cubes around an hour in and then another one every two miles or so. If I happen to forget them, I can manage, but when you’re running for two and a half hours straight, I’m all for anything that will make that experience slightly more pleasant.
No, not a belt to keep your pants up. I never travel light, whether I’m going to the beach, out of town for the weekend, or running through downtown Chicago. Even when everything I need is conceivably at my fingertips, I like to be as prepared as I can for any scenario.
I have a stretchy belt that I wear over my running tights where I store my Shot Bloks, credit card and ID in case of emergencies, some extra cash for the same reason, tissues or toilet paper (yes, I’m serious. I believe in ‘if you have it, you won’t need it’ and that’s all). I also bring Advil or Tyelnol with me so that I can take it post-race and cut down on post-race soreness. You can also stash your keys in there if your pants or running tee doesn’t have a pocket. My belt is a basic one that I picked up at a fitness expo last year, but FlipBelt and Nathan are known to have some comfy, roomy options.
Even when you’re running a race with water and sports drink stations, you may want to have a little extra for in between. For long runs, the weather can change between your start time and finish time, so if you don’t mind holding something while you’re running, a little extra h2o usually comes in handy.
I have the Nathan SpeedShot Plus (in pink, of course) which holds 12 ounces. I’ll usually fill it up twice during a 10-miler but I’m hoping that for my half-marathons, when there are water stops, I’ll be able to sip in between stations and make it the full 13 miles without a stop.
I initially bought one of these headbands to keep my hair out of my eyes during a yoga class when I forgot to bring a headband. Now, I can barely leave the house without one of the headbands from the yogitoes hbands evolution stripe collection. Unlike a lot of headbands that move and shift, these practically stay in perfect place the entire time you’re running. The only downside is that they don’t wick away sweat, but they also look cute with casual outfits, so you’ll get plenty of bang for your $4 investment.
Good Running Shoes
I started training for my half-marathon on year-old running shoes that had a lot of mileage on them, and I’m pretty sure I ruined my body forever. I have ongoing low back pain even when running, and my feet and legs still hurt when I do long runs (which is also a function of, you know, doing the long runs). I started having knee problems, which I’ve never had in my life (stretching and strength training has done wonders, but if this is life past 30, sigh).
I’ve since upgraded my shoes to a Saucony Guide, which provide good stability and cushion and yoga helps with stretching and muscle aches, but the only thing I can tell you about training is: get good shoes and get them before you star running long distances.
If you’d like to make a donation to Youth Outreach Services, an organization that provides counseling and prevention services for at-risk youth affected by violence, addition, homelessness and abuse, click here to make a donation. Funds go are received to the organization. Learn more about Youth Services on their website or Facebook page.