Top 12 Gifts for the runner in your life

Christmas is coming, and we all know a runner who would like a pair of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly. In an ideal world that would be the perfect gift. But in reality we know it isn’t going to happen. So we at Running Brother’s Company have put together a realistic Christmas list that any runner on Santa’s nice list would appreciate. And all these gifts are around $50 or less, so they won’t break the bank.

SmartWool Running socks

Maybe I’m too practical or maybe I’m just boring, but I will always appreciate a pair of good running socks. There are many different running socks on the market, but I have really enjoyed the SmartWool PhD Run socks for several years now. First off, they’re made well and last a long time. I have collected about a half dozen pairs over the past 5 years, and have yet to develop holes in any of them. I also have had very little issues with chafing and blisters when worn with proper fitting running shoes. I’ve done several marathons and ultras in these socks, and I can say I’ve experienced less than average chafing and blistering with them.

During these cold and wet winter training months you’re runner will be delighted to get these PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew Socks in their Christmas stocking!
Smartwool Men’s PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew Socks (Black) Large

Buff headwear

One of the runner’s biggest dilemmas is dressing properly for the weather, and being able to adjust mid run. What feels comfortable at the beginning of the run might not at the end. I love Buff headwear because it can adjust to help warm you up or cool you down. In the winter you wear it like a hat, covering your ears. Wear it around your neck, or around your face in extremely cold weather.In the summer wear it like a headband to wick away the sweat or soak it in icewater to cool you down.
Plus, check out all the awesome designs they come in!
BUFF Original Multifunctional Headwear, Graphite, One Size

Gloves

Baby, it’s COLD outside! Nothing ruins a nice mid-winter run more than cold claws. Those digits need a little love too during the cold winter months, so a good pair of gloves or mittens that are warm, yet can allow ventilation as things heat up are paramount to having a fun, comfortable run.  A convertible style mitten is perfect for warming up when cold, cooling off when hot, and accessing electronics when needed.
Brooks Threshold Gloves

GU nutrition

Give the gift of GU this season. What is GU? It’s easy to digest food for runners during a long run. Most runners have their favorite brands or flavors so ask. However, one of the hot selling flavors this year is the GU Campfire S’mores.
GU Energy Labs Original Sports Nutrition Energy Gel, Campfire S’mores, 24 Count

A Massage

No, not a back rub. A good 30-60 min sports massage by a professional. If your runner doesn’t have a favorite place, then check with the local running organization or store. They will often have a recommendation for the best local spot for runners to get a rub down. This will especially come in handy if there is an upcoming race.

Tracer360 reflective vest/light

One of the top things on a runner’s mind when training during the winter is going to be safety. As in-car distractions are on the rise, so must our efforts to be seen while running on the roads, especially at night. The Tracer360 reflective vest by Noxgear is a shining beacon in the night, with 360 degree LED fiber optic illumination and multiple light colors and modes.
Tracer360 Visibility Vest (XL)

Body glide

Friction is our friend when trying to stop, starting a fire, or keeping your hands warm. Friction is not our friend when bombing down a narly incline in the middle of a 50 miler. Putting jokes aside, this more personal running item is a necessity for many whose running goes into the double digits. Your shy friend might be a little embarrassed and taken aback by a gift of Body Glide, but any runner with a sense of humor will laugh, as well as thank you, for this thoughtful personal gift.
Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm, (USA Sale Only)

Foam Roller

Your running friend really needs that professional massage after every hard or long run. But unless they start in the elite corral at Boston it’s unlikely they’ll get it. Us mere mortals use foam rollers instead to loosen up tight muscles after a run.  They come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and colors. But an inexpensive basic foam roller will do the majority of the massaging. Not only is it budget friendly, it shows to your friend that you care.
AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller – 36-Inches

RoadID

It’s just smart. Help keep your runner safe with this inexpensive, yet potentially lifesaving bracelet. You can even put a custom message on it so they’ll remember you every time they go for a run!
Road ID Bracelet – the Wrist ID Sport – Identification Bracelet, ID Wristband, Child ID, and Sport ID

Headlamp

With winter comes short days. And many runners will spend countless hours in the dark training for their spring race. Be a light for their dark nights, and get your runner friend a new headlamp. Not only will they be able to see better, but be safer. Look for something with rechargeable batteries, at least 200 lumens, and several light modes. The Petzl Actik Core affordably has all these options, and was Ultrarunner Magazine’s Top Pick in it’s November 2017 issue.
Petzl – ACTIK CORE Headlamp, 350 Lumens, Rechargeable, with CORE Battery, Black

Shorts

T-shirts. Long sleeve, short sleeve, sleeveless. Cotton and technical fabrics. Fun and ugly. Runners usually have too many shirts. What they don’t have enough of are SHORTS.

