I’m a self-confessed gadget freak and another close shave with eBay and a ridiculously expensive but absolutely essential running watch has triggered the creation of this page – my homage to sports gadgets (mostly running gadgets), gear and utilities that you can almost not afford to live without.
There is a link to most of my gadget reviews on the side bar but here are my top picks for essential running, swimming and strength equipment, software, books and resources.
Some of the product links are affiliate links, if you use these and then buy a product it will help towards the upkeep of my blog and make me grateful. A lot of the products have been sent to me to review but I also spend a lot of my hard-earned cash on gadgets, I try to indicate the source of the product in my gadget reviews but rest assured I will tell you the truth about product regardless of the source.
Activity Sports Watches
The sports watch seems to be my running gadget of choice and to date I have tried and reviewed many from the likes of Garmin, Polar and Timex, ultimately settling on the Garmin Forerunner series as the de-facto runners watch.
I’ve been through all of the above (and more) but as a stat loving but frankly useless runner, I’ve recently decided that the latest breed of activity trackers with GPS suit my needs very well. They blur the boundaries between lifestyle and athletic watch in my favour.
It was a close battle between the Fitbit Surge and the Garmin Vivoactive HR but if running and activity logging are your main requirements, you can’t go far wrong with the Fitbit Surge. It’s not as flash as its younger Garmin challenger but it does the job perfectly and Fitbit is undoubtedly the most socially connected platform around.
If you are a more serious runner, you are likely to be more tempted by the high end forerunner series. Whether you opt for Forerunner 630 or 735XT will depend on how seriously you take other sports such as swimming and cycling (and your bank balance). It’s well worth checking in with DC Rainmaker to read his extremely in-depth reviews on the latest available gadgetry before making your final choice.
And if you are and outdoor rugged type who hikes or climbs as well as everything else you may consider splashing out on the hugely expensive Fenix 3 HR. That’s where my gaze is cast at the moment.
I’ve trialled a good many shoes over the years and ridden the waves as fads come and go. I started out with the traditional Asics Kayano but then moved through barefoot, to minimal to maxi-minimal, to plain weird and I am now stuck somewhere towards the middle of that journey, wearing a pair from each genre depending on the conditions.
On the treadmill I wear Cloudflyer from On Running, the soles have strange rubber ‘clouds’ and they seem to offer the perfect level of spring. For serious mud running and OCR events I wear Inov8. In hot weather and holidays I tend to pull out the super-minimal barefoot shoes, such Vibram fivefingers and my goto daily wear are Hoka One Ones.
Hoka One One
In the photo above you have two pairs of Altras followed by three pairs of Hokas. Between them the two companies have owned maximal running technology. The first pair of Hokas I owned were Hoka Mafates and I loved them with a passion. Huge, heavy and deeply, joyously comfortable. They are not for everyone, they have relatively tight toe boxes and don’t last very long but I still love for the protection they offer my quads on downhill runs.
Hoka have expanded their range and no offer much lighter weight versions but I think they lose the essence of Hoka-ness and I avoid them. If you prefer a much more roomy toe-box, try the Altra. The shoe on the left is the Altra Torin 2 and is a shoe I literally live in. I walk everywhere in these and I’m sure the flat soled comfort has improved the strength of my feet.
For trail running you can’t go far wrong by sticking to inov-8.
These are sturdy shoes designed for the British countryside and all it has to offer in the form of mud, wet and tears. I particularly like the inov-8 roclite 315 (wiggle) which is a unisex model designed for all terrain types (except road).
I’ve also tried the inov-8 mudclaw but I found the shoe a little too narrow. The Roclite 295 (wiggle) is another great trail running shoe and has a softer upper and wider fit for a greater level of comfort with no need to break the shoe in.
I’ve caught the barefoot running bug and have now built up an armoury of minimalist shoes.
I don’t recommend that the inexperienced barefoot runner throws away the standard running shoe in favour of either skin on tarmac or minimalist shoe running but there is a place for barefoot running in most peoples training routine. Just take it slowly to avoid injury and you should reap the benefits of increased foot mobility, strength and better running form.
The defacto standard barefoot running shoe is the Vibram Five Finger and my particular favourite is the Vibram Five Finger Speed (wiggle) with its cool laces – perfect for attaching a foot pod.
Softstar Run Amoc
Barefoot or minimal running can become almost a spiritual experience where you begin to feel part of the landscape and the track you are running along. It’s a much more involved and gentle way to interact with the trail.
