The absolute most important piece of gear is your running shoes. If you don't have a quality pair of shoes, all the other gear won't make a bit of difference. A good pair of shoes can mean the difference between finishing and not finishing the half marathon. Improper shoes can cause shin splints, knee and foot injuries, over-exertion of certain muscles, hip problems, arch pain, and many more training-related injuries or inconveniences. It is strongly recommended that you go to your local running store and consult a running specialist to get you fitted with an appropriate pair of shoes. If you can afford it, it's also a good idea to have two pairs of shoes to give each pair a break between training runs, and also allow each pair adequate time to dry out from sweat and water.
Tips for selecting running shoes:
1. First and foremost, make sure you are buying a shoe that was specifically designed for running. Not a cross-training or tennis shoe, but a running shoe.
2. While there are many sporting goods stores that carry running shoes, typically these stores do not have running experts. We recommend that you go to a running store and speak with an expert about the best shoe for you. Many running stores have a treadmill and video camera and can actually analyze your stride to select the best shoe. Of course once you find the right shoe for you, you can always buy that shoe at a sporting goods store or even on-line, many times saving you money.
3. Make sure the salesperson is an experienced runner, is educated on all the different shoe makes and models, and listens to you and understands your needs. Explain to him/her what your experience and goals are. Another key question is the amount of support versus cushion you need. Some shoes provide a great deal of support but are more rigid and firm, while others don't provide much support but they are soft and tend to cushion the impact more, thereby reducing the pounding on your body (softer shoes tend to wear out quicker than firmer shoes).
4. It's a good idea to know if you pronate or supinate when you run. Since most runners pronate (run on the inside of the foot) the majority of shoes are reinforced on the inside of the shoe. But if you supinate or have no rotation, you don't want a shoe that is reinforced on the inner heal.
5. Ask if you can try out the shoes before you buy. Many stores will let you try on the shoes and take a run around the parking lot or on the treadmill if they have one.
6. Ask about the store's return policy. A lot of times you can return a pair of shoes, even after you've trained in them several times. Since this may be your first pair of running shoes, until you start training with them you won't have any idea of the effect on your body.
7. If you already have running socks, bring a pair with you when you try on shoes. If you need to buy some, again consult the running expert. Definitely cotton socks are recommended, and you can also buy double-wall socks designed specifically for runners and these help prevent blisters.
8. If you already have a pair of running shoes, take those with you so the sales person has an idea of what works for you.
9. Get both feet measured for length and width. Running and age tend to flatten out your feet, so although you may think know your shoe size, it's possible that your feet are a half or full-size larger than the last time you had them measured.
The rule of thumb for the life of your running shoes is 300 miles. Depending on how much you train, this can be as little as 3 months or as long as a year. It's important to replace a pair of shoes when they no longer provided adequate support and/or cushion.
Since many running shoe companies change styles each year, you might consider buying several pairs of your favorite shoe. Otherwise the same shoe might not be available year after year.
It's also a good idea to alternate shoes to give them a chance to dry out between your runs.
This is a great question and it depends on many factors that are specific to you as an individual. Softer shoes work well if your goal is to minimize the impact and trauma on your feet, ankles, knees and hips.
Some people need extra support for their feet and ankles and opt for a more rigid shoe; one possible downside to these shoes is the foot and angle are more restricted in their motion and cannot always move naturally. Also these shoes tend to be made of harder materials and there is less protection from trauma compared to softer shoes.
We always recommend that you consult the expert at a local running store and have them do a complete analysis of your running style.