Runners can be picky about their gear and rightly so, as my favorite Gu flavor might make you sick, and your tried-and-true sneakers could leave me with shin splints. That makes them seem hard to shop for, but as long as you avoid ultrapersonal items like nutrition, it’s possible to give runners in your life gifts they’ll love. Based on my own favorites, plus an informal survey of nine friends who run everything from 5Ks to marathons, I’ve narrowed down the best gifts for runners of all experience levels, from new runners tackling their first miles to speedsters collecting age-group race prizes.
For new runners
New runners often don’t invest in moisture-wicking socks made from synthetics or wool, and run in their old cotton socks. A wet cotton sock rubbing against the foot can cause painful blisters that may stop new runners in their tracks. These thin and breathable socks from Feetures keep feet dry, and a heel tab protects against irritation from the back of the shoe. For runners picking up the habit, a three-pack should get them through a week of running without doing laundry.
Listening to music or podcasts can be hugely motivating for runners who need a distraction from the long road ahead. While Bluetooth wireless headphones eliminate any annoying cord tangles, I actually prefer old-school headphones because they never need charging. If RapCaviar is the only thing getting the runner in your life through their daily miles, you don’t want them stuck with a pair of dead headphones. Yurbuds stick in sweaty ears, and mine have lasted for years.
On the other hand, if the latest technology gets a new runner going, writer Jake Swearingen tested out six different workout headphones, and this Bose pair came out on top. Five hours of battery life will power them through a couple of runs before a charge. These would also be a solid upgrade for a runner with subpar wireless headphones, like my friend who recently completed her first marathon: “Not having those wires all over you is so freeing, but my pair is bulky and doesn’t stay in well when I get really sweaty, and having to adjust them every few steps is so irritating.”
As your miles start accumulating and your runs get longer, it’s exciting to track your progress with a GPS watch. Getting a Garmin — the name itself is synonymous with running watch in certain circles — can be a rite of passage for runners marking their transition to full-blown data-obsessed run nerds. This entry-level model monitors speed, time, and distance, and functions as a daily activity tracker when you’re not running. A friend who runs two to three times per week said, “I’ve been using the Nike+ Run app, and even though it shows mileage numbers, it doesn’t always appear to be accurate, since there is no map that shows where I’ve actually run. The Garmin would make tracking my mileage more accurate.”
Good gifts for new runners address concerns that might keep them on the couch and off the road. We’ve touched on blisters and boredom, and this armband answers another common question: Where do I put my stuff?! I ran for years with a very simple Nike armband — that I can’t even link to because it’s from circa 2008 and long discontinued — but this one serves the same purpose, giving runners a place to stash a phone and keys.
For veteran runners
Runners pounding the pavement several times a week know all about aching muscles. A good rubdown by a pro relieves pain by loosening muscle fibers and increasing circulation. Among my running friends, massages were the most wished for gifts hands down. One runner I spoke with said she’d love “a gift card to get a good massage, somewhere they really know how to treat athletes or somewhere that’s really swanky and worth the splurge after a big race.” At On Point Sports Care in New York, the massage therapists are athletes themselves who understand the unique needs of runners.
If they’re too busy running to take time out for a massage, this vibrating foam roller gets deep into sore muscle tissues at home. There are three speed settings for controlling the intensity of the vibrations. I’ve tried one at a physical therapist’s office and never got beyond the first level — so there’s a good chance this will be a favorite of hard-core runners who find traditional foam rollers too soft.
Even longtime runners can’t resist new socks, especially if they have specific concerns like blisters in between the toes. A friend of mine with this issue said, “Injinji socks were game-changing for me. They help keep me blister-free on my runs and come in all different blends, thicknesses, and even some fun colors.” This colorful “electric spectrum” three-pack is most definitely fun.
Speedy runners, or anyone looking to shed seconds off their times, will appreciate the science-backed training plans from expert coach Jack Daniels. Using the tables in the book, runners can discover their “VDOT” value — a measure of fitness developed by Daniels — to set smart goals for future races, develop a weekly workout plan, and determine their ideal training speeds.
For marathon runners
These minimalist course prints, personalized with a runner’s time and race number, are an understated way for marathoners to show off their accomplishments. They’re available for popular races including Boston and London, and look better hanging on the wall than a tattered bib.
As painful as it can be at times, regular foam-rolling should be a fact of life for anyone training for a marathon. Rolled out muscles feel better on daily runs, and getting in the habit can prevent more serious overuse injuries. Several runners wished for a TriggerPoint by name, including one former collegiate runner who said it’s “amazing for rolling out any aches and pains.” The Grid X model is extra firm for full-body rolling.
More inconspicuous, this tiny yet powerful ball provides muscle relief wherever you are. Sitting with one underneath an achy glute or hamstring is a great way to squeeze in some recovery time at work. It also feels superb to roll under your foot.
Besides leaving you sore, marathon training also tends to make you constantly dehydrated. Zojirushi makes our favorite water bottle that can keep water cold all day. Sleek and streamlined, it’ll look better on a runner’s desk than a standard-issue plastic bottle.
For the runner who has everything
Usually only found in physical therapists’ offices, air-compression boots speed up recovery by alleviating inflammation, improving circulation, and bringing down swelling in the muscles. Or as one of my running buddies said, “It’ll squeeze the pain right out of you.” This would be an impressive addition to any runner’s recovery arsenal.
They probably already have a running watch, but do they have a watch with a built-in compass and altimeter that will measure their cadence and lactic threshold and predict race times? What about one that will also give data on swimming, cycling, golf, and hiking? Or one with a sleek “Champagne” metal band? Probably not.
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