Need to knock a couple runners off of your shopping list? Here are my recommendations for the gear I've been using this past year. Note that I am not paid by any of these companies, I just use their stuff because I keeps me going and going and going (and yes, Energizer Lithium batteries are what I use to power my headlamps!). Let's start from the ground up...
I wore Brooks Radius 7s for about 2000 of my training miles this year. A great (and affordable) shoe that I fell in love with immediately...of course that won't help anyone at all since they've discontinued it. If you can find a pair on clearance online, it'll be the best discount item you've ever purchased. The fit is true-to-size, and if anyone finds any 11.5s on sale out there, let me know!!
For about 1000 miles of training (including all runs over 40+ miles on asphalt)...and for both my 192 mile run this summer and my 120+ mile run at Ultra Centric in November, I wore Brooks Glycerin 6 models. This shoe has a double cushion layer of the "MoGo" Brooks uses to dampen shock in their shoes. These babies are more expensive than the Radius, but the $$ is worth it for people who appreciate a comfy ride on the hard roads. You can find them online for about $90, and they're definitely worth the price. To prove they'll last in terms of comfort and support, consider the fact that
I ran the 192 miles of Run192, 100+ more miles of training, and the entire 120 miles of Ultra Centric in the SAME PAIR of these shoes. That's about 430 miles and I didn't notice any break-down in the cushion. Not too shabby.
When I can get out to the happy land of dirt trails, my go-to shoes are Brooks Cascadia 3s. You can find these babies on sale for less than $80 online, and it's a great investment. They're a great all-around shoe for draining/drying when you've got streams to cross, and for dampening shock in the sole when you're running on lots of rocks and roots. Plus they're an environmentally-friendly "green" shoe, so it's always nice to be kind to mother nature when you're out there enjoying her trails.
I just noticed that all three shoes I've recommended here are Brooks...I honestly did not realize that before writing this. If I've arrived at this point of running on all terrains/distances with their shoes, that probably means they make good stuff. Now if only I could get a free pair or two... Not counting the few miles I've run in other brands during the first 11 months of 2008, I've gone through 5 pairs of the Radius, 4 pairs of Glycerins, and 1.5 pairs of Cascadias....that's about $850 right there. Who says running is a cheap sport?!
Here's a tip: My favorite sites to get cheap shoes are Holabird Sports and R n J Sports. Check them out for great deals!
Anyone who has followed my blog since the summer knows that I've fallen completely in love with Drymax Socks. I test out all sorts of gear (shoes, socks, clothing, fuel belts, etc) during my long runs in an attempt to find the stuff that allows me to completely forget I have it on while I'm out there. Good gear is like a good baseball umpire - you know it's doing a great job when you don't notice it's there at all. I've worn other socks that work great in most conditions, but between their remarkable drying ability and friction free fibers, Drymax socks (especially the Maximum Protection) perform at the highest level in ALL conditions. I will never wear another sock while running an ultra.
Ok, it's time for me to fess up - I haven't bought a new pair of running shorts in about 3 years. Talk about the wrong guy to come to for advice, that's me. I've covered about 3,000 miles each in two pairs of Sugoi shorts I bought (on sale for $10 each!) back around the time when people still said things like "the internets" without trying to be ironically hip. I've got some other pairs that are just about as old from various other brands (Hind, Adidas, Insport), and they all hold up fine. For some reason I picked a 4 year old pair of Saucony shorts to run all my races in this year (probably because even in the worst conditions the elastic on the edge of the inner-lining never irritates my skin). Since I'm sure none of these companies still make the same line I wear, you can just take the above for what it's worth. I mean, if I don't have any problems with any of the shorts I wear, clearly it's not too tough to find one that works well.
