Wednesday, November 23, 2011

These are a few of my favorite things... A "Year-End Gear" List

Well, here we are. Another year is in the rearview mirror, and the next year holds infinite potential for all kinds of running mayhem, barefoot or otherwise. Since it's that time of year, I figured it would be fun to put together a list of running-specific items that made my year - at least the last few months of it - a relatively enjoyable and successful one running wise. I selected mostly winter-specific gear for obvious reasons. Wearing this stuff, all or part at any give time in the cold months, is how I survive Winter without a treadmill (HATE treadmills!). I love checking out these lists when other people put them together, so hopefully you'll find mine just as worthwhile and enjoyable. Maybe you will see something here that gives you an idea for how to spend all that Christmas cash Grandma sent you.

Mizuno WP Jacket

I got a wicked deal on this jacket last year around Christmas when (best running supply shop on the web BY FAR!) had their big clearout sale. I wanted a Brooks Utopia Softshell at the time, but it would have been way more money, the wrong color, and they sold out of my size before I could pull the trigger anyhow. Turns out I stumbled into the right decision anyway (the Utopia would have been too warm for mild Tennessee climes, methinks).

The Mizuno WP ("WP" stands for windproof) is probably the best looking running jacket on the market thanks to its minimal ornamentation and sleek taper at the midsection. The stretchy, perfectly-thin fabric makes it very versatile for layering, and its ventilation allows it to be used up in the 50s comfortably when the wind picks up.

Two complaints about the WP jacket: 1) The zipper is on the wrong side for dudes. This is admittedly a minor issue , but seriously, Japan? 2) The thumb holes - a major selling point for me because I don't like gloves unless they are an absolute necessity - are WAY too small for my thumbs. It's like they made them the appropriate size for a prepubescent girl. Again: seriously, Japan? Sidenote: since I purchased my jacket last year, Mizuno has changed the design to something significantly more vented. No word on if they put the zipper back on the correct side, though.

Regardless, I still love this jacket. It kicks the crap out of everything sold at the big-box retailers, and I got it for half of what anything comparable would have cost. Runningwarehouse rocks.

Reebok Run Gloves
I was inexplicably unable to locate these gloves on the internet. I purchased them at Dick's Sporting Goods last year, and they are still sold today (just saw them on an end cap last week). They were $20, and I found them to be much better in every way than the Nike offerings at the same price point: fuzzy little doodads. With comfy poly construction, terry cloth forefingers for wipeage (ew, right?) and grippy silicone webbing on the palms, they are comparable to the Under Armor gloves priced at $35.

Brooks Infinity Half-Zip
While I can't - or won't - say anything about their shoes, I don't think any running company produces running clothing that can rival the quality of Brooks. While, like other running-specific clothing producers, their wares can be quite pricey, Brooks has delivered a homerun on every piece of kit I have ever purchased from them. Of course, I buy on sale... clearance preferably, so take that as you will.

The Infinity Half-Zip is one of the most used items in my closet between October and April and for good reason. The thing is super comfy-soft, attractive, stretchy, and has held up beautifully while taking quite a beating. Brooks nails the perfect sleeve length and ideal thumb-hole cut, to boot! (In your face, Japan.) It's my cold-weather workhorse uniform.

Brooks Sherpa Short
Definitely the most versatile running short I have ever worn, the Sherpa is a winner. These are my go-to shorts for nearly any physical activity where I have to be seen by other humans: the cut is long enough to not be "that guy" in public. Brooks sure does make a great pair of shorts.

Mizuno Tights
I got these for half price when our local running store went out of business (*sadface*), and it has turned out to be a wise investment. Running tights are a step toward seriousness for guy runners; we just don't wear tights for anything, you know. You have to literally care a lot about your run and virtually nothing about what people may think of you. These tights fit well, have held up beautifully for over a year now, and have all the features a non-thermal tight is supposed to: drawstring, back zipper gel pocket, zip cuffs at the ankle...... and that's about it. I like 'em.

C9 sport socks
It blows my mind how much people pay for running-specific socks, especially when, in my opinion, the less sock, the better. All I look for in a sock is chafing protection in certain shoes. Otherwise, I would just rather run sockless - or barefoot altogether for that matter. Target's C9 socks are synthetic (an absolute must), provide mild compression to make sure they stay in place, and are pretty darn cheap for what they are.

Merrell Versa Band

It's a neckwarmer! No, it's a headband! No, it's a balaclava! No, it's all of the above and more including a do-rag, head wrap, and mask. This is the only piece of un-purchased gear on my humble list. I got in my swag bag for running the Merrell Naked Foot 5k in Nashville, and I absolutely adore it. There are probably over a hundred different companies that make and/or sell items similar to this, but this is the only one I have tried or owned and it's fantastic. No runner should be without one of these.

Garmin FR 305 

"Yes I love technology, but not as much as you, you see.... but I still love technology. Always and forever." If you are a runner without a GPS watch, you fall into one of the following categories:
1. You are a "free runner" who hates having your spiritual connection with nature interrupted by having to fiddle with invasive techno-nonsense.
2. You think it's too expensive.
3. You are not very experienced in the world of running and don't know what this thing could possibly offer you.

If you fall into #2 or #3, you really should look into the Garmin 305. It's not the newest or the flashiest bit of innovative compudrama, but it's solid, proven technology that's getting less expensive every day. I got my 305 last year for Christmas and have worn it on well over 100 runs so far. It's awesome! I can't possibly explicate the myriad features this sucker has to offer here, but I can link you to someone who has:

So there it is, folks. My very Gear of the Year list, even if some of it is more than a year old. Happy New Year, and happy running!