Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Equipment does matter

A repost from my other blog.

One of the great trite thoughts of all time: the right tool for the right job (and no, this isn't going to be about politicians). It's been said so often in that form and many others that people must operate on that principle by and large. Mustn't they? And yet a simple look around one's own home or an honest evaluation of one's recent behavior will--I am quite certain--put a lie to the idea.

We all take short cuts, we all make due from time to time with what we have. The other day, some socks fell behind my dryer. The best tool to retrieve them would have been some sort of extendable grasping tool; such a thing would have made the job of retrieving the socks a simple thing, indeed. But I didn't have one--and it's not like they're expensive--so I used a long dowel rod to push the socks against the wall and then up the wall, inch by inch, until I could reach them with my hand. A simple thing, even without the right tool. So maybe the idea isn't so true after all.

Of course, the task at hand--sock retrieval--was neither completed nor dangerous. I'd offer a simple theorem: as a task increases in difficulty or in risk level, the need to use proper equipment increases at a directly proportional rate in the very least. Some tasks that might be life-threatening simply demand the use of proper equipment; the lack of the same may very well guarantee failure.

With that in mind, consider exercising. Selling "proper" equipment of all sorts for various activities is a huge market. And some of that equipment is really less about being "proper" and more about being "stylish." Like yoga pants. I love yoga pants, love the way they look and feel, but one really doesn't need them to do yoga. In contrast, one does need a good yoga mat (and by the way, you should also be sure to clean your yoga mat on a regular basis). They provide cushioning for contact points, thus helping to prevent injuries, and they help with balance as well.

But I'm not a big yoga guy. As I've noted before, running is my exercise of choice these days. And proper equipment is a must for me, partly because I'm no longer twenty-something (or even thirty-something) and partly because it makes running that much easier for me to do. But most importantly because proper equipment is an issue of safety and health. So what does such equipment actually entail?

1. An iPhone (or other similar device) for listening to music, books, or podcasts. This is not a necessity for everyone, I know. But I need the music to keep pace and to help me zone out for longer runs.

2. Headphones for the same. Have a care, here. I know there are all kinds of top of the line headphones out there, from Beats to IronMan ones, that claim to be the best for running and/or for music quality, but what matters most is simple comfort. And the lighter the weight, the better. This isn't about pure sound quality, at all. Noise-cancelling headphones should be avoided in particular unless one is running on a treadmill. Why? Because it's necessary to hear--to some degree--what is going on around you while running, especially if there is traffic of any sort in the area. So opt for the cheap ones that are comfortable.

3. A means of tracking your runs, both distance and pace (calories burned is good, too). I use the Nike+ running app on my iPhone. Not only does it track all of my activity, it also allows me to set goals and "compete" with friends to help me push myself.

4. Clothing, shorts and shirt. Again, comfort and weight are key. And so is material. Not only do you want lightweight clothing, you also want clothing that doesn't soak up the sweat. I recommend Lululemon Athletica. The clothing is not cheap, but it has several advantages over other sportswear.  The material is fully breathable and lightweight, of course. Additionally, the running-specific clothing has added features, like these shorts (my current fav):

When it comes to shirts, Lululemon has a material called "Silverescent," which basically keeps the stink away. Seriously. I can put in a sweaty eight mile run and my shirt--when I'm done--just doesn't smell at all. I'll wear the same shirt three days in a row (I hang them in the bathroom to dry out after each run). If you exercise every day, you know how quickly laundry can pile up. This is a huge bonus, above and beyond the comfort of the shirt itself. Plus, the Lululemon stuff does look good, even on me.

5. Socks. This may not seem important--and for a long time, I never thought it was--but the right socks can make a huge difference, especially for people who are a little older or who have had joint issues. It's not enough to just choose between thin or thick socks. The nature of the padding--the where and the how--is important. I found these socks recently and I noticed the difference the first time I ran with them:
Thorlo makes a number of different kinds of socks, depending on specific needs. I encourage avid or even occasional runners to explore their site and find the proper socks, based on those needs.

6. Last but certainly not least are the ever-important running shoes. I've used a large variety of shoes, from Nike to Brooks to New Balance. Currently, however, I'm running in a pair of Adidas shoes. But I'm not recommending them or any other particular brand. There are just too many out there. Don't buy shoes based on how they look or because of a commercial. The way to get the right running shoe is to go to a running-specific store that will not only help fit you properly but also analyze your running form/style in order to determine which shoe gives you the proper support. In Miami/South Florida, I suggest The Runner's High. After you are properly fitted, you actually get to try out your shoe and then return them if they aren't working for you. I kid you not. For anyone considering taking up running--or even walking--as a steady activity, this kind of service is an absolute necessity.

So, that's my little spiel on running. But note that it doesn't end here. When running--or exercising in general--equipment is critical, no doubt. Just as important, however, is attitude, preparation, and fuel. Get your mind right, warm up and stretch properly before each session (and after), and condition your body by eating right, as much as possible. In our modern world, the last may be the hardest: avoiding junk food and over-snacking, as well as taking the time to have a proper pre-workout meal. There are all kinds of shortcuts to be sure, like protein and health shakes and bars. I use them. But I run mostly in the mornings, so I try to have a good breakfast an hour or so before I run. Usually, it's a bowl of Barbara's Puffins and low-fat organic milk, topped with some fresh organic fruit (berries and/or bananas), along with a glass of juice. The bowl of cereal and fruit looks something like this: