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Running gear: Tested and recommended

Wednesday - 9/18/2013, 10:37am  ET

RunningGear.jpg
Even though all you truly need to run is a pair of running shoes, there are some key pieces of gear and clothing items that will make your training and racing experience more pleasant. (Thinkstock)

Julie Sapper and Lisa Reichmann, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Whether you're thinking about just starting a running program, or you're reaching your peak mileage for fall race season, one thing is certain: runners, regardless of their speed and distance, love their gear and gadgets.

Even though all you truly need to run is a pair of running shoes, there are some key pieces of gear and clothing items that will make your training and racing experience more pleasant.

After conducting some heavy-duty scientific testing in the Run Farther & Faster lab (aka: the roads and trails of several cities, local and distant), here's our comprehensive list of "must-have" running gear to train and run your best race this fall.

Note: We are not affiliated with any of the products mentioned in the following list of must-have gear.

Shoes: While it's true that all you really need to run is a pair of running shoes, those running shoes must be the right type for your biomechanics, or the structure of your foot.

The wrong shoes (or shoes that are more than six months old) can lead quickly to injury. The particular brand is not as important as the type of shoe: stability, neutral or cushion.

If you feel aches and pains as you ramp up your mileage, or if you haven't been fit for a pair of running shoes, we recommend going to your local running store where staff is trained to watch you run, talk to you about your running goals and fit you in a proper pair of shoes.

If you have a big fall race coming up, now is the time (not two weeks before your goal race) to go to your local running store and get professionally fit. In the D.C. area, PR Running, VA Runner and Georgetown Running Company all offer fittings.

Foam Roller: If you are a runner of any level or ability and you don't own a foam roller, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. This handy tool, along with its cousin, The Stick, enhances stretching and aids with deeper self-massage, and is key to injury prevention and rehab.

You can buy a foam roller in any local sporting goods store or even the sports section of mass retailers like Target.

Socks: Cotton socks won't cut it when you're running. Prevent miserable blisters and chafing with a good pair of technical fabric running-specific socks.

Balega and Feetures Socks are thin, moisture-wicking socks that are sized to your feet. At $12-$15 per pair, they are not inexpensive, but are high quality and last through hundreds of washings.

Sunglasses: Squinting into the sun wastes unnecessary energy, so make sure you have a good pair of sunglasses that also have UV protection.

Rudy Project running sunglasses are technologically advanced with ergonomic fit, adjustable nose pieces, fog-resistant lenses and interchangeable lenses for different light conditions. They are pricey, but the more affordable XX2i line offers the same quality and features.

Hydration: Water bottles prompt intense debates. Some runners are on team "handheld," while others swear by the belt.

Hydration is key to a strong performance so whatever your preference, you want a device that is light enough to maintain your form and not chafe.

Our testers on team "handheld" give a thumbs -up to the Nathan Quickdraw with a handy pocket to fit your phone, ID or nutrition. Those on team "belt" like the many options offered by Amphipod, which seem to be more chafe-proof than the Fuel Belt line.

Sunscreen: Yes, summer days are just about behind us, but the sun is still strong and runners often neglect to lather up with SPF protection before heading out for their run. Avoid the mess of cream sunscreens with a sport stick. We like the Solar Sense Clear Zinc Body Stick -- a quick and mess-free way of making sure we're protected even through a sweaty run.

Watch: Do you need a GPS watch? No, but a watch certainly helps when you are at mile 21 and forced to do some heavy math while your brain is in a fog.

Our favorite line of GPS watches is Garmin, which produced some of the earliest running-specific GPS devices and offers models from entry-level to advanced.

Amazon often offers "Deal of the Day" specials on Garmin watches, which is a great way to score one at a significantly reduced price. For comprehensive reviews of all GPS watches, check out the blog of local gadget guru, DC Rainmaker.

Gear Belt: Whether you want to take your phone along with you on your run or you need an easy way to store all of that nutrition for your 20-mile training run, you need a bounce-free and comfortable way to keep everything handy, particularly if you like to carry your cell phone for safety.

The SPIBelt can hold everything for your run, including your cell phone.

Clothing: As the saying goes in running circles, cotton is rotten. Make sure you are wearing clothing that is made from technical, wicking fabric that fits appropriately to avoid chafing and nasty bloody nipples.

Options abound, from value priced running-specific pieces at Target, to higher fashion technical athletic clothes from stores like Lululemon and Lucy, which, although pricier, seem to survive more washings than the Target lines.

Invest in some high-quality bras, which can be found at any local running store or specialty retailer, many of which offer bra fitting services. For those who need maximum support for the girls, check out Lululemon's Tata Tamer bra and Victoria's Secret's line of maximum support sports bras.

Although we can't promise that these items will make you a faster runner, you'll definitely look like a fast runner, and that's half the battle.

One final tip: Leave the headphones at home. If you must accessorize with them, please do so responsibly and remove one ear bud to run aware.

Here's to a successful and stylish fall training and racing season!

Lisa Reichmann and Julie Sapper, regionally ranked runners and co-founders of Run Farther & Faster, provide personalized group and individual coaching to runners of all levels in the D.C. area and beyond. Check out more of their tips on Facebook and Twitter @Runfartherfast.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter.

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