What Do You Really Need to Run Long Distances?

I got an email the other day from a reader asking for advice about running her first half-marathon.

She said she’d been running a 5K every month since December 2011 and wanted to know if I thought she could be ready to run her first half, the Miami ING (which, looks awesome!), by January 2013, if she trained responsibly.

YES! I wrote back. Most half-marathon training programs, even for novices, are about three months. (Like my buddy Hal’s.)

She then wrote back, “When should I start considering adding extras into my training, or should I even consider them at all? I see a lot of bloggers talk about Gu, compression sleeves and fancy GPS watches.”

Hey J, I’m just gonna answer your question here, okay?

You don’t need a fancy GPS watch. Or compression sleeves/socks. Gu? You probably need some sort of “fuel” beyond 45-60 minutes. Most people do, though there are some people who can get through without any fuel.

[Disclosures: any Amazon links are affiliates; New Balance is a client of mine, but I really just like their stuff, too.]

What You Should Invest In:


A good pair of sneakers. If you can, go get your gait analyzed at a running specialty store. This is a great way to find out whether you overpronate or not or have any other sort of issues going on. Also, these people work with runners all day long.

I’m currently rotating between the New Balance 860v2 and the Saucony ProGrid Mirage 2s I got just before I got the 860s.


The 860s are traditional stability shoes and were named Editor’s Choice by Runner’s World last year; the Mirage is a lighter-weight shoe with just a bit of stability. I started running in the Sauconys after the NYC Marathon (so I’m not sure what they’re like for 13+ miles); before that, I was running in Saucony ProGrid Guides or Rides–more similar to the New Balances.

A good sports bra. If that sort of thing matters to you. I was sent the Under Armour Armour Bra to review; it’s supposed to be amazing and tons of research was put into it, but it was just another bra to me.


The sports bras in my rotation: Nike Pro Compression (because boob compression is SUPER sexy), New Balance Tonic Crop and see that nude one in the back? My gym was selling them peddling them as sports bras, but it was pretty cheap and I’d forgotten a sports bra, so I tried this Coobie bra. Again, I’m not super-picky when it comes to bras, but it worked fine for a run on the treadmill, and I can definitely wear it with normal clothes, which makes it worth a lot more to me than the other sports bras.

ANYWAY, a good sports bra is something you probably need. But good definitely doesn’t have to be a Lululemon Ta-Ta tamer.


Gu. (Or some kinda of fuel) If you’re running more than 45-60 minutes, you probably need Gu or some other kind of fuel (other suggestions from Women’s Running) to replenish your glycogen stores and keep you going.


Foam Roller Foam rollers are awesome for rolling out all of the lactic acid and other crap that accumulates in your legs after lots of running. You can get them fairly affordably on Amazon, OR you can just use a frozen water bottle (but a big one–like 2+ liters) or a rolling pin.

What’s Nice to Have But Not Needed


Garmin. A GPS watch definitely qualifies as a nice-to-have but is not necessary. If you have a smartphone, you can use RunKeeper or MapMyRun–or you can just use a regular sports watch and time how long you’re out and then map it when you get home. Sure, you won’t know your individual splits, but plenty of runners got by for years without knowing their individual splits, and I know plenty of people who have qualified for Boston without a Garmin. Before I got my Garmin, I’d been using the Nike+ app. Caveat: I will say that once I got past 6 miles, it was less than accurate. That was when I decided to ask for the Garmin for Christmas.

Nowadays, Garmin isn’t the only GPS watch option (or maybe it never was the only option, but blogs just convinced me they’d cornered the market). My favorite client New Balance makes a GPS watch as does Timex. Both are right around $100.


Compression Socks/Sleeves. I finally bought a pair last year–after I’d run one marathon and 8 or 9 halfs, which is to say these definitely aren’t a need, unless you’re having some sort of issue in your legs. I bought CEP compression because that’s what my running store had, but I would imagine you could probably also wear medical compression socks and get away with them for cheaper.

There are so many random things I’ve picked up through a few years of running and blogging about running, but the above (and a thing of Vaseline/Body Glide and a decent outfit and socks) are really all you need. The rest of it is just nice-to-have.


Oh, I made a super-quick, easy dinner tonight: frozen Trader Joe’s sweet pototo gnocchi with roasted Brussels sprouts and a turkey burger.

Runners, what would you say you *need* to run? What are just your nice-to-haves?

24 comments on “What Do You Really Need to Run Long Distances?

  1. Hillary

    I need my Garmin and my iPod when I run long distances: Garmin to keep track of distance, and iPod to keep me sane! But obviously water, good shoes, and a good bra are must-haves, too.

  2. Laura @ Mommy Run Fast

    I agree that you really don’t “need” much- you can keep running pretty simple if you want to, just a good pair of shoes (with advice from a good running store). But I do love my Garmin, HoneyStinger energy chews and compression gear! Good socks can make a big difference, too.

  3. Molly

    Yay mystery reader! I just ran my first half-marathon in early June. I had never run more than 5 miles before I started training. I followed this training schedule, and it was great. http://www.fitsugar.com/Half-Marathon-Training-Schedule-Beginners-2845222

    I’m going to second getting new shoes and a good sports bra. I couldn’t believe how much of a difference a good bra made and will never go back to my cheap Target ones. As far as energy gels go, I’d buy several different flavors from several different brands and experiment to find out what you like. I realized I like a thin consistency (PowerBar’s gels) in a citrus flavor.

    Good luck!!!

