You don’t need to rush out and buy a whole new wardrobe of running gear. But if you run regularly, you are likely to end up buying clothes specifically for running.
All women should wear sports bras when they run. The Cooper’s Ligaments which support the breasts can be permanently stretched and damaged if the breasts are not properly supported during exercise. This leads to droopy breasts, and cannot be reversed. A good sports bra provides support for your breasts to prevent them from bouncing while you run. In addition, surveys show that half of women who exercise suffer from breast pain, and this is an important reason why they give up.
Sports bras essentially work in two, different (not necessarily mutually exclusive ways):
- they compress your breasts against your body, to reduce the bounce; and/or
- they individually cup each breast, and so provide each breast with support.
It is often said that women with large cup sizes prefer sports bras that support each breast individually; while women with small cup sizes prefer sports bras that simply compress the breasts. This preference is not universal, however – and was not borne out at all in my (admittedly unscientific) survey of women runners who I asked about this.
“The right sports bra for you is one that fits you comfortably and significantly reduces the movement of your bust when running. Every woman’s bust is different, so what works for your training partner, may not be right for you.”
Selaine Messem, Owner, “www.lessbounce.com”
The best way to choose a sports bra is to get expert advice. There are now specialist retailers in the UK such as www.lessbounce.com who can talk you through the details by phone or by email.
You should not buy your bra based on a measurement of your bust size. Bras from different manufacturers are not all the same size. Your measurement may have been done badly, or your bust size may have changed (especially if you increase your training, which tends to reduce your cup size). Your optimal fitting can also vary over your menstrual cycle (because of water retention). Instead you should try the bra and choose one that is comfortable for you and which fits you snugly. Check that there are no seams or clips that will irritate your skin over a long run. Jump up and down – your breasts should hardly bounce at all. Make sure that the base of the bra will not ride up over your breast while you are running, but that it is not so tight that it is difficult to breathe easily. You should also find out whether the shoulder straps dig in.
After running, particularly on long runs, some women have sore skin either between the breasts, across the back under the strap and buckle, or along the line of the base of the bra under the breasts. This friction can be reduced by liberal application of Vaseline, or some other lubricant, on these areas under the bra before you start running.
A crop top is not the same as a sports bra, and many of them don’t provide the support you need. However, there are some sports bras that are designed to look like crop tops so that you can run in them without a t-shirt over the top.
A number of manufacturers also make sports bras which are designed to accommodate the sensor strap of a heart rate monitor, to prevent you from having to have two separate straps around your chest.
Like running shoes, you need to replace your sports bras from time to time – with a lot of use they can last less than a year. Check from time to time to see if your bust is moving more than it should, or if you are beginning to get breast pain. You may also find that it begins to rub after a while.
T-shirts and shorts
You’ll need some shorts and t-shirts for running. At first you can just dig out some old summer clothes, but over time you may want to get some clothes specifically for running.
The most important lesson about buying clothes for running is to steer well clear of cotton. When cotton gets wet (from sweat, or from rain) it gets heavy, irritates the skin, does not insulate well and dries slowly.
Sports clothes manufacturers have come up with synthetic materials which wick away the moisture (that is, move the water from the surface near the skin to the outer layer where it can evaporate). Miraculously, these “technical” materials really do help to keep you dry, warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather. The main downsides are that they are more expensive, and sometime they retain body odour more than other materials, even when washed.
“Running in wet cotton t-shirts always rubs my nipples until they bleed, and I end up looking as if I’ve been in a road accident.”
For t-shirts, you will need some short sleeved and long-sleeved shirts depending on the weather. If you use t-shirts made of technical materials, then don’t wear a cotton t-shirt over the top, or underneath, for warmth, since this prevents the sweat from evaporating through the technical clothing. Instead, get a long sleeved, thermal, technical top for running in the cold.
Your choice of shorts is a matter of personal preference. Some runners prefer to wear tight, lycra-style shorts (like cycling shorts but without the padding) because these reduce friction between the thighs. Others prefer baggier shorts. Lots of people wear both: the tight shorts underneath to reduce friction, with baggy shorts over the top – a combination which is less revealing but can get hot. If you are running in a foreign country, think about local sensibilities and customs before setting off in only a pair of skin-tight, figure hugging cycling shorts.
You can also wear running tights, which may come down to your knees, calves or toes. These keep you warm in cold weather, and are sometimes worn by runners who prefer not to display their legs. Again, some runners accompany these with a pair of baggy shorts over the top.
You can also invest in socks that are specifically designed for running. You probably won’t need these unless you run long distances. You may not notice a seam which rubs your feet over 5 or 10 miles. But by the end of a marathon, you will be painfully aware of every seam, and could well have blisters where your socks have rubbed.
