This is quite a long product review, but I thought I’d share my top 5 essential products for running your first 21k (and all your succeeding 21k’s).
RUNNING your first 21-kilometer run can seem like a daunting challenge. Some people can’t even fathom how long 21 kilometers would be. Some ask, “Is that the distance from Ateneo to the Fort?” Nope. It’s even longer. Ateneo to the Fort is only 14 kilometers. Twenty-one kilometers would be like running from Ateneo to NAIA Terminal 3 via C-5.
The running boom hit Manila and steadily grew after 2009. With running events like the Globe Run for Home and the yearly Condura Run getting bigger and better each year, everyone seems to have jumped into the running bandwagon. People started off running the three-kilometer races, and slowly kept upgrading to longer distances. These days, the most popular distance among running enthusiasts is the 21km distance. For those who started running during (or even before) the boom, the 21k is probably the most comfortable distance for them. They’ve had enough training and experience to run something much longer than a 10k, but are not yet at the level to be able to finish a full marathon (42 kilometers). Join a road run and you’ll see that the starting line for the 21k has a lot more runners than it would have back in 2008.
That being said, you’ll probably want to join the bandwagon and run a 21k too, that is, if you’ve already grown tired of the 10k and you’re looking for a challenge. This article isn’t going to give you a detailed training program though. I would assume you already have a suitable training program for your athletic level or a coach to guide you. Be warned though, you can’t just wing a 21k. In fact, most 21k training programs span 12 weeks.
But there’s more to running than just the training and sweating. These days, running has become an industry and lifestyle in itself. Don’t deny it, you want to look good while running. You want the best gear and accessories to help you get to the finish line in the most comfortable way possible too. That being said, here are the top five essential things for 21k runners when joining a road race.
#1 The right shoes—get yourself tested
I can never stress enough the importance of using the right pair of running shoes. A few years back, I settled for any kind of rubber shoes I found in my closet. In fact, I finished my first fun run wearing tennis shoes. That was back in 2008. Fast forward to today and I know better. There isn’t one specific running shoe that is perfect for everyone, but there are specific models of shoes which are more suitable for some, depending on your running gait. The Nike Lunarlon series is a great shoe for those who are just beginning to increase mileage. Walking into Nike and trying on any pair of shoes just won’t do though. You need to get yourself tested. You may be thinking, “Get myself tested? Do I have a disease?!” No, you don’t have a disease, but every runner has a unique way of running, called “running gait” or “footfall”. The shoe he or she buys depends on it.
It’s best to visit a store like RUNNR at Bonifacio High Street, Asics at Greenbelt 3, or Riovana in Katipunan. These stores have treadmills with cameras attached to them. While you run, the salesperson is able to assess your foot strike. Heel strikers are those who land on their heels. This is the most injury-prone type of running. Some are very efficient runners who land on their forefoot (mid-foot striker). The last group is the toe strikers. Landing on one’s toes is more efficient for sprinting track events, and not for long distance road running. You are then made to step on a special board barefoot. The imprint your foot leaves on the board will show if you are flatfooted, neutral, or high-arched. The salesperson will take all these things into consideration and then recommend a shoe for you.
Luckily a lot of people, like me, are midfoot strikers with neutral arches. Majority of shoes manufactured are perfect for this type of runner, so there are a lot of shoes to choose from. I would highly recommend the Nike LunarGlide+ 2, a shoe that provides a stable ride but is lightweight at the same time (8.9 ounces). The LunarEclipse+ is more suited to overpronators and is very heavy due to its stability cushioning. I would not recommend it to people running long distances as you may feel like you are running with weights attached to your ankles. The LunarRacer shoes are very lightweight and are classified as racing flats. They are perfect for short distances because of their lightness. Although used by elite athletes for long distance races, racing flats are not recommended for recreational runners running long distances.
When running with this shoe, you feel the dynamic support of the Lunarlon cushioning. It’s enough to cushion your foot, but is flexible at the same time. It’s a bouncy shoe, so with each stride, you feel the shoe spring to life. The LunarGlides are further souped-up with Flywire technology, which enables the shoe to keep it’s structure while reducing the overall weight of the shoe. This material is made of nylon fibers that help keep the foot snug and in place during runs.
The LunarGlide is a very sturdy shoe. As someone who logs in very high mileage per week, I would expect the shoe to only last six months. The shoes have gone beyond its life expectancy though. They only start to feel soft more than a year after heavy usage, and the sole never separates from the shoe.
Apart from the great functionality and sturdiness of these shoes, the LunarGlide comes in fun and bright colors. The great thing with Nike is, their running shoes are never just boring. Unlike other brands that come in just white or grey with generic lines and designs, Nike shoes are always bright and eye-catching. You’re sure to stand out and cross the line in style with this pair.
The Nike Lunar Glide is available at all Nike stores, Toby’s, Planet Sports, RUNNR and Riovana. It retails at P5,495.
#2 Compressions—get some support
It’s common knowledge to runners that wearing basketball shorts or cotton shirts during a long distance run is not a good idea. Cotton does not wick away sweat from the body, leaving you with a heavy and wet shirt, which is very uncomfortable. Basketball shorts are too long and loose to wear during a long distance run, and will cause chafing between your thighs. They will also constantly flap around and eventually annoy you. Aside from the proper running clothes, 21k runners also need to consider getting support. “A support group?” you may ask. No, we’re talking about supporting your muscles from the fatigue of repeatedly pounding on the road for an average of two hours.
This is where compression comes in. Using compression socks or compression tights are very helpful for 21k runners. Basically, compressions do just that—they compress your muscles. These socks and tights have an extra tight fit, but do not cut off blood circulation. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Compression stimulates blood flow to the muscles by approximately 30% thus speeding up recovery. They can prevent all sorts of injuries (like shin splints) and stabilizes ligaments and tendons. Muscle vibrations are reduced as well, so painful downhill running is nonexistent.
Most people are uncomfortable wearing both short and long tights, especially the macho men. A good quality pair of compression tights can also set you back by a few thousands (think 6,000 to 10,000 pesos). Going for compression socks are therefore a better option.
A great brand for a pair of compression socks is CEP. The brand has used 60 years of compression technology to develop its sports specific compression gear. Their running socks come in various colors like pink, black, white, and green. These socks are knee high and stay that way. They never roll down unlike ordinary knee high socks. Upon wearing the socks, you can already feel the difference in your legs. They immediately feel like fresh legs, ready to take on any distance. I’ve felt a noticeable decrease in leg muscle fatigue during long runs. Timo Bracht, the champion at the 2007 and 2009 European Ironman swears by these socks.
These socks are very tight and are meant to compress muscles, so they’re quite hard to put on. Aside from this, the only downside of this product is its price tag. At a hefty P2,750 for a pair of socks, they’re definitely an investment. It’s worth it though, considering you can wear these socks post-race and even the day after to help muscles recover faster from fatigue. On a non-running related note, they are great to wear on long haul flights to prevent tired legs.
CEP compression socks range from P2,500 to 3,000 and are available at RUNNR, Bonifacio High Street and Riovana, Katipunan.
#3 Energy gels/drinks—”More energy, mas-happy”
Face it, 21 kilometers is grueling. That peanut butter sandwich and banana you ate when you woke up at 3am is not going to be enough to fuel your tank throughout the whole race. It’s going to be a logistical problem bringing along food while you run, and consuming it would be quite tricky. Therefore, it’s best to bring along a couple of energy gels with you on your 21k run.
Different brands have different consistencies and flavors, but most runners like myself swear by GU. Used by top athletes like 2010 World Ironman Champion Mirinda Carfrae and 38-time marathon champion Justine Gillette, GU has been the pioneer in energy gels since 1991. Its product line is very diverse. It has energy gels that contain caffeine, and some that don’t. There are even flavors which have a double shot of caffeine. With GU’s diverse flavor range, everyone is sure to find something they like—they have everything from Vanilla Bean to Mint Chocolate to Jet Blackberry. My personal favorite is the Espresso Love. It has a double dose of caffeine, which wakes me up for early morning races and gets my heart pumping and ready to go at the finish line. It’s sweet enough, but doesn’t leave you choking and begging for water. It’s just the right consistency too. It’s not too watery, so you don’t make a mess out of yourself while consuming it on-the-go. It’s not too dense either, so you won’t have to chew it.
When taken in the middle of the race, let’s say at kilometer 12, its easily digestible formulation allows you to instantly get a boost of energy. I can only compare it to a dying car battery getting a burst of energy from a series connection from another car. For those looking for an extra burst of energy towards the end of the race, when they seem to hit the wall and feel like they can go no further, there is GU Roctane. This baby costs double the price, but it’s also like consuming a double dose of the regular GU.
The energy gel is a gooey concoction (made of glucose, carbohydrates and amino acids among other things) inside a packet much like the ones that contain ketchup at McDonalds. For races, I follow GU’s recommended dose, which is to take one 45 minutes and 15 minutes before the gunstart. GU recommends taking one packet for every 30-40 minutes of activity, but I find that it’s enough to take one every hour. An average person would finish the 21k in about two hours, so it’s good to keep two energy gels on hand during your run. Where to put them, you ask? Your running shorts should have small pockets inside them or you can place them in a slot in your hydration belt, if you have one. For training runs, consume one gel 15 minutes before you start, and an additional gel per hour of activity.
GU is available at P69 a pop from Anton Guerrero. Call him at 09178844111 GU is also available at retail stores like RUNNR, but will cost you ten to twenty pesos more.