To me, these RunAmoc moccassins (Sofstar link) from SoftStar are the perfect “at one with nature” style of barefoot running shoe. They are hand-made in America and can be customised to your preferred colour scheme. I opted for the plain black version but asked for a slightly thicker sole (still only 5mm though) so that I could use it for trail running.
I really do enjoy running in these shoes, I may look a little bit crusty in them but I feel free.
I’ve worked my way through a fair number of headphones in my running career, I’ve tried in-ear, over-ear, banded, wireless bluetooth and mp3 earpieces. For the last few years though I’ve always returned to the same manufacturer and have now settled on a specific model which I can happily declare to be the best running headphone ever!
Sennheiser PMX 680i Rugged Neckband Headset with Integrated Remote and Mic
I first came across the PMX680i when I was at an Adidas miCoach launch event. Adidas have paired up with Sennheiser to produce a branded product that offers significant improvements over the earlier Sennheiser models. Note that there are two Sennheiser PMX 680 models, the PMX 680 and the PMX 680i, the addition of the i does add nearly £14 to the product but with the addition of a microphone in the volume control it adds so much versatility. I use mine to take calls while out on a run, I can press the yellow button and chat away without breaking stride (admittedly I can be hard to understand while puffing away). I can press the yellow button for a little bit longer and trigger the voice control feature of the iPhone which then enables me to control the gadget remotely – “Play Amy MacDonald” and it usually does, “call Lynn cos I’m tired and need a lift home” usually results in the iPhone lady telling me “calling Charing Cross A&E Department”, which is sometimes more appropriate.
I was really upset last week when my first set of PMX680i headphones failed on me, it was hardly a product flaw though, I tend to leave them dangling from the treadmill and the cats can’t resist chewing on the cable. With visible gnaw marks and loose cabling the sound quality was somewhat impaired and it was time to buy another pair. There was no question of me buying a different set, these are the best I’ve ever come across, they fit extremely well, they don’t cause any discomfort, sound quality is excellent (so long as you keep them away from the cats) and they are waterproof. The volume control and mic unit is very light as well which means you don’t suffer too much with an irritating unit that bounces on your chest as you run.
The only downside that I can see about these headphones is that headband style does restrict your headwear options, so they aren’t any use under helmets or headbands.
I’m always on the look out for running inspiration and I devour running books at a blistering pace. Here’s a selection of my favourites but if you need more I usually have an Amazon recommends list on the sidebar where I add other books I’ve enjoyed.
Born to Run
This book filled me with excitement and has obviously had the same affect on many others as it’s often cited as having inspired the world’s obsession with barefoot running.
In parts it’s a hugely exciting tale of ultrarunning adventure, in others it’s an evangelical barefoot bible.
Here’s the link to my review for a full synopsis of Born to Run.
Running on Empty
I’m drawn to ultrarunners, I find their pain so intoxicating and it certainly helps me put my 5km woes into perspective.
Running on Empty (amazon) is hot off the press and covers Marshall Ulrich – the 57 year old guy who surgically removed his toenails as they were getting in the way of his running – as he runs across America. 3063 miles in 53 days. Nuts!
It’s a fascinating story though and there’s a bonus at the end as its polished off with details from Ullrich’s training and nutrition diary. I love that sort of thing.
Run Less Run Faster
This isn’t my usual inspiring read but anything training plan that suggests I can run less is going to attract my attention and this particular book is a nerdy runners dream.
The Furman Institutes (FIRST) method is based on a 3+2 schedule called Run Less, Run faster(amazon), not to be mistaken with “Train Less, Run Faster” because although you only run 3 times a week you are supposed to take part in some fairly energetic cross training on 2 other days in the week.
The key to the success of the FIRST plan seems to be related to the nature of the 3 runs. Each one is very specific and targeted at improving a key element of your running fitness. Key Run 1 is a track repeat session, ideally suited to treadmill workouts, Key run 2 is a tempo workout and Key run 3 is the Long Run a familiar staple of any marathon plan.
I’ve put together a whizzy spreadsheet that will spit out personalised FIRST trainings schedules for full and half marathon distances and is based on 5km paces from 15 to 40 minutes, so even the slow runners are catered for here.
Running Software – PC, MAC and iPhone
If you’ve got a gps unit then you need SportTracks, don’t worry, this one is free so you definitely can afford it. Even it you don’t have a gps I reckon its still worthwhile having as your dedicated training log – it just won’t look so pretty without the route maps.
This screen shot just shows the basic activity screen but there is stacks more hidden away – weekly, monthly and yearly reports; splits; athlete stats including weight and injury/illness status. Again the blog is littered with examples.
Unfortunately it is not mac compatible so I’ve had to move away from the best training log available *weeps*.