The North Face Better Than Naked shorts consistently receives high ratings. I would agree, they are my favorite shorts. The fit is light and comfortable. They also come with a lot of pockets, hence the “better than” title. Price wise at $59 you get a lot for your money. Give your runner a pair of these shorts and he’ll hug you and give you a few t-shirts in return.
The North Face Better Than Naked Short – Men’s TNF Black X-Large x 5″

A Cheer Section at their next race!

The best gift is the one that doesn’t cost any money. Make up some posters and cheer them on at their next race! Here’s a few tips: Get a group to cheer, the louder the better. Plan to spend some time there, especially if it’s a marathon. Cheer everyone on, not just your runner. Find a good spot midway through the race to cheer at where the race director permits it. Extra credit: Host a aid station! Check with the race director to see how you can volunteer.
Funny race signs

Injury Prevention

The old cliché is “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This cliché holds true in running. If a runner can stay injury free, they are able to run more consistently. As a result, they are able to run better and faster in races. Most runners will have experienced an injury. I personally have experience multiple hamstring injuries, calf strains, shin splints, and achilles tendonisis. I have implemented a few exercises, and have made changes in form and footwear in order to minimize my injuries in the future.

I currently work on strength and flexibility through Yoga routines from Tara Stiles. She has beginner, intermediate, and advanced routines. I’m stuck in the beginner routines, since I’m not very flexible. She has a great beginner routine for strength and flexibility. When I am able, I try to rotate these two routines daily into my workout. Strength and flexibility or directly correlated to running injury free, and I believe these routines have helped me combat chronic achilles pain.

It is important to mind your form when running. Strengthening core and limbs can help a runner keep correct form. According to this Runner’s World article– it all starts in the hips. If the hips are up, you can have a foot strike that is underneath of you. This will ensure that the force caused by a footfall is spread out evenly. This is a key in order to prevent future injuries.

Altra footwear. Every day footwear. Correct Toes. Smash the links. The shoes/correct toes have helped me to stay injury-free. I’m not saying the shoes or the Correct Toes alone will keep you free from injury, but I submit that they have helped. The Correct Toes have allowed my toes the chance to have a natural toe splay on my run. This in turn has minimized the force on my achilles tendon and has reduced this risk of injury. Runners may never be able to fully prevent injuries. However, with strength/flexibility training and the right footwear, they may be able to minimize injuries.

Gallery Gallop 8.5k

This is a late race review. The race took place on May 13, 2017 on Miller Beach in Gary, Indiana. Runners ran by the shores of Lake Michigan in the evening and were able to catch the sunset over the water. Beautiful run! But it was tough…

The race started out on the beach, and we ran by the water for the first 2.5 miles. Running in the sand is tough. It felt like I was taking a step back for every two steps forward. Each step runners had to deal with the issue of sinking into the sand before the next stride. I attempted to stay as close to the water as possible, as the wet sand helped alleviate the issue of sinking into the sand on each step.

After the first 2.5 miles, we ran off the beach an onto the road. The section between the beach and getting onto the road was exceptionally tough, since there was no wet sand anywhere, meaning each step was sucked into the sand, and runners had to pull their feet out for the next step. Once on the road, the going was easier. We ran on the road for nearly a mile, and then through the sand and back onto the beach to finish off the race.

The last portion of the race was the toughest, as we were eventually directed to the sand dunes. Runners had to climb a couple of dunes. The dunes seemed rather large, and it was made worse by the fact that the paths were made entirely of sand! 2 steps forward, 1 step back it seemed, all the way to the top of the hill. Running into the finish line was a special treat, as runners were treated with a fantastic sunset while they finished.

The Gallery Gallop 8.5K raised funds for this the Lake Street Gallery in their efforts to support the community of Gary, Indiana.

GG8.5

Adventure on Pike’s Peak

We had a trip to Colorado planned for quite some time to visit with some family. While in the mountains, we might as well get some running in to, right? My brother and I decided to hit the nearest peak, which happened to be Pikes Peak. Being close and as well as popular destination, Pikes Peak was the logical mountain to climb for us visiting flat-landers.

