If, like me, you’re subscribed to Runner’s World (other running magazines are available) and your email address is on several running shop mailing lists, you probably can’t get through your front door of an evening without wading through pullouts full of offers on sexy new running kit.
“Christmas is coming! Gadgets! Brightly coloured running jackets for half the cost of your monthly mortgage payments! Christmas! Buy these funky new shoes, even though the old ones don’t need replacing yet! Christmas! A little pouch to hold your earbuds when you’re not using them, that you never knew you needed! CHRISTMAS!”
Is it Christmas, is it? Blow me sideways.
I’m by no means living on the breadline, but since the coffers of QPR have monopoly on my disposable income I have to be pretty frugal about my running habit. I waited a year to be able to afford a Garmin (it lives in a glass case like the rose from Beauty and the Beast) and I upgrade my running shoes every birthday – if they wear out before then I get wet feet and that is that. I’d love to just pop into Sweatshop like it’s the corner shop and pick up a new pair of merino running tights every week, but the price of one new pair of Nike strides buys me match tickets to both Doncaster and Yeovil including the booking fee. So I make do.
Of course, if you’re serious about running you need to invest in the proper gear, and those merino tights will pay for themselves. If you’re that serious, you probably don’t go to Doncaster and Yeovil every weekend to watch QPR pass the ball around midfield until everyone dies of boredom. But if you’re just starting out, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on kit only to find out you’re really not the running type. You want enough money left for the bottle of wine you’ll deserve later.
That being said, you don’t mess around with running shoes – if you’re going to spend money at all, spend it here. It’s cheeky, but you can get yourself gait tested for free at all good running stores without an obligation to spend, and it’s worth doing every time you buy. I’ve always had fantastic service at Sweatshop, while a friend of mine keen on barefoot running raves about the London Victoria branch of Run and Become where they do your gait test outside in natural conditions rather than on a treadmill. You can be recommended a pair of running shoes that suit your style but then go online to get them cheaper from sites like Wiggle or Sports Direct, although is worth noting that the shop will stock mostly new styles and it doesn’t necessarily follow that two generations of the same model of shoe will wear the same. I’ve been caught out by this before, falling head over heels in love with the Asics Gel-Cumulus 12 – when they finally wore thin I wanted to get exactly the same ones, but they’d been discontinued and replaced with the Gel-Cumulus 14. Assuming they’d be the same but with go faster stripes I bought them without ever trying them on, and my shins have never been the same since. Investment doesn’t necessarily mean expense though. Shop around, find a bargain price for a good name brand, and you’ll be starting out on the right foot. Ha ha.
This next paragraph is something only 50% of you will be able to relate to – how to keep the ladies in check. To get this right, I would say try on as many sports bras as you can lay your hands on and find out what sort of style suits you most – some have support on three sides, some are more like crop tops, some use compression technology (for which read: basically gaffer taping them to your ribcage). You will find that there really are only a handful of designs and it’s possible to get something similar to the big brand bras for around £10 from the sites I mentioned earlier – not as durable, but not bad to begin with. Of course if you’ve got the coin you can buy a good Shock Absorber and never again suffer the ignominy of two black eyes, but let’s face it, who can afford just one of those, let alone enough for a rotation? I run four times a week and wearing the same bra twice is as acceptable as turning one’s underpants inside out to get another day’s wear. Boys: that means it’s NOT acceptable. Just FYI.
From then on, it’s pretty much a case of taste. The important thing is to feel comfortable, so it goes without saying don’t persevere with fashionable hi-tech tights if they make you feel vulnerable or hip-skimming short shorts even Miley Cyrus would think twice about going out in. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to slink around in paint spattered cotton tees and your dad’s old joggers hoping nobody sees you.
