I’ve long been a fan of the Swiss company’s innovative shoes. In the first few years, spotting fellow wearers at the start line of races was a rare enough experience that you would find yourself exchanging words and appreciation. Nowadays, sightings are legion as sales grow, and they are stocked in all good running shops – the company is now the fastest-growing running-shoe brand worldwide. They also now have numerous models targeting different terrain and speeds – including a brand new racing shoe, the Cloudflash, which I’ve worn for some speedwork and am hugely impressed by so far – it’s incredibly light and comfortable. All the models, though, remain true to the original design, with the little ‘clouds’ on the sole providing bounce without adding weight. What they also all have in common is how incredibly comfortable they are.
The same, pleasingly, is true of their new running clothes. They’ve taken their time over this range – three years in the making, and six after their original launch. It is very much premium, ‘performance’ stuff, sitting at the top end of the market – but boy, is it worth it. The waterproof jacket is the best I’ve ever tried – the only one I’ve ever worn that doesn’t make me feel suffocatingly hot after about a mile, and it packs down to the size of a wallet. The lightweight race vest and shorts are so lightweight they occasionally provoke a momentary panic of “oh my god am I actually wearing my shorts?” (Or perhaps that’s just me?). The idea behind the range is not to be seasonal – there will be no endless redesigns or gimmicky new fabrics claiming to have magical effects – just classic designs aiming to become your ‘favourite’ kit. It’s certainly mine.
At the other end of the market (from niche, that is, to mainstream) JD Sports have a good range of reasonably priced running gear. Runners can be terrible snobs about what they wear and where they shop, but a lot of people don’t have a speciality, independent store anywhere near them.
So of course at JD it’s the big brands – Nike and Adidas who feature, but the prices often seem much better than buying direct. They also seem to have branches in lots of airport terminals – dead handy if you are disorganised and realise just before heading off to run some trails that you’ve forgotten to pack any socks at all. Which may or may not have happened to me on one or two occasions …
And despite liking my niche brands, I come back to Nike again and again. They simply make really good kit. I’ve not tried the magic sub-2 shoes, but I have worn through about 10 pairs of Nike Pegasus in all my long/easy runs, and come back to them time and time again despite flirtations with other brands. They also make really good lightweight summer vests at reasonable prices and the most comfortable pair of trainers in my wardrobe. And, of course, those socks. These Free RN trainers are quite an interesting style – they are squarely in the “barefoot style” of shoe, in that they are lightweight, very flexible and suitable for a neutral gait. But I think they’d actually work really well as a racing shoe (I’ve yet to try that though). They are so comfy I’ve even worn them without socks, though I’m not sure I’d recommend that if you aren’t used to it …
I’ve never quite understood why people will happily (or at least more or less willingly) hand over in excess of £100 for running shoes, but then carp about a pair of socks costing more than £1.99. Some things are worth spending a few extra quid on – after all, they get an awful lot of wear and can be responsible, if ill-fitting, for some truly annoying running issues in the form of blisters or nail issues. Of course, as with running shoes, if it happens that cheap ones work well for you then lucky you. Not everyone is so robust of toe. Stance make my favourite socks, worn for multiple marathons and god knows how many miles. The fact that they happen to look rather cool is an added bonus. And yes, there is a Star Wars range I want it, and I don’t care who knows it.
Tribe Sports has an interesting backstory – or perhaps more accurately, ongoing evolution. Originally a community or social network rather than a brand, they launched using funds from Kickstarter with the aim of cutting out the middle man and creating affordable running gear. You won’t find them in running shops, as they only sell via their website. Since their launch, things have changed a bit, and they are probably familiar to many now through their parkrun kit. But all of their kit – branded with the parkrun logo or not – is really very good, as many of you will know. What you might not know is the the new ‘elite’ performance range, which is definitely pitched at a different level. It is technically superior and washes superbly well – a quality that might not be exciting but is pretty darn important for running kit. The fit is excellent, and the T-shirts are very breathable and lightweight, even for hot-weather running.
If I were to create a pie chart of the brands I actually wear running (and the rest of the time) then Lululemon would probably comprise the largest part of it. I have a pair of shorts with multiple pockets that I’ve worn for six marathons – the style is an old one but is very similar to this. Those pockets are genius; they are sort of a double layer in the design which makes it really easy to slip gels in and out, but also keeps them safe – no chance of them falling out. Then their Fast and free tights are the most comfortable running leggings I’ve ever tried on, their Tracker shorts are a summer staple and they make the best running backpack, bar none. Of course, all this comes at a price (though given previous running backpacks gave me blisters and stripped skin off my shoulders, I’d say that’s money well spent). They do have regular sales and a ‘we made too much’ section for men and women on their website that’s well worth keeping an eye on. Because the thing with Lululemon is that yes, it looks great but it’s also technically really, really good. Sure, I’m as vain as the next person, but when I pick kit for a marathon it’s absolutely a choice based on comfort and practicality, and they are simply brilliant.
I read a stat the other day (quite possibly from the Institute of Spurious Stats) that 11% of runners have lucky pants. Even Olympians have lucky underwear. Anyone who has suffered, err, friction in unfortunate areas will attest that it’s no laughing matter: I’ve seen more discussion of ‘good running underwear’ on some Facebook forums than virtually any other topic. I’ve seen the question “Should I go commando?” rather a lot too, to which my answer is: if you are man wearing those super short racing shorts then FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NO. Some things cannot be unseen. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, running pants. This new style from Runderwear is excellent and I highly recommend them. As you were.