At first we were going to hike up the Barr Trail, but ran into some logistical issues since we would have to find someone to drop us off at the trail head and pick us up at the top. With a little more research we found a closer route that could be done as an out and back; Pikes Peak from the Crags Trail (through Devil’s Playground). It’s a 12.8 mile trail which we were able to do in just over 10 miles (see below). At the last minute we recruited a couple of cousins to join us and started our adventure!

There was definitely a big learning curve for me (as a Midwesterner) running up my first mountain. Here are a few lessons that I learned:

  • In most cases, you can’t “run” up to a 14,000 foot peak (unless you’re Kilian Jornet). Definitely not if you are an out of shape middle-of-the pack Midwesterner. At most it could be considered a power hike. Trust me, it’s going to take a lot longer than you think.

    2017-08-05 10.16.21

    A more *ahem* “runnable” section.

  • Bring layers. Lots of them. Just because it is 70 degrees at the start doesn’t mean it won’t be below freezing and snowing at the top. I had two jackets and a hat, and was still huddling against boulders at the top shivering.

    2017-08-05 09.00.13-2

    It’s cold!

  • Expect to do some rock climbing. Most would consider it easy bouldering. A Midwesterner like me would consider it advanced technical rock climbing. Don’t we need rock climbing gear for this?

    2017-08-05 08.59.52

    Don’t we need climbing gear for this?

  • Not every peak is going to have a warming hut and fresh donuts at the top. But Pike’s Peak does, and we certainly enjoyed it!

    2017-08-05 07.58.09

    Josh, Josh, and Daniel at the top

  • Don’t be afraid to cheat and hitch hike past the difficult bouldering section. Thankfully Pike’s peak has a road to the top, and a wonderful couple from Chicago let four grown men cram into the back of their car for 2-3 miles down the mountain.2017-08-05 08.18.25

Overall it was a wonderful experience. It took us about four hours to do the whole thing. You can check it out on my Strava, https://www.strava.com/activities/1119335819/embed/4a8e387ef7135193fc9e07fe109704ffc8f529a3” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Our hike up,  and Our hike down. 

Proper preparation and realistic expectations are paramount. Make sure you properly research and prepare for your route. Whenever you are running in high elevation wear layers, bring plenty of water, and let someone know where you are at!

Bring on Pikes Peak!

Sam and I are planning to run up Pikes Peak on August 7th (tentatively). Sam will then do the descent. Unfortunately, being midwesterns, we are ill-prepared to take on the elevations and the unforgiving ascent.

We are preparing for the grueling haul. Sam has been doing treadmill workouts with a steep grade. I have decided to eat gummy bears while I run up sandy hills in Northwest Indiana. After the workout, I prepare my lungs by jumping into a body of water on a flooded trail and seeing how long I can hold my breath. I figure this will help my lungs prepare for the elevation change 😊. The pain is real folks!

The Barr Trail is 12.6 miles long, and will be a fun but difficult trek. I have been working hills and sand dunes in Indiana, but nothing we have will prepare us adequately for the elevation changes. The most we can do is train, stay fit, and be sure to bring adequate nutrition for the run. I’ve hiked up the Pikes Peak three times, and I don’t think getting to the top will be an issue. I might eat those words.

PP warning

Injury Issues? Check the Shoes you Wear at Work!

During one of my chronic achilles tendonitis bouts, I was lamenting to my brother that it was terrible to not be able to run, and that every time I started back up running again, I seemed to injure my achilles tendon again. During this conversation, he asked me what I wear for shoes in the office. I told him I wore shoes I got from Walmart. His reply: “😮That could be part of your problem!”

This is during the time that I had discovered the Altra running shoes. I had recently discovered that having a shoe with a wider toe box and zero heel drop would be key to strengthening my tendons. However, this did not seem to be enough as I had just hurt my tendon trying to run minimally in my newly purchased Altras. The thought that my shoes I wore everyday could be compounding the issue did not occur to me.

This is when I started to check into shoes I could wear to work that would make my feet happy! Walmart shoes would not cut it. I had recently discovered that part of my injury problems were a result of my crooked toes to do my feet being scrunched in “normal” footwear. I needed something a wide toe box. I also started wearing an toe spacer in order to help the natural spread of my toes. I found a list of shoes that would fit the bill, but ultimately, I went with the Altra Provision Walk.

The Altra Provision Walk has been great to my feet. It is a comfortable shoe that allows my toes to full spread out, and it has helped to naturally strengthen my tendons. I will soon be in the market for a dressier shoe to fit the natural footwear bill, but thankfully my workplace is just casual enough to allow me to wear the Altra Provision Walk.

If you are suffering from injury, you may want to check not only your running shoes, but check the shoes you spend most of your day in! This could be part of the problem! A runner who is looking to go back to natural form will want to look into a shoe that will allow their toes to spread out (similar to what would happen if you went barefoot) and that has a zero heel drop. For the women readers- I know high heels look great, but is it worth sacrificing your foot health? Men who wear dress shoes- is the narrow toe box and the higher heel on most dress shoes worth it if it promotes injury. I submit that you can find great looking footwear that will promote natural alignment and foot health.

Buckley 5 mile

This weekend was the Buckley 5 mile race in Lowell, IN. It is part of the XYZ Trail Race Series in Northwest Indiana. The trail series is a fun and competitive event scored on paced on a runner’s placing at the races. The group is organized through the Extra Mile Fitness Company out of Valparaiso, Indiana.

In registering for the race, there was no options to choose a shirt size. I didn’t even notice it going through the online sign up. A few days after I had registered, I received an email from the race director apologizing that they had not asked for shirt size- and asked what size I would need. I was impressed by the customer service. I had high hopes for the organization for the actual race.

The actual race started near the entrance of the Buckley Homestead. The race was to start at 7:30 AM sharp on Saturday July 22, 2013. However, torrential downpours the night before made it difficult to get volunteers to some of the mile markers since some of the trails were flooded (we still ran through the flooded trails). This caused a 10 to 15 minute delay at the start. The rain was coming down steadily at the start of the race.

There was a runner who was dressed as the farmer (he looked like Joe Dirt with his wig on). Anyone who beat the “farmer” would get a beer glass. The “farmer” for the race looked like a young kid who would actually be fairly quick- I’m guessing the race directors didn’t want to pass out too many beer glasses.

The race started out on the roads. It was basically a 3 mile out and back road section with a few hills. I started out fairly conservatively, and at one point this “farmer” was about a 100 meters ahead of me. I didn’t think I would be able to get him. My plan was to start conservative for the first half of the race, and then pick up the pace the second half. This was before I realized the first half of the race would be all road, and the second half would be mostly trail. I stuck with the plan, knowing that my pace wouldn’t be quicker due to the sloppy trails, but I would pick up the effort in the trails. I brought a pair of road shoes and a pair of Altra trail shoes to the race. I’m glad I did, as once I found out about the first 3 miles of the course, I was able to switch out to my road shoes. I was planning on it being mostly trail before I had arrived to the race.

My pre-race plan was going smoothly. At 2.5 miles, I was 100 meters or more behind the “farmer”, and this is when I picked up the effort. By the 3 mile mark, I knew I had a good chance to catch him, and I had passed a slew of other runners. I also knew we were hitting the trail section of the course, and this would play to my advantage, since I love trail running in inclement conditions. The trails were slippery, and I could tell runners ahead of me were being extra cautious. This allowed me to catch a few more people, and then finally, right before the 4 mile mark I caught and passed the farmer.

At about 4.5 miles is when we hit a flooded section of the trail. The water was up to my knees, which made it difficult to run in. At this point, a guy I had passed earlier caught me and passed me in the water. He seemed to have an easier time navigating the flooded trail than I did. We got out of the water with less than a half mile to go, and we raced to the finish. He was able to beat me, and I finished 14th overall in the field with a time of 37:51- not bad for trying to navigate muddy/flooded trails for the last 2 miles. The course was also a tenth of a mile long, but this wasn’t an issue, it just meant runners were able to get more time for more fun!  Later, I found out the course did have to be rerouted some due to the storms the night before, which accounted for the longer course. The “farmer” was close behind, and he finished 15th. I was disappointed no one was at the flooded trail to take photos, as it would have made a sweet photo op for the race.

Overall, the race was well organized, and it was extremely fun, especially the last two miles in the trails. The prizes were great, and the “beat the farmer for a prize” element added intrigue to the race for me, and literally gave me an additional goal to literally have my sights on during the race-  since I was staring at his back for the better part of the first 4 miles.

Beer glass