A precautionary warning: an energy gel is not a substitute for hydration. Hydration in the form of water or energy drinks that contain carbohydrates, sugar, and electrolytes—like Gatorade and Powerade—must be consumed at every kilometer, 20-24 ounces at a time. Dehydration is known to cause cramps and even death in extreme cases.
#4 Gadgets, gadgets, gadgets
These days, running has been made easier by technology. You don’t have to run in silence anymore, there are iPods for that. You don’t have to guess how many kilometers you might have already ran, there are GPS watches like the Garmin Forerunner for that. You don’t have to suffer the headache of wearing a visor which keeps slipping just to avoid the glare of the sun, there are ultra lightweight, polarized sports sunglasses for that. Every runner has their gadget of choice, but the most basic and helpful one for someone running a 21k who doesn’t want to shell out an enormous sum (a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch costs about P20,000—Yikes!) is the Nike+ Sportband.
The Nike+ Sportband may seem like a regular watch in the shape of a thick baller ID, but it’s so much more than that. The Sportband comes with a footpod, which fits snugly in an empty slot found in all Nike+ running shoes. This device synchronizes with your Sportband as you run, so you can see your current pace and mileage as you run. Most runners have a specific distance they have to cover for the day, and they usually stick to a route which they know will allow them to reach that goal. This gets boring. But with the Nike+ Sportband, runners are able to run free on the roads and not have to worry about their mileage.
It’s bound to be your best friend while racing, because you can monitor your pace. When running a distance like the 21k, it’s best to have small goals in mind so that you can reach your ideal time. Let’s say you want to finish the race in sub-two hours. You can check your Sportband when you are at kilometer 10 to see if your pace will carry you to a sub-two finish or not. If not, it’s time to step up!
The watch has a detachable interface that can be connected to your computer’s UBS port. Once connected, you can go online and register at the Nike+ site, and you’ll be able to record your mileage, speed, pace, and training frequency. The site is also great because you can monitor your runs, create goals, and customize a training program.
Aside from being a convenient training and racing partner, it’s a great statement piece too. It comes in colors like hot pink, aqua, orange, and there’s even a yellow Livestrong edition. The band has adjustable snap locks, so it’s sure to fit everyone. It’s waterproof too, so you don’t have to worry about sweating on it during your run.
The Nike+ Sportband retails at P3,295 and is available at all Nike stores.
#5 Skin damage: sun block and chafing
There’s one aspect of running which a lot of people don’t pay attention to, yet can cause major problems in the long run (and during a long run, too)—skin care. Running a long distance like the 21k, and doing long training runs, will leave you exposed to the sun for long hours at a time. You may not notice it at first, but eventually the sun will take its toll on your skin and you will develop what people call, “runner’s face”. This is a condition of the skin wherein the runner’s facial skin develops a leathery and haggard appearance. This is due to sun damage.
I’ve always been a big tanning addict, so I thought that it was best not to apply sun block during my runs because I wanted to get fit and at the same time get tanned—I was hitting two birds with one stone. However, after a conversation with my dermatologist, I realized that I had to start protecting my skin to prevent myself from developing the haggard “runner’s face” look.
I was hesitant to apply sun block on my skin before running because all my previous experiences with sun block have been sticky. I didn’t want to spend two hours running a 21k feeling sticky all over my body. My mom recommended Neutrogena UltraSheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 70 to me and I haven’t stopped applying it since then. It doesn’t turn your face white, and your skin remains smooth, without the usual heavy feeling most sun blocks leave you with. The lotion even gave my skin a glowing and dewy look. All my fears of feeling sticky while running were dispelled.
Another silent killer during 21k runs is chafing. Chafing occurs when skin rubs on skin, or when skin rubs on rough cloth repeatedly and over a long period of time. Running a 21k is the perfect recipe to get chafing. One thing you’ll wish you would have known before running a 21k is that you will chafe everywhere—from your armpits, to your inner thighs, and even your nipples (for men).
To address this, use an anti-chafe balm like BodyGlide Anti-Chafe Stick. BodyGlide comes in a deodorant-like package. You must apply it to all areas that you foresee will be rubbing against each other. I usually apply it to my inner thighs and to the area inside my arm which rubs against my jersey while I run. Men should put some on their nipples. Some people recommend using petroleum jelly as an alternative, but experience has shown me that petroleum jelly wears off after a few kilometers and leaves you feeling like you have lip gloss between your thighs. BodyGlide, on the other hand, is virtually undetectable and effectively resists sweat. Apply sparingly, because a little goes a long way. Do this and it will last you 1.5-2 years.
Neutrogena UltraSheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 70 (about P450) is available at groceries, while BodyGlide Anti-Chafe Stick (about P400) is available at RUNNR, Bonifacio High Street.
Of course, there are other essentials, but these are the top 5 products I cannot imagine myself running a 21k without.
(I wrote this as my final paper for my Writing About Culture class, and thought it would be perfect as a blog entry. I edited it for the blog though.)