The Dirty Running Holiday Gift Guide

I usually spend about 30 minutes every morning deleting junk email. This is too long, and it's my own damn fault. For some strange reason, I receive daily emails from discount shopping sites like The Clymb, Steap and Cheap, Open Sky, Chain Love, Living Social, Groupon, Google Offers, REI Gearmail, and Victoria's Secret (for my essential running undergarments). It's pretty easy to unsubscribe to these, but I don't. I should, but I'm worried that I'll miss some super good deal. I've spent way too much money on these sites, and have bought some great gear at a discount, but I've also bought things I don't really need just because I couldn't pass up the deal (seriously, how many pairs of aviator sunglasses can one man wear?). And with the success of all of these deal sites, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. This is also the time of year of gift guides, black Friday taser fights, crowded malls, giant bow-covered Lexuses, and overwhelming holiday trips to the mall. And while I'm not full-blown anti-consumerism, every year around this time I inch a little closer.

One of the things I love about running is the simplicity. You really just need a pair of shoes to get out there and participate in the sport. It really is just you and your effort out there. You can invest thousands of dollars in running gear, and it's not going to make you any better, in fact carrying the extra pounds of packs, GPS watches, overly built shoes (or $150 shoes that claim to mimic running barefoot), and iPods can actually make you slower. There really is no "buying speed" on the run, and the simplicity and purity of this is unique to running. The more you run, and the smarter you run, the better you'll get.

So, in the spirit of simplicity, and with a tip of the hat to The 5 Best Toys of All Time, I offer the Dirty Running Holiday Gift Guide.

1. A Notebook. I don't know if it's all the solitary time on the trails or the countless hours spent listening to the rhythmic sound of feet on pavement, but runners like to write. A journal, lined notebook, scratch pad, or various sizes and colors of old paper lying around can be the perfect place to keep track of those musings that come on a long, slow run. If you don't have anything to write, write about the workout you just did. Log the miles, the time, the weather, how you felt before, during, and after the run. Keep these running logs as a resource to learn from, or to re-live some of your more memorable runs. Running can be similar to a dream state where you'll have some great, world-changing idea while on the run, then forget about it as soon as the sweaty polyester clothes are thrown into the laundry and the shower starts to steam. Write that stuff down before you forget it.

2. Chaos. This isn't really something you can buy, but there is no shortage of it. We all have our own level of stress and for most, this level is too high. Running will help lower your stress levels, and will also make you a better person to be around during regular life. There's nothing like going out for a run after a hard day, going back to the simple and sweet pain of the physical challenge, and coming out the other side relaxed, happy, and ready to deal with screaming kids, nagging spouses, demanding bosses, and a pile of bills. You know why? Because you just kicked some ass. The chaos of ordinary life makes those quiet hours spent on the road or trail that much more peaceful and cathartic.

I will never again do an image search for balls
3. Balls. I'm not talking about the kind that it takes to push the "Register Now" button for a 100 miler, let alone run one. I'm talking about the kind you probably have in a bag in your garage, or under your couch, or in the shadowy reaches of your closet. Balls can take the place of a lot of the $100/hr deep tissue massage sessions, and can prevent some major injuries. If your IT band is tight, lay sideways on a tennis (or lacrosse if you really like the pain) ball and roll over it, letting it dig deep into the fascia. Arch pain? Grab a golf ball and work it back and forth on the bottoms of your feet. You can do this while sitting at work, or watching TV. A foam roller is great for this as well, but if you want a free version that still gets really deep into the muscle, use a ball or a rolling pin. You can find a good introduction to the technique here.

Undisclosed location
4. A Good Hill. The hill usually has a name and it's one that a good runner will know intimately. I have my favorite and I call it Desolation Row. It just seemed to fit. I have cried, nearly puked, and spent all my bullets on that hill getting ready for races over the past few years. Desolation Row is the perfect length for brutal 30 second hill sprints, it's 2-3 miles away (perfect for a warm-up), and has an ocean view from the top. It has landmarks...a rock, a branch that sticks out, a clump of weeds; I can measure myself against these things and see progress over the weeks and years of training. I imagine the best hills have multiple names given by various runners who each have a connection with those inclined stretches of dirt. If you don't have access to a steep hill, a flat stretch will do. Measure a quarter mile, or a half mile and get to know that stretch, give it a name and sanctify it with your blood, sweat and tears.

5. An Alarm. Set it early and run before the sun comes up, while you can still see your breath, with friends or alone, and watch as the sun paints the hills in pinks and oranges. Get back to a quiet house, a sleeping neighborhood, a hungry dog, and put some coffee on the stove. Take a deep breath and know that you may have sacrificed an hour of sleep, but you have experienced the beauty of an early morning run.

That's it. My list of 5 greatest gifts things that every runner needs, and while the gadgets and gear are fun, it really all comes back to the basics...a pair of shoes and a long stretch of trail. I'd love to hear some of your simple essentials in the comments below.


  1. In addition to the items you listed, the greatest gift I receive is the encouragement I get from my kids and husband to go for a run. They know the "me" time is important and I return a much happier person.

  2. Loved it! Definitely get my best ideas while on a long run.


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