‘The Basics’ – a regular look at the simple elements which make running gear useful to the runner. Explanations for those who don’t yet know, along with some facts to cut through the marketing nonsense out there, of which there is plenty!
Part one was Midsoles
Part two was Outsoles
Today – it’s clothing.
There’s clothing and there’s clothing.
We’ll use the common T-Shirt, or ‘Tee’ as our example.
For running purposes, there are certain priorities:
- Moisture Management
- Temperature Regulation
- Bacteria Management
- Weather Resistance
- UV Protection
- Use within a layering system…
Let’s take a look at these criteria in some detail.
- Moisture Management.
Your basic running Tee has a simple use, it covers your body. While running it ought to also help you avoid too much sweat or overheating. So it might be best to avoid one made from cotton, which gets very hot very quickly, as it doesn’t breathe all that well. It also traps a great deal of moisture and refuses to ‘let go’. Which means that you’ll have a hot, heavy, soggy tee shirt on for the bulk of you run. Not good.
First then, make the shirt from a fabric/material which collects (wicks) moisture, but which also then helps to evaporate it and dry itself out if it can.
There are many shirts out there which describe themselves as ‘technical’ shirts, or made from ‘technical’ material, but this usually boils down to the fact that they are not cotton (organic) and are in fact synthetic, so man made and therefore (slightly more) ‘technical’. This is to appeal to those who believe that a nylon, or polyester shirt will in some way enhance their performance over the cotton or woollen equivalent.
This is scratching the surface of what’s truly possible in a running shirt. Yes – there’s value in avoiding the hot sticky cotton, but it goes further than that.
Materials such as ‘CoolMax’ feature highly sophisticated thread structures which enhance the wicking ability, mimicking, if not outdoing natural fibre’s ability to do the same. Merino wool for example is one of the most impressive natural wicking materials known, with ability to draw moisture into its hollow strands. But CoolMax has specially engineered threads that ae propeller shaped and actively draw moisture along the outside of the fibres, moving it away from your skin, while not trapping it within. Mother nature versus man’s ingenuity and again, all so you can run efficiently.
2. Temperature Management.
Moisture Management virtually IS Temperature Regulation. They’re very closely linked. Just lick the back of your hand and feel how that feels… Then gently blow on it while it’s wet… Colder? Blow harder… Colder still?
If the shirt you wear features a fabric which is close-knit, no holes, very poor air circulation and you then go running in it, despite its ability to soak up sweat until wet through (wicked out), it will trap your heat and PREVENT heat from escaping. It’ll become more trouble than it’s worth by virtue of its insulative effect – trapping heat and humidity inside the shirt. So strategically placed holes and vents are a good way of providing escape for the heat, humidity and air which will continue to blow across your skin while the moisture is removed.
Prevention rather than just cure… to prevent heat building up, rather than trying to cool down at all cost. The more heat can escape and air can circulate freely, while moisture is collected as soon as it is produced, the more you’ll feel free from bother and enjoy your run.
3. Bacteria Management.
This gets a little compicated (as always). But generally there are two ways of dealing with the build up of bacteria.
a) apply something which repels bacteria to the shirt once produced. Effective until eventually washing off.
b) build that same something into the shirt during production, so it’s at work from the inside. And doesn’t just wash off with time.
You get what you pay for. And companies who apply treatments to their clothing after they’ve been woven together, don’t always use very friendly chemicals, so when they ‘wash off’ they enter the waterways. That’s not very nice.
The alternative is to build in a level of resistance as you make the shirt. To incorporate substances which actively repel bacteria inside the fibres, within the very construct of the shirt fabric, so that it stays, remains active and prolongs the health of the shirt and you – the end user. Also reducing odour – maintaining friendships.
What it says on the tin. Shirts ought to not scratch. If the thread count is high enough, the fibres are smooth and arranged so not to trap hairs or pull at them and the moisture management is working to avoid build up of salt, then you shouldn’t get too irritated or rubbed in all the wrong areas. There are finishing touches, such as bar-tacs and cross stitches at seams which help to flatten and soften the interior of the clothes, to ensure that you can stay in them for hours, even days and not get any lasting aggravation.
In addition to the materials and what’s applied if not built in, there’s the fit, which if tailored well enough to suit humans in motion, you shouldn’t get any rucking, wrinkling, riding or tension across any particular parts, which among other issues can be the cause of the dreaded ‘nipple rub’, which speaks for itself and leaves runners looking as if they’ve been shot twice during the run/event. Not the best.
5. Weather Resistance.
Well, in a Tee there’s an argument for disregarding weather protection as such, but there are some considerations. As mentioned, in extreme heat/sunlight, brighter shirts, or white ones can reflect heat away from the runner. In Death Valley, where believe it or not, folk still race ultra distances in up to 50C heat, there are purpose made white jump suits that shield them from the rays. In everyday terms, white is one thing, but that interwoven silver in the material keeps the external temperatures at bay. Montane produce a Tee with Primaloft insulation in it, combined with Merino Wool, called ‘Primino’, which makes for a very warm T-Shirt when it comes to keeping warmth in instead of out, but that’s another story (further down).
6. UV Protection.
In an almost obvious sense, clothing gets between you and the sun*. So to some extent or other protects against the potentially harmful rays given off, which might burn the skin if exposed for too long. While a shirt might not cover you up entirely, it can be rated for how well it blocks or absorbs these harmful rays. UPF (Utra Violet Protection Factor) built in to clothing benefits everyone (children/those of fair complexion especially) – as with sun cream, higher rating protect more/for longer. Standard white cotton tee offers a rating of UPF 5. Dense construction and treatments, along with Polyester/Nylon are all helpful ