Starting something new can feel intimidating. But having the right tools to help you succeed can make a huge difference. Luckily, when it comes to running, there are very few items that are considered absolutely essential to have before you hit the open road (or the treadmill). Of course, there’s also an endless number of additional odds and ends that you can pick up to make your jogs feel easier or more comfortable. As someone who has been running since she was 12 and is currently training for her third marathon, I’ve tried everything on this list at one time or another. Some I use every once in a while, some I use on every single run, but all of them have proved to be incredibly useful at at least one point in my running journey.Here you’ll find the ultimate guide to everything you need—or might want to have on hand—before you start running on the regular, from a good sports bra to anti-chafe gels and a whole lot of spandex.
There are technically only three things you need to get started running: proper sneakers, a supportive sports bra and athletic apparel (like a pair of shorts and a T-shirt). That said, you want to make sure you’re working with the very best version of each, so don’t be afraid to try multiple before you settle down. Many running or sporting goods stores have generous return policies should you find that the shoes you thought you loved are actually not so great. Yes, even if you wore them out on your high school’s goose dropping-covered track.
1. RUNNING SHOES
This is obviously the most important purchase you’re going to make as a new runner. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good running shoe, with plenty of options coming in under $100. But how do you know which shoe is best for you? Double check the level of support (shorter runs require less padding than a marathon training shoe), what type of surface the sole is intended for (road, trail or track) and any specific fit recommendations in the shoe description (for example, some shoes are specially made for people who overpronate while other are designed for those who underpronate). One of the best ways to find the best shoe for you is to pop into your local running store, like Jack Rabbit, to have an expert watch you walk or jog and give personalized suggestions. But if that’s not a possibility, start with a fairly neutral road shoe, like the options below, and see how that feels before moving on to a fancier style.
2. SPORTS BRA
As a female runner, this is the second most important purchase to keep in mind. Running is considered a high-impact activity, so that minimalist bralette you’ve been rocking for yoga simply won’t cut it when head out for your first jog. Look for sports bras marked as high impact or high support. If you have bigger breasts you should look into buying a bra specifically designed for size DD and up.
3. RUNNING CLOTHING
Sure, you could pull on an oversize cotton T-shirt from college for your afternoon jog, but cotton is notoriously bad at wicking away sweat, meaning you might end up drenched and chafing after just a mile or two. It’s definitely worth investing in true athletic apparel, especially if you’ll be running in anything other than perfect 60-degree weather with zero humidity. Running apparel is specifically designed keep you drier, warmer or cooler and it’s generally comfortable, so you can focus on working those legs rather than readjusting your shorts that keep riding up.
EXTRAS WORTH INVESTING IN
As mentioned before, the only things you really need to start running are shoes, a sports bra and proper sweat-wicking attire. However, there are a number of other things that might make your run more even more comfortable, safer or—dare I say—fun. Here are a few more items you might want to consider adding to your shopping cart before your 5K.
4. RUNNING SOCKS
Yes, these are different from the five-pack of Champion socks you typically pick up at CVS, thank you for asking. Running socks are designed to combat some of the pressure put on your feet by pounding the pavement. You can expect extra cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot and compression at the arches, ankles and even calf muscles, if you opt for a super-tall pair. They really do make running that much more comfortable, even if you don’t suffer from any foot ailments. And if you do, they’re even better for relieving the pressure that many miles can put on your poor feet.
5. A RUNNING BELT
Unless you opt for a pair of leggings with pockets or don’t mind carrying your keys, ID and cell phone in your hand, you’ll likely want to pick up a running belt or arm band. Most runners tend to prefer a belt that sits around your hips (with the pouch either in the middle of your back or right in front) over an arm band, in an effort to keep the weight on their bodies even. A typical cell phone weigh only about 4 ounces but why make your one arm work that much more?
6. A PORTABLE WATER BOTTLE
If you’re running at your local track or around your block you can go ahead and stow a water bottle anywhere along the route as a quick hydration station. However, if you’re headed out for a longer loop, especially one without any public water fountains, it’s smart to carry along your own H20. There are plenty of handheld options as well as lightweight backpacks, like Camelback, but personally I prefer to use one from Simple Hydration ($20) that’s designed to be tucked into the back of your waistband for an easy handsfree jog.
Beginner runners especially might find it much easier to get in the zone and tune out nagging, negative thoughts with the help of some music or a good podcast. Be aware, most running headphones don’t include noise-cancelling features and are specifically designed to let in some outside noise. That’s so you can stay safe and remain aware of your surroundings, like cars or cyclists coming up behind you.
8. A GPS WATCH
A basic watch that, one that keeps track of your pace, distance and time, can help you gauge how you’re improving over time or keep you on pace without needing to pull out your cell phone every five minutes.
9. ANTI-CHAFE STICKS, CREAMS AND GELS
If you’ve ever worn a dress on a 90-degree day with 90 percent humidity, then you know just how awful thigh chafing can be. Now, imagine that irritating rubbing not just between your legs, but under your arms, along your bra band or even along the top of your socks. These are some of the challenges you might run into thanks to ill-placed seams or clothing that just doesn’t vibe with your body or motions. Of course, you might not have to deal with any of those, but it’s best to be prepared. (You should also consider picking up some treatments for skin that is already chafed, just in case.)
10. SAFETY MEASURES
If you ever plan to run outside when it’s dark, then you have to invest in either reflective gear or lights. This is non-negotiable, for safety purposes. Cars, cyclists and the like need to be able to see you coming and regular streetlamps or headlights might not be enough. Luckily, there are a ton of options (vests, straps, tapes, oh my!) so you can tailor your nighttime apparel to fit your style. You might want to consider carrying other safety tools, as well, like pepper spray or a whistle. There are also apps you can download that alert the authorities to your location in case of an emergency. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s an unfortunate reality that people might try to take advantage of unprotected runners. To risk sounding like your mom, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
OTHER ITEMS TO CONSIDER
Below are items that aren’t exactly necessary, and you might already own, but they’re good to know about once you settle into a running rhythm.
11. A FOAM ROLLER OR OTHER RECOVERY TOOLS
We could wax poetic about the wonders of foam rollers for days, but we’ll keep things concise for now. Basically, they’re phenomenal for massaging sore muscles and preventing injury, and they feel damn good too. There are also hard sticks (a personal favorite) that get in a bit deeper or even the Theragun, which really gets all up in there. IcyHot and Biofreeze can help with any lingering muscle pain, as can good old-fashioned ice packs. Whatever it takes to make your recovery easier and prevent injuries from popping up or getting worse.
12. HAIR TIES AND HEADBANDS
You definitely already own hair ties (we assume) but these are made with extra grip, so you never again have to stop to re-tie or tighten your ponytail mid-run. Same goes for headbands to keep all those fly-aways at bay.
13. COMPRESSION SLEEVES
You may have seen runners wearing a single independent sleeve on their arm or over their calves and wondered “what the heck is that supposed to do?” It was probably a compression sleeve. Just like the socks your aunt wears on airplanes, these sleeves encourage blood flow in whatever part of the body they’re compressing. This in turn can help alleviate cramps, shin splints or muscle strains. Even if you’re not injured, wearing them can help your muscles recover quicker after a hard workout. Either way, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start pulling these on to see if they’ll actually do what you want them to do.
14. SPORT SUNGLASSES
Rather than squint your way through a sunny workout, you should slip on a pair of these lightweight sunnies. Whether you prefer a wraparound visor look or a more classic Wayfarer style, sport glasses are designed to stay in place even as you sweat and bounce all over town. If you’re really worried about having them fall off your face, loop them into a glasses strap and you should be all set.
15. Workout Underwear
I won’t beat around the bush, working out at a high intensity means more sweat everywhere, including in your crotch. No one wants to deal with a swampy feeling down there so if you’re someone who sweats more than most or lives in a particularly humid area, it could be worth trying a pair of these moisture-wicking undies.
16. Heart Monitor
Monitoring your heart rate while working out is one great way to track your fitness and can even be used as a workout method in and of itself (by aiming to hit different heart rates over a certain time or distance). Or, maybe you’re just curious about your heart health and want to keep an eye on things without getting too deep into the numbers. If you do plan to utilize a heart rate monitor, be sure to really do your research and talk to your doctor so you can truly understand the data you’re collecting.