Sock manufacturers such as Thorlos make socks that have no seams, and of which the soles are padded for comfort. I like these, but I know many runners who find them too warm. Other brands of socks are double-layered, which helps to reduce blisters (since the layers rub against each other, rather than against your skin). Many runners swear by these, others find them uncomfortable after they have first been washed. Try the different brands and see which suit you best.
Men’s running shorts usually include an inner liner, designed to support all their equipment, so men don’t in general wear underpants under their running shorts.
Some women’s shorts and running tights are lined and have proper gussets – these can be worn without knickers underneath if you want. Otherwise, there is often a seam just where you don’t want it, which would be very uncomfortable without underwear. Many women wear knickers under their running shorts or tights in any case, for comfort or in case their shorts are otherwise too revealing (especially since some materials become quite see-through when wet).
When it is very cold, runners (of both sexes) sometimes wear thermal underwear under their shorts to keep all their parts warm. The key to good thermal underwear is that it should be wind proof. Helly Hansen and Falke both make thermal underwear designed for sports, available in both men’s and women’s versions.
Clothes for cold weather
In cold weather, the best approach is to dress in many light layers. In general you should have a synthetic base layer which wicks sweat away from your skin, with a windproof or water resistant top layer. On very cold days, you may need an additional thermal layer in between. Using layers enables you to keep you warm with the least weight of clothes, and enables you to regulate your temperature quickly and easily by adding or removing layers as you want.
8 Hats, gloves and tights are useful for cold weather
You may also want to use some light gloves. In general, the thin nylon type work well (cotton and woollen gloves are not sufficiently windproof and can become waterlogged). You can get gloves for runners which are fluorescent yellow, or which have reflective material for running in the dark.
For running when it is cold, you may want a hat. A regular woollen hat will do, or a baseball cap made of synthetic material. Again, you can get water resistant caps, which are useful if it is drizzling; and you can get bright and reflective hats which ensure that you are seen in traffic. There are even caps with a small flashing light on the back for night running.
When you choose a raincoat, you will have to trade off three considerations: the extent to which the jacket is waterproof, its breathability (i.e. whether it retains your perspiration) and its weight. On the whole, jackets that are fully waterproof are heavy, and when you run in them you will become damp inside because your sweat does not evaporate properly. But breathable jackets are rarely fully waterproof: they might protect you from a shower, but will not be much use in heavy rain.
I find that fully waterproof materials, such as Gore-Tex, are too heavy for running. They are also insufficiently breathable, so that you thoroughly wet inside them as your perspiration is retained. So I prefer a raincoat which is windproof and shower-proof, but not fully waterproof. This helps to keep me warm in the rain, and I figure I’m going to get wet whatever happens.
One excellent option for bad weather, which for some reason is much under-rated, is a gillet, which is a waistcoat‑shaped jacket made from water resistant material that protects your torso but not your arms. This can keep you warm in rain and wind, while allowing your sweat to evaporate. A body-warmer is waistcoat-shaped thermal top for keeping your torso warm.
“There is no such thing as bad weather for running: only the wrong clothing.”
Grethe, from Denmark
As well as a suitable jacket, many runners (male and female) use running tights for cold weather, long sleeved thermal tops, and if necessary thermal underwear (see above).
Clothes for hot weather
In hot weather, you should not strip down to the bare minimum, because you must make sure that you protect your skin from the sun. Sunscreen can be annoying, because it blocks your pores and so prevents you from sweating, and also runs into your eyes, but it is a lot better than skin cancer. On long runs, remember to refresh your sunscreen regularly, in case it is being washed away by sweat. If possible, block the sun using a sunhat and t-shirt so that you don’t have to rely on suntan lotion. Use zinc cream (much favoured by cricketers) on to protect your face from the sun.
As for your clothes, technical t-shirts will wick sweat away, which will keep you cool and help to prevent sweat from irritating your skin.
Clothes for racing
In a race, you are working harder and producing more energy. In general, you should feel a bit cold when you line up at the start of a race. If you are not cold before the gun goes, you will probably be too warm once the race is under way.
Faster runners will almost always wear just shorts and a running vest in races. But in cold weather, many mid-pack runners in longer races wear a long-sleeved t-shirt, and perhaps running tights. Remember that you do produce a lot of heat when you are running, so you should be careful not to overheat.
One tip for racing is to take an unused rubbish bin liner with you, in which you cut holes for your head and arms. You can wear this while you are waiting for the race to start to keep warm and dry. Just before, or just after, the race begins, you can rip this off and throw it away on the side of the road (make sure that it does not obstruct other runners). This enables you to wear suitably cool clothes for the race, without getting too cold or wet before you start.
You should always have warm dry clothes with you to change into after a long run or a race. As well as a dry t-shirt and track suit trousers, I like to have fresh socks and shoes or sandals to wear, to give my feet a rest. (See Chapter 11 for more information about races.)