Holiday Shopping for Your Ultrarunner | September 19, 2011
If you’ve been blessed with an ultrarunner in your midst, you’ve got at least one big, fat target for your holiday shopping. Less active acquaintances may offer you no clue as to their gift preferences, but an ultrarunner is an easy mark come Christmas morning. Ah, but there’s a catch. While there may be a whole laundry list of whatnots and doodads your ultrarunner will need in the upcoming year, he or she may be very finicky about precisely which brand of whatnot or what type of doodad he or she wants. Getting an ultrarunner to give up on a beloved hydration pack, for example, can be like trying to wrestle a honeydew away from a hungry badger.
One possibility is that the ultrarunner you’re shopping for is your training and racing partner. If so, it’s like getting insider trading tips on the stock market. Just pay attention during your runs and your buddy will give away the store. Shoes, for instance? You’ll know the basics, like brand and style, but you’ll probably also know if your runner is really happy with the shoe he or she’s got on or is looking to make a switch. You’ll also know if he or she has just ordered ten extra pairs. Running all the time with someone, you’ll be privy to what kind of energy drinks they like, what type of hydration system they use, and what kind of sunblock and chaffing preventative they use. You can’t go wrong helping your runner stock up on these things for the coming year.
Of course if you’re not a training partner and don’t happen to know to a gnat’s eyelash what kind of energy gel your runner will tolerate in the forty-eighth mile of a fifty miler, you can buy whatever looks good and hope your runner likes to experiment. Or you can do what my wife does. She takes me shopping, makes me pick everything out, and then all the stuff disappears until Christmas morning. She leaves the surprises for the non-ultrarunning segment of the gift exchange.
Regardless of how well versed you are on your particular runner, there are some things that would make good gifts for any runner. Spend a little time roaming the Internet looking for good books or CDs on running. Ultrarunners tend to get their inspiration out on the trails running and don’t think about media, but there are a lot of very cool books and CDs that can give your runner a whole new perspective on the sport. Other practical gifts include blister care kits, snake bite kits, Band aids, medicinal ointments, poison oak treatments, small hand towels or towelette wipes for drop bags, medical tape, duct tape, hot and cold pads, or you could just buy your runner some health insurance (just kidding).
Runners also tend to use gear bags until they’re worn out so a new gear bag would be a welcome surprise. Also distinctive drop bags are really helpful when you have to find your bag at some godforsaken, freezing aid station in the middle of the night and you feel exactly like someone hit you over the head with a log. At such times, it’s very pleasant to have a bag that stands out from the crowd. And don’t forget sunglasses, fuel belts, hydration packs, headlamps, lightweight LED flashlights, fancy GPS watches, and heart rate monitors just to name a few other popular running accessories. Running log software is another possibility especially if your runner is the type who likes his or her data rich, fulsome, and digital.
If you’re trying to dress your runner, remember an ultrarunner who races a lot is liable to have drawers full of shirts. On the other hand, running shorts, skorts, tights, warm up pants, gloves, hats, bandannas, lightweight shells, heavier but well ventilated jackets, and socks are all fair game. Socks especially are a good way to go as runners can go through lots of socks although here again you want to know your runner’s preferences. For any clothing, look for things made out of technical materials. Pure cotton doesn’t function well once you sweat through it. And if you’re runner doesn’t happen to have shirts coming out the wazoo, there are lots of stylish brands that will probably all look better than that race shirt with the big funky rubbery logo plastered on the front.
If worse comes to worse and you are in utter despair of getting your ultrarunner’s clothing or gear selections right, you can always resort to a gift that every runner is going to appreciate. Take an envelope–a fancy one if you wish–and insert a note. The note’s going to be like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly except it will be a “Get Into an Ultra Free” card allowing your runner to pick any weekend of the year and spend it running an ultra free of any of life’s usual obligations. Every ultrarunner wants a chance to just go off and do that dreamed of ultra without any guilty feelings about leaving the hearth unattended. You can even throw in incidental expenses like race registration, airfare, hotel and car rental if you want to put your runner into happiness orbit. Likewise you can make your special gift an “I’ll Pace You Free of Charge” card or an “I’ll Crew For You And Not Complain Once About the Whole Thing” card. Incidentally, if you’ve never crewed or paced before, you might end up being the one getting the real gift. Most people end up loving being part of an ultra even if they’re there only to support.
What if the shoe is on the other foot and you’re the ultrarunner shopping for your non-ultrarunning friend? You might want to get a gift that has the potential to draw your friend into the sport. Pair some piece of ultrarunning gear with an offer to take your friend out for a trail run. You could even offer to pay their way into a shorter distance trail race. You might end up turning a casual runner into an ultrarunner or discover one of those people who never ran a step in their life and then at age forty became an ultrarunning werewolf. Another idea is to order your next race shirt with your friend’s size and gender so for once he or she can be the one parading around in a spanking new race shirt.
Either way, if you give some teaser ultrarunning stuff as a Christmas gift, your friend and you will have plenty of time to sit and argue about it until spring comes and the weather starts to cooperate.