11th September 2017.
Novice runners often begin their efforts without giving much thought to the more technical aspects of running ? and that includes the gear you need to use. It's easy to think that the only important thing to do is to drink plenty of water before and after your run. That's true, but there's much more to it than that. Anyone who has ever gone on a long run in a cotton T-shirt can tell you it is a miserable experience. Not only does cotton soak up your sweat and stick to your skin, but it also prevents your perspiration from evaporating to cool off your body. Long distance runners know that the wrong type of fabric can chafe against your skin heavily as well.
How can you avoid these rookie mistakes and enjoy your running in greater comfort? Knowing how to choose the right running top is the best place to start. Besides using the right shoes and the ideal type of running shorts, your top is one of the last major things you need to acquire. Before you can fill out your wardrobe, though, you'll need to learn what's available and what to look for while shopping. Doing your homework beforehand means you can cut through all the marketing and the fancy buzzwords to choose running clothing
that suits your needs. The different styles available are a good place to start.
Choose the style that suits you
There are three main styles of racing tops you'll be able to choose from: tank tops, short sleeve tops, and long sleeve tops. Each has their place, but you will mostly want to relegate the long-sleeved tops to the
colder parts of the year. Unless you're planning to run in rainy weather (in which case you might appreciate the extra protection), they'll be too warm for most of the rest of the year.
Tank tops frequently come in what is known as a "racerback" style with very open sides. Popular mostly with women, there are also plenty of men who prefer to run in tank-style tops. Their low profile allows your arms an increase in freedom of movement, while the extra air flow means your perspiration can easily evaporate for a natural cooling effect. Not everyone is a fan of the exposure of a tank top, though.
Short sleeve tops using a "technical" fabric are the most popular option, and what you're most likely to see at races. The sleeves are very short to provide as much movement as possible while keeping a closer fit to the body. This both helps wick moisture away from your skin and reduces unnecessary air resistance. These are often made of special fibres, whereas tanks may be less technical. The fabric you choose is very important to your comfort.
What types of fabric are out there?
As a good rule of thumb, avoid 100% cotton tops unless you only plan to run a short distance ? say a mile or two at most. As mentioned earlier, these tops soak up your sweat, stick to you, and provide an altogether
unpleasant running experience. It is much easier to overheat when wearing a cotton top. That said, there are blends of cotton that use other fibres, like polyester, to provide clothing that fits well while still providing some performance gains. Nylon is also a common additive in addition to polyester. These items are usually less expensive than their counterparts, known to many as "technical shirts."
What is a technical shirt? Simply put, it's usually a top that relies on 100% polyester, or blends in some other fibres like Lycra, to allow the most air to pass through to your skin. Technical tops are extremely lightweight, very breathable, and will not chafe your skin when you run for much longer distances. While pricier, a properly cared-for technical shirt will last much longer and provide better performance than almost any other type of top. While they tend to fit men better than they fit women, styles for both sexes exist.
Loose or close-fitting: which is the best choice?
Speaking of a running top's fit, should you go for loose or tight? Some tops, like the technicals we mentioned, don't give you much choice. They aren't skin-tight, but they do fit closer to your body than many other shirts. By and large, this is the option you should choose unless you're selecting a tank top.
Tank tops should remain loose and free, allowing air to circulate as you move. With a short or long sleeve shirt, though, you don't want it to be baggy. Baggy tops can make it more difficult for a technical fabric to do its job regarding cooling your body.
If you're choosing to wear cotton or a cotton blend, however, you may not want a garment that fits quite so close. The reason, of course, is chafing. The closer the cotton is to your skin, the more it's going to rub against you ? and that can eventually lead to some pretty painful outcomes! It's okay to have a running wardrobe that contains a few options; after all, conditions vary from day to day. Try on a few different tops while you're shopping and see which one leaves you feeling the most confident.
Layering your tops in cold or inclement weather
When the mercury drops, many runners choose to move indoors or even hang up their shoes for the season. If you layer your clothing correctly, though, you can continue to run outdoors to work on your times and distances. In most cases, your body warms up so much as you run that you may not need to dress that much differently than you normally would. Once it gets down to the freezing point, though, you'll need to consider your outfit more carefully. How do you layer tops appropriately?
At around 10C, you will be more comfortable running in a long-sleeve technical shirt. Below that, you should wear a base layer and then at least one or two more layers on top of that. Your base can be your long-sleeve technical shirt, or even a short-sleeve one. Then use another technical shirt on top; if you get too hot, it's easy enough to pull one layer off. Top this with a jacket you can also remove with ease. On windy days, you'll be glad you brought along something to help avoid catching a chill as you begin to sweat.
Other important considerations for your tops
There are some other features you can look for when shopping for new running attire as well. While optional, choosing tops that have some added benefits can be worth the extra money. For example, do you
frequently run in the morning or evening when visibility is low? Choosing a garment with reflective striping or a very bright, visible colour will yield a safer and more enjoyable run.
Look for UV protection in your fabrics, too. Why slather on tonnes of sunblock when you can trust that your clothes are protecting your body? Quick drying fabrics are also important; they make cleaning easier, and they'll keep you more comfortable during the run. Some tops will even switch to a mesh fabric on your back or near the underarms to allow heat to escape more efficiently; this is a valuable feature to have in the hotter climates.
What about the colder areas? If you don't enjoy wearing gloves, look for a long-sleeved top that features thumbholes on the sleeves. You can hook your thumbs through these holes and use the sleeves as gloves. Cut down on the gear you need to bring with you and make your clothes do double duty!
Choose carefully and enjoy added comfort while running
Choosing running clothing that works for you doesn't need to be a difficult task. Armed with the right knowledge and an idea of what you want, you can make a "buying trip" rather than a "shopping" venture. Consider purchasing shirts in several styles or fits to allow yourself an opportunity to see which type works best during your runs. Either way, any upgrade to real running clothes will be a welcome relief if you normally use cotton. Leave behind that damp and sticky mess and your problems with chafing in favour of something lighter, airier, and more comfortable to wear in all types of weather. You'll be glad you made the switch!