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(Image: Lisette Wolter-McKinley)

Running 101: Tips and gear to become a PNW runner

You don't need to subscribe to running magazines, wear tiny shorts, or run marathons to consider yourself a runner. One of the best things about running is you can run almost anywhere, for any amount of time and (with the proper attire) in any weather. If you only have ten minutes a day, you can run up and down a hill or a set of stairs near your home. If you have an hour, you can easily check out a new neighborhood in your area or find a regular route to run. Running is a fun, effective, low-cost workout you can do alone, with a partner or with a group.

Running is a great way to carve out time each day to get outside, an easy way to enjoy the natural beauty which surrounds you and possibly even make a few new friends. Another large appeal to running is you don't need loads of expensive gear to start. All you need is a comfortable pair of running shoes (or two), a great-fitting sports bra, and a reliable pair of running pants to begin.

Recently, I attended a run event with REI at Discovery Park to learn about the significant strides REI is making to support runners now more than ever before. REI is broadening its product assortment for running gear and apparel, deepening its training for retail product experts, and expanding its partnerships to encourage people to come to the co-op for all their running needs. I was able to spend a couple of days learning and trying out gear in quintessential PNW weather.

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One of the most interesting things I learned is how a majority of their members already consider themselves runners. In their consumer research, REI has found people typically fall into two categories of runners: "soul" runners and "goal" runners. A soul runner runs for the pure love of running. These people have unlocked the mental health benefits of running and partake in it mainly because it feels good. Running is a great way to combat anxiety, fight depression and reduce stress. Goal runners, on the other hand, are people with a plan. These goal-oriented people want to run a certain number of miles or run a certain speed. Goal runners might casually sign up for their first 5k and then start working toward setting new personal records. Before you know it, they might even build toward a half marathon. However, many individuals move between these two groups depending on what role running is currently playing in their lives.

Since the start of the pandemic, running has seen an uptick in popularity. The interesting thing I have discovered about running is it can be both a polarizing and a gateway sport. I cannot think of any other sport where people are so quick to claim in casual conversation, "I hate running!" It often leaves me to wonder the following: do they have the proper type of shoes, do they own a good pair of running pants, or are they wearing the correct size sports bra? Aside from having the proper running gear; have they ever pushed their body and felt the intoxicating runner's high? Have they ever witnessed a beautiful sunrise or had a typically bustling park to themselves on an early morning run? Needless to say, I never ask these questions, but these thoughts have crossed my mind.

Running is an excellent gateway sport because, once you have built up your endurance, a pickup game of basketball or a hike with friends no longer seems so intimidating. Running is also the perfect cross trainer for any sport. Running is often only one part of a person's broader identity because people who run are more likely to pursue a wide range of outdoor activities from hiking to cycling and camping.

REI Co-op expert advice: "How to Start Running"

Before you start any new exercise routine, check with your doctor. Running is a high-impact physical activity that can put added stress on your body. Make sure your joints and body can handle the impact, especially if you have been sedentary or have other health issues.

Once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, the steps to start a new running routine are simple:

1. Start by walking: If you’re new to exercise or have been sedentary for a while, start gently. Work your way up to walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, three to five times a week.

2. Add running: Once you’ve been walking for a few weeks, incorporate periods of running into those 30 minutes. Warm-up with 5 minutes of brisk walking and then gradually mix walking and running. Try running for 1 minute, walking for 2 minutes, and repeating. As you become more comfortable running, lengthen the time you do it.

3. Focus first on time and later build up your speed, stamina, and mileage: Initially focus on increasing your time running rather than distance. The main idea is to get out there and move, no matter how fast or slow you do it. Once you get your body moving consistently for a period of time, you can pick up the pace, build up your mileage or increase your endurance.

Gear for first-time runners

Shoes. Get fitted and have your gait analyzed. It is imperative to know how your foot strikes the ground so you can have a shoe to best support you. Did you know everyone runs differently and it is called your run signature? Your run signature is the habitual motion path of your body and everyone's is slightly different. In order to protect yourself against injury, it is paramount to have a properly fitting pair of shoes. A worn pair of shoes is a good way to determine if you pronate.

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The Brooks Glycerin 19 and Ghost 14 are both excellent neutral support options for cushioned, everyday road running. The Ghost 14 is also their first carbon-neutral shoe. The ON Cloudvista is the perfect choice for a lightweight and versatile trail running shoe.

Bra. Breasts change over time, especially as you age, have children, and/or have breastfed. Make certain you go and get properly fitted. Did you know a woman wearing the wrong size bra during a marathon ends up working the equivalent of running an additional mile!

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The Brooks Dare Racerback is an excellent high-impact bra, with adjustable straps and back closures. The Drive 3 Pocket Run Bra has an ingenious design where you can store your cell phone in its back pocket and even has removable cups.

Pants. What you wear might seem relatively unimportant, but a great fitting pair of running tights won't slide down while you run, can securely hold your phone and keys, and reduce the amount your muscles vibrate. The pressure from a sturdy pair of running tights can help to squeeze blood away from your legs and back to your heart and provides additional support for weakened areas such as the knees.

The REI Swiftland Running Pant and the New Balance Shape Shieldpant are two of my current favorites. The Swiftlandpant comes with an interior drawstring which gives you the perfect fit every time and the Shape Shield feels extra thick and extremely soft; I love the higher placement of the pockets. If you are looking for something other than black, the ON Long Tights come in a beautiful seafoam green perfect for Spring.

Outerwear. If you run in Seattle, it is quite possible to feel all four seasons on one run. You might start your run in the wind and rain only to end it with sunshine or hail. Spring in the PNW is particularly all over the place in terms of both temperature and weather.

REI Swiftland Cold Weather Running Jacket is great for the ultimate versatility, you can wear it casually for errands or work and then take a run in it later that day. The thumb hold sleeves keep you extra warm on cold morning runs. Brooks Canopy Jacket is the ultimate weatherproof jacket, it is both wind and water-resistant, packable, and made from 100% recycled materials. The entire jacket stuffs into a built-in backpack in the jacket.

Socks. It is surprising how something so small can be the difference between an enjoyable and miserable run. The Smartwool Women's Run Zero Cushion Stripe Low Ankle sock is both breathable and durable; it works to wick away the moisture from your foot and keeps you comfortable even when it is wet outside.

Running is an individual sport that will look different for everyone. How often you run, how far, or how fast will depend on your body, your motivation, and your goals. Running does not require a ton of gear, but it will prove helpful and motivating to have some basic and stylish gear when starting out.

Note: Some products have been given for free. However, I was under no obligation to write anything other than my experience.

Lisette Wolter-McKinley is a runner and freelance writer for Seattle Refined. See more of her work here.