I'll be honest, I've used the Ultimate Direction Access 2x double-bottle fuel belt for the past two years, but I'm thinking about buying a Nathan Hydration backpack right now to test out while training this winter. I do like the double-bottle belt, but sometimes my shirt creeps up in the back while I'm running, and rough surface of the belt rips my skin up pretty bad. Maybe my hips/back are shaped strangely or something and that's what causes this to happen, but whatever the reason, I'm sick of tucking in my shirt all the time (especially in the hot weather) to avoid the belt's wrath. When it's cooler out and I don't mind tucking in the back of my shirt, I love the belt, so maybe it'll just be a cold weather option from now on. What I'll miss with the backpack style fuel system is the ability to have two different beverages with me like I usually do with the double-bottle belt. Typically I like water in one and Perpetuem in the other...but I suppose I can live with just one. Also, I'm not sure how you know when you're almost out of water with the backpack since you can't see the bladder. With the bottles I like seeing when I've got just a couple gulps left so I know how many miles I have left before a refill. I guess I can learn by feel after running w/ the backpack for a while. ....I just realized this whole section is completely useless in terms of finding a recommendation for the best product, so I'll shut up now. Sorry!
For as easy as I am to please in terms of shorts, I'm insanely picky about the tops I wear when I run. The first thing I do when I get a new singlet is cut out the seam and "knot" under the arms. I've run way too many long runs in my day where those things have shredded the skin on the inside of my arm and side from friction burns. I do the same thing with short-sleeve t-shirts too. Between those modifications and a little body glide, I can run pain-free for hours (and days) on end. The shirts I've settled on as my favorites this year are the New Balance super light short-sleeve Ts (I don't actually see them as current products now, but whatever their "lightning dry" shirt is now, I recommend it). I actually cut off the sleeves (and seams) of both the ones I have, and I've enjoyed every mile I've covered in them. They dry insanely fast, and in the summer heat/humidity, I've never worn anything that feels cooler/lighter. Sure, if I was a macho dude I'd just run around without a shirt on, but that's just not for me.
After my second year running in the Outdoor Research Sun Runner hat, I'm happy to say it's still my favorite. I generally don't run with the snap-on neck shield unless I'm on long exposed routes, but it's comforting to know it's the kind of accessory you can stuff in any fuelbelt for immediate rescue if things get too toasty out there for you. In terms of just the hat, I love the cross ventilation holes on the sides, especially when it's super-hot out. My trick is to pull up an inch on the top of the hat so air can move through as I run. As I bounce up and down the loose fabric I pulled up on the top of the hat moves up and down like an accordion pushing air in and out to cool you off. It works great in the nasty heat of the DC summer when you need to block the sun with a hat, but don't want to cook your brain as a result.
At this point I know what works for me in terms of eating on the run. I never have any stomach issues in races or on long training runs, so I stick to this stuff.
Hammer Gel & CarbBOOM Gel, any flavor will do, but I find the bland ones (vanilla) taste better after 12 hours or so on the move. I eat one every 30-45 minutes, depending on the race/training run.
Perpetuem drink: I usually mix about 1/2 concentration (100 calories) into one of my bottles during any run over 6 hours. This stuff is formulated to give your muscles the protiens, fats, etc they need to rebuild on the fly during very long runs/races. I only consume 100-150 calories of this per hour because I need save room for the gel calories. I'm someone (like lots of runners) who can't digest more than 250-300 calories per hour when running, so I find this mix to work perfectly.
For Electrolytes, I take Succeed! S-Caps every 45 to 60 minutes depending on the heat/humidity. There's a reason why so many people use these caps...they work perfectly in delivering the sodium, potassium, posphate, and citrate you need to keep on keeping on. ...and if you haven't made this rookie mistake yet, let me STRONGLY advise you not to even consider cracking open one of the caps and mixing it directly in with your fuel bottles. I don't know the science behind it, but for some reason everyone I know who has tried this ends up experiencing a 'Reversal of Fortune' about 10 minutes later. Just swallow the caps whole, and you'll be happy. Consider yourself warned!
Happy Shopping (and Running!), Everyone!