Updated: Dec 15, 2020
by Laura Henry
How many of us have heard “exercise is cheap"? And how many of us have come to find out that that’s not exactly the case?!?! Endurance sports are a funny thing; at face value, they appear to be low-maintenance and inexpensive. I mean, what do you need to run? A pair of running shoes? What do you need to ride a bike? A bike and a helmet? And what do you need to swim? A swimsuit, and a pair of goggles so you don’t burn your eyes in pool water? Yes, these things are the bare minimum in terms of equipment needed to take on an endurance sport. But, as we all undoubtedly know, endurance sports are more fun (and usually a bit easier) with some gear beyond just the basics.
Over the last ten years, I’ve tested A LOT of gear. I’m a bit of an early adopter and tinkerer, and this has intensified since I’ve become a coach and since I’ve worked at Fleet Feet Syracuse. I always want to test out products and gear so I can make good recommendations to the athletes who I am working for. All of this being said, I’m also fairly bare-bones when it comes to my approach; I seek to get the best results with the RIGHT gear and equipment, not with the MOST gear and equipment. As such, I have a much lighter pack than many of my fellow athletes when I show up at races. But what I do have works, and as such, I want to share the things that I have found to be the most valuable and worth investing in.
Garmin Fitness Device
Having a Garmin fitness device is a game-changer. And yes, I do believe that Garmin is lightyears ahead of every other brand out there. They have a range of products to fit any user’s needs (my personal favorites have been the Edge 1000 Cycling Computer (for the turn-by-turn navigation feature) and the Forerunner 920XT (for its multisport application and reliability). Almost all Garmin devices support Structured Workouts (a feature that allows you to send detailed workouts to your device in advance via Garmin Connect so the device can tell you what targets you are intended to be hitting when in the middle of a planned workout), which is my favorite feature of any Garmin device, ever.
Garmin Connect, the app that stores information collected via Garmin devices, is compatible with almost every fitness platform out there (including Final Surge, which is the online training log that Team MPI uses to set workouts for coached athletes). The Garmin Connect app itself boasts a wide range of features that are quite impressive and useful. If I could choose just one piece of “extra” equipment, it would be a Garmin fitness device.
Nathan Vapor Air Hydration Vest
For the last two years, my Nathan Vapor Air Hydration Vest has accompanied me on every single run I’ve gone on. It can carry 70 ounces of fluid in its bladder and has space for additional hydration beyond that. I dislike hydration belts since they don’t ever sit quite right and they’re limited in fluid capacity. I DESPISE hand-helds because I think that they alter running form too significantly (they create an imbalance between the two sides of the body, and it’s impossible to get proper arm drive when using one). Running with a hydration vest solves all of these issues; it sits high enough that I can barely notice it, even when it’s at full capacity. I can store gloves, my phone, or other extra clothes/gear in the storage pouch. It truly feels like I’m running “free” since my hands and waist are clear of everything; I can then focus on my form without my hydration device hindering me.
Bike Power Meter
I’ve been riding with power for over four years now, and I honestly wish I had made the investment sooner. It’s the most consistent way to train since power never changes due to outside factors; a watt is always a watt. Conversely, other metrics like heart rate and pace are subject to things like stress and weather. Knowing exactly how much work you are doing in a workout is very valuable for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorite ways to use this data is to fine-tune nutrition intake for races. If we know how much energy is being expended (determined by converting watts (kilojoules) to kilocalories, we can *really* dial-in race nutrition for optimal performance.
Not all power meters are created equal, but the good news is that there are a bunch of good ones on the market right now. My personal favorite is Garmin Vector. I swap between two bikes a lot (a road bike and a time trial bike), and since this is a pedal-based system, it allows me to swap the meter between bikes with ease. I had a major surgery in 2017 that resulted in my left leg losing some function; although I did invest in Vector prior to the surgery, I have come to have a very deep appreciation for the accurate left-right balance metrics it provides so I can track the differences between my legs and ensure that I’m not over-using my “bad” left leg.
If you have one bike, there are many, many great options that are wheel-based or crank-based. Based on the input I’ve had from athletes over the years, I do recommend a power meter that transmits data via ANT+; the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi meters seem to have far more transmission issues.
Shoes that FIT
I used to be the person who picked running shoes out based on looks and color. NO MORE. I learned my lesson the hard way when I trained for and raced my first marathon wearing improperly-fitted running shoes. I ended up with a bad case of Achilles Tendonitis that was so long-lasting that I still need to monitor that Achilles to this day.
Over the years, I’ve seen my fair share of athletes who are wearing ill-fitting footwear. I’ve watched people makes their running footwear choices on what worked best for their friends and family, and not for them. I’ve also seen athletes pick a shoe online that “looks” good and has good reviews without testing it themselves before committing to the purchase.
I’ve worked part-time at Fleet Feet Syracuse for close to three years and over that time, I have fit literally thousands of people for footwear. The more fits I do, the more I realize that we, as a society, have feet that are shaped like our shoes; we do not have shoes that are shaped like our feet. This is an extremely important distinction. There are, of course, exceptions to this. But on the whole, fashion has trumped function in the footwear industry.
Running shoes are not the only shoes that should fit properly; this same philosophy extends to other footwear - cycling shoes, daily wear shoes, etc. At a minimum, running shoes should fit properly. But if I’ve observed one major thing over the years, it’s that foot discomfort and pain can cause a plethora of other issues throughout the body. As a result, it’s worth making sure that other footwear besides just running shoes fit well. While this isn’t technically an “extra” when it comes to endurance sports, it’s definitely important enough to bring up on the “useful items” list.
And there you have it: my top picks for the most useful equipment for endurance athletes. As you start to map out your goals in 2019, you’ll undoubtedly be seeking equipment that can help you get to your goals. If you choose to invest in additional gear, I hope that you’ll consider these “extras.”