Personally, I swear by Primark‘s plain £3 leggings. Heresy, I know, and no comparison with technical wicking fabrics, but they are comfortable and easily washed, and cheap enough that I can have 4 pairs on rotation. They only have a shelf life of a few months before the seams start to pull but that should be enough for a new runner before upgrading to those merino strides. If tights are a little too budgie-smuggler for you, good old Sports Direct has never let me down for shorts – look up football shorts too as they can often be cheaper than running ones. I also find that the men’s shorts are cheaper than the women’s and fit me much better too – I don’t know who they design girls’ running shorts for but it certainly isn’t Mediterranean curves…
With the popularity of exercise on the rise, and particularly in the post-Christmas stuffing/New Year’s Eve resolution period, you will quite often find the cheap and cheerful seasonally stocked stores, like Primark and (oddly enough) Lidl, doing a range of affordable sports clothing. It’s purely a matter of chance what you find when you’re there, and their ranges are often short-lived, but they’re always worth a snoop. My mum is always picking up jackets, tights, tops and other random accessories for under £15 (often less) but you’ll be hard pushed to go in twice and find the same thing, so treat them like you would thrift shops and grab a bargain when you can. Of course, they can be a false economy so be careful not to end up buying a load of crap you don’t need – armbands with tiny flashing lights that last ten minutes, I’m looking at you – but go in with an open mind and you’d be surprised what you can come out with.
A particular favourite haunt of mine is good old eBay. The trick is in using the right search terms – although the function is much more sophisticated than it used to be and often knows what you mean better than you do, you don’t want to restrict your options too much or go on a wild goose chase chasing the wrong item. So, if you are looking for a ladies’ grey running top in size 14 don’t search “ladies grey running top size 14”, because you’ll end up with listings made by thoughtful eBayers who entered loads of detail into the title, but miss out on those people who wanted to get rid quick and just entered “running top” and a blurry iPhone photo taken in the dark. Bit of a risk, but chances are the second listing will go for much less. Especially in January, when Christmas rejects find their way on there – in fact this year eBay is running a promotion for sellers for exactly this purpose, making it cheap and easy to shift unwanted gifts. Later in the year you may also find event branded T-shirts that have languished in the bottom of someone’s drawer for years until the summer wardrobe rotation – the finisher’s tee from the 2003 London Marathon was a trophy once upon a time, but Dave isn’t exactly wearing it to the pub these days. Straight onto eBay it goes. Cynical, yes, but then one man’s trash is another man’s treasure 🙂
So you’ve got your shoes from last season, your butt-skimming shorts and your ‘Flora London Marathon 2003’ running vest. All you need now is motivation, and no amount of money can buy that. If you own a smartphone however you can download any number of GPS-enabled running apps for free. I have used RunKeeper in the past which allows you to track many different sports, and which links to diet apps like MyFitnessPal and social networking like Facebook an Twitter accounts. There’s also Map My Run, which also tracks calorie intake, or Strava which rewards you with trophies for various achievements both for beating your own records and other people’s – almost everyone at work has this, I can’t tell you how violently competitive it gets when two people discover they run the same stretch of road. And for those needing a little more stick than carrot willing to spend a whopping £1.99, you’ve got to try Zombies, Run! – a principle that’s kept me motivated for years – where the sound of zombies chasing you through your earphones gets the heart rate going either way.
I’m sure you’ve worked this out by now, but this isn’t an article full of links to current deals and offers. There’s two reasons for this: firstly, those sorts of articles are only really helpful for about a fortnight, until the product sells out or the price goes back up; and secondly I’ve got better things to do than shop around for other people. Far too lazy for that. No, this is just me sharing a few helpful principles for making your running budget go further and ideally it’ll be something you can come back to again and again without losing relevance. It’s also worth pointing out that I am by no means endorsing the use of improper gear that doesn’t provide the correct support in the long term. If you are serious about running and can afford to invest properly, then for God’s sake do. I’m just pointing out that you needn’t remortgage the house to buy running kit if all you do is Parkrun once a week, or be alienated by the prohibitive cost of what should be a free sport and stick to the sofa instead. Running is for everyone. Even Championship football fans.