  4. erin

    in addition to the above – a sweatband and/or hair band and a spibelt (or other running belt) to carry my phone which I will never run without.

  5. Vanessa

    I’d say having some sort of identification (I’d like to get one the RoadID bands) and maybe some change/cash.

    Ideally I’d like to have money, ID, Honeystingers/fuel, water, and my Nike+ GPS watch.

    1. Vanessa

      And positive mantras!!! Sometimes those are the only reason why I am able to get through a long run. Positive self talk can go a long way when you are struggling.

  6. Fionarwbl

    I have an iPhone app that tracks my splits – iSmoothRun – and it’s freakin’ awesome. I use it along with my garmin.

    I would say that good socks are a must! I like thorlo experias and ASICs kinsei

  7. Renee

    I would add good socks as well. As much as I hate spending $10+ for one pair of socks they make such a difference. Also pants is where I spend the most $ clothing wise. As someone who has lost a lot of weight I definitely need the good, wicking, flat seamed, etc stuff that holds it all in. I can’t wear the cheaper stuff or stuff that is made for general activities when I run. I pay more for running tights/capris than I do regular pants and it drives me crazy. Tops and bras however I will admittedly skimp on without much issue personally.

    A nice to have that has kind of turned into a must have in this heat for me is a Nathan Quickdraw bottle or some other type of hydration device. I’d rather carry one than wear one (though honestly I have never tried any wearable types), but I’m also slower (9-10min/mi). It is kind of my security blanket in the summer heat whether I’m running 3 miles or 10 miles. Plus it holds my phone, id, some cash, gels if I’m going long, etc. It fits my hand so well that I never even have to grip it.

    Also as somewhat of a geek my Garmin makes training far more tangible and is easier to use than a phone program, but is definitely not a necessity. Music is also essential and I found making playlists based on the length of run helped once I got into 6+ miles.

  8. MindyG

    I don’t run long distances… Just putting that out there… But I think you’re spot on with the compression sleeves. I have the CEP and LOVE THEM. But my husband got cheapo medical compression socks on clearance at the grocery store, and I think they work just about as well. They are just less fashionable!

  9. Jackie

    Thanks Theodora for the post! And everyone else for all these great tips!! πŸ™‚ The online community is awesome and so understanding!
    Besides my shoes, good quality running socks were the next item that has been crucial to get me through running.

  10. Ali

    My lululemon hydration belt has helped me a ton this summer on longer runs, especially with the heat! It feels bulky at first, but by mile 6 I’ve been glad to have it

  11. Liana@runtomunch

    I used to run 5k a day for a few years. One change I noticed that really helped with training for marathons and even half marathons was eating toast or something simple like pita bread before my runs. This allowed to not worry about fuel or Gu during half marathon training so I could focus on the training run.

  12. Adara

    I love my compression sleeves and being able to track my mileage…I added Map My run to my phone (I purchased the upgraded app) and I like it better than my Garmin! I have my music and mileage tracker in one place! LOVE! I also always carry water, and a good headband or my hair out of the way, and a good pair of shoes!

  13. Cathryn @ myheartscontent

    I love this post – I agree, all you need is decent running shoes and a good bra. Actually, I just need decent running shoes! And my Nike+ is making me very happy at the moment, but thanks for the warning about its accuracy!!

    However I do get lured into buying things that running bloggers swear by – thus the three just-used tubes of nuun which I can’t STAND and Gu, which I’m getting used to but am not sure makes any difference to me. Compression socks I’ll resist because I have short legs and they’d make me look small and fat but foam rollers…they’re calling my name!

    I think it’s important to remember that one of the beauties of running is that you don’t need much to be able to do it…we can’t forget that!! So thanks for the reminder!!

  14. Nicole

    I ran the Miami ING as my first half! And I’ll likely run it again in 2013 since I’m a local.

    There are all great tips. That race is pretty well stocked with drinks and stations so I wouldn’t worry too much about GU and things like that. By race day you’ll know what you like for your long runs. You’ll get some stuff in your swag bag too to try.

  15. Shauna @ Pleasure, Not Punishment

    Thank you for this post! I’m training for my first half in October (as I’ve commented here before) and am up to 6 miles. I haven’t yet felt the need to fuel but I’m wondering at what point it’s beneficial to start foam rolling? I have very infrequent and minimal physical discomfort but I ice as a preventative measure. My cross training activities (Dailey Method and yoga) include a lot of stretching. Is rolling necessary?

  16. Dori

    On a hot day, I NEED to run with my handheld water bottle. It loops in between my thumb and fingers so I don’t have to grip, and has been a lifesaver on multiple locations. Definitely on my list!

  17. heidi

    best post ever and so useful for runners of all types – sometimes we all need to be reminded that we don’t the best {shorts/capris/compression/etc..} to run.

    The only things I really need here that aren’t on your list? Body Glide. I also love my fuel belt since it fits my shot blocks and my phone and id and/or cash in it.

  18. Nicole Leonard

    I just wanted to comment on the topic of ta-tas. πŸ™‚ I don’t think the bra is a huge deal…unless you are a busty woman. I’d say if you’re a C, D, or DD, you MUST invest in a good sports bra. I’ve tried a LOT of bras (I am a 34DDD) and have found that Moving Comfort *hands-down* has the best sports bras. They’re a little pricey – I paid $50 for my Juno – but totally worth it. Running is a high-impact sport and your boobies shouldn’t be bouncing around like crazy when you run. It’s not good for your ladies and you can cause some serious accidents if you’re running outdoors. LOL


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