One thing that I've found since I took up running was that summer running was easy - I could wear exactly what I normally wore to the gym and it was comfortable. As the seasons slowly progressed though, and it started getting colder, darker and occasionally wetter, I suddenly found that I needed more gear to keep going.
Although I first started running in 2008 (I think), sometime before I actually really started the weightloss thing, it wasn't until last winter that I really ran in all weathers. By the end of 2010, I'd just completed my first 10k and was in quite a running groove. If you remember, the winter of 2010 was pretty harsh - lots of snow, ice and cooooooooooold. I had a designated running fleece from my general "gear" stash by then, for running in the evening when it was cooler, but kit-wise that was advanced as I got.
Suddenly it was bloody freezing, and I was layering base-layers under my fleece and trying out running in gloves and fleece headbands. I found that I often got too hot in my layers on my top half, but my legs were freezing in their 3/4 length tights from the gym. I caved and bought long tights, and encountered the weirdness of their sizing for the first time - why do they cut the waist-bands so tight and non-stretchy? But my top-half still over-heated, and if it rained I got wet, as I didn't have a water-proof suitable for running. I made do and skated around on the ice for a couple of months running round the harbour, I ran in the snow, and tried to dodge the rain, and when it was toooooooo bad I retreated indoors to the gym.
This season things are a little different. I'm 3 weeks into my half-marathon training now, and will be running consistently (touch wood - there'll be no injuries or other catastrophes) right through til March. I'm not a treadmill girl, so that will all happen outdoors (apart from possibly some of the interval training?), and I wanted to be a bit more prepared. I have new tights, a new jacket, a new baselayer and a new sports bra. And I bloody love them.
Tights first - running gear can be flaming expensive, so I was happy to investigate JJB for cheaper options - Gore and North Face et all, are all very lovely, but I have finite resources. JJB have their own running range, Run365, which provide well-priced, running specific gear. I tried on two of their pairs of tights, and was highly gratified to finally find a pair that sit a bit higher and have a nice wide stretchy waistband that actually fits over my hips without the need to stop my circulation, and then stays put. No riding down, no digging in. They're simple - zips at the back of the lower leg with reflective strips on them, mesh vents behind the knee and a small key pouch - all the basics but no fancy bits. But they fit well, are nice and long, don't rub or ride around and are a nice fabric that seems to stop the worst of the wind. And they cost a whole £19.
My jacket was from the same range, and was another steal. Most jackets I've seen cost at least £40, rising to well over £100. I just can't justify that, so when I tried this jacket for £23, I was hooked. It's plain black with a few touches of purple edging and some flashes of neon,and cut quite long to keep out the drafts, dipping down a bit lower at the back. Simple small zipped pockets provide storage for small items like keys, and it's mesh-lined to keep the air flowing inside, with mesh vents under the arms to help prevent over-heating. It's a lightweight silky feeling fabric, and I'll be honest - for £23 I pretty much expected it to just be a bit of a wind-breaker. However, the first couple of times I've run in it have featured some pretty heavy wind and rain, and it's been pretty damn good. The water beaded properly on the outside, and I remained surprisingly dry. It cut the wind efficiently too, without making me so hot I was sweating wildly. And the cut is surprisingly neat too, so I actually feel like a look good. Excellent.
My newest base-layer is an Icebreaker - a brand I've wanted to try for ages, but always been put off by the prices. Icebreaker make merino wool products - mostly mid- and base-layers I think - and are usually quite pricey but with an excellent reputation. For a start, merino wool is meant to not get stinky pretty much ever. It's also quick drying and soft next to the skin. I was therefore very excited to stumble on a sample sale at a gear shop in Betws-y-Coed in Wales back in early December, where there were a few womens long-sleeve baselayers, and even one in my size, all for 50% of normal price! I bloody love this top - a close-fitting long-sleeve tee in black, with thump-loops on the sleeves, and a lovely long cut. Testing so far, whilst running, says that it really doesn't smell. It's been worn for two runs in a row where I didn't have time to wash it in between, and then it took a couple of days to get it into the wash - nothing. Not one niffy odour! I thoroughly recommend!
Finally, and possibly the most important bit of kit I bought recently, another new sports bra. I've had issues with these before - it's not always easy to find a good fit when you're a bit more generously endowed. Some may remember my contempt last year for the Shock Absorber Run bra I tried, which was not only near impossible to put on, but then kept unclipping itself mid-run, and eventually failed quite quickly. Then I went back to my beloved M & S sports bra, only to find they'd changed their cut and they were also similarly difficult to put on, and had an additional "3 nipple" effect that wasn't very attractive (the seams over the cups of the bra are solidly "welded" onto the fabric, which means if the fabrics not at full stretch the seam forms several little wrinkles right where your nipple would be, making it look like you have 2 or 3 on each side! It's practically impossible to stretch the fabric enough to eliminate this, so you have to wear thicker tops to try and hide it or just brazen it out - a bit of a design flaw).
Whilst in JJB I stopped to examine Shock Absorber's latest offerings, and whilst I'm still not convinced by their Run bra, I was intrigued enough to try their recently redesigned Level 4 offering. Shock Absorber, like many sports bra manufacturers, offer their different designs based on a scale of exercise intensity. Level 4 is the most intense, intended for running, dance and anything else where you're jumping round like a lunatic. This time, they seem to have got it right. The cups are slightly moulded to offer support and shape. The breast-band is nicely padded, the shoulder straps pleasingly shaped and padded too to avoid digging in. The best bit is the fastening system though - instead of one closure, it has two. The bottom closure at the back is the standard to pull the chest band closed, and seems well constructed. There's then a secondary band above that running between the shoulder straps which acts as both a racer back to stop the straps sliding, and an extra tension point.
It really works - it comfortable, stable and supportive, and because of the secondary opening, easy to get in and out of because you can choose to open or close that one depending on your flexibility. I really love it! It's my new favourite piece of kit, because I can completely forget about it while I'm running.
The last thing for me to get now are new trainers. I'll book an appointment to be fitted as soon as I've been paid next week I think - my feet deserve some presents!
Anyone else have any (winter) running essentials they swear by?
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