a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Simple running gear for minimalists and misers

I started learning to run just after the barefoot and minimalist running movement passed its peak, so when I pick running gear, I like to keep it as simple as possible — and, naturally, as cheap as possible. I did the entire Zombies, Run! 5k training app in a pair of classic DIY Xero Shoes sandals, switching my phone from hand to hand. Gradually I’ve added more gear to help me train better, but the minimalist mindset has never left me.


I did buy a pair of running shoes before my first 5k race, because I could tell that I felt insecure in my flappy sandals and that I would be able to go faster if I felt more secure. The Vivobarefoot One, which I got barely used on Amazon for $40, is basically like a Xero Shoes sandal with some cloth to hold it on your foot more securely. It’s lightweight, dries quickly, protects your feet just enough, and doesn’t get in your way.

Road ID

Driving in cars turns even the nicest of people into raging monsters, so I ran with my ID in my pocket in case one of them hit me and EMTs needed to know who I was. One day my ID fell out of my pocket and I had to retrace my steps and find it. This freaked me out, so I bought a Road ID which is a bracelet engraved with whatever important information you want. Mine has my name, contact numbers for my partner and friends, and my penicillin allergy. Now I try to make sure that all my running loved ones have one. [Just so you know, if you buy through my link, I get some credit in my account to buy more Road IDs.]


Holding my phone in my hand was fine, but again I felt insecure. I needed it for my training app and for emergencies, but I didn’t want to drop it with my sweaty hands, so I got a FlipBelt to hold my phone and keys. This belt is comfortable because it’s just a single tube of cloth, no buckles or straps.


Athletic clothes from the Target boys’ section worked fine for me for a long time. I’m tiny and they are cheap. The first running specific thing I bought was a Nike hat, because San Diego’s sun is brutal. The next thing I bought was Under Armour boxers because for me, any run over 11 miles leads to chafing. It turns out that these are excellent for practicing kung fu, as well. Next was Nike socks, because sweat-soaked cotton means blisters.

I made it through our mild winter with layers, a regular beanie hat, and those stretchy knit gloves you used to be able to get for $1. Still, I was often too cold to really run as well as I could, especially in the rain. This winter I’m going to be fancy in an Asics running jacket and Manzella ski glove liners. I got both on clearance at Sports Authority. I’m lucky to live in such a mild climate because I don’t need to get tights or a scarf or any other heavy duty cold weather gear.

Lastly, I wish I hadn’t waited so long to succumb to the lure of some basic Nike running shorts. They were about $25, and they are wonderful — lightweight, quick drying, and short enough to stay out of the way without showing off more than anyone wants to see. I haven’t done more than 11 miles in them yet, so I’m not sure if the built-in underwear will lead to chafing. I shall have to find out when I start marathon training.


I only listen to music on about a third of my runs, but I sometimes need to hear my phone for Zombies, Run! or for hearing my interval cues and such. I used an old pair of headphones until they literally fell apart, so I bought some bright orange Yurbuds and they are so much better. They stay in my ears, they let me hear outside noise like the aforementioned raging monster drivers, and they don’t care when I soak them in sweat.


Since my training is mostly through apps on my phone, I need to know what’s going on with them, but it’s not safe to be taking out my phone and looking at it while I run. I might drop it, or I might make a mistake while distracted and end up hurt. I got a used Magellan Echo on eBay and it fixes this problem. Rather than an expensive GPS watch, this is just a Bluetooth device that displays information from my phone, like a smart watch but only for running apps. Exactly what I want. It’s a bit of an indulgence, because I could probably get by with just setting distance and time cues on my running app and always wearing headphones, but I don’t always like to run with headphones.

Foam roller and baseball

These are for self-massage, which is a great way to treat or prevent injuries. My foam roller is the Amazon Basics one and my baseball was from a Sports Authority bin. They’re very basic and cheap and definitely worth it. The baseball is especially nice for massaging feet.

Water bottle

On runs shorter than an hour and a half, I don’t carry any water or food with me unless the sun is really beating down. Even then I usually try to loop past the park and drink from the water fountain. But sometimes I want to run farther or I want to carry more or practice my drinking strategy for longer races, so I asked for an Amphipod Hydraform handheld bottle for my birthday. It’s got a stretchy black wetsuit type cover on it that protects my hand from the cold, and it cinches up tight enough that I don’t have to grip it at all and it still stays put.


Listed like that, it sounds like I have a ton of gear, doesn’t it? Maybe I’m not much of a minimalist. If I was going to truly be minimalist I would keep only the shoes, socks, shorts, and Road ID, but the other stuff has helped a lot in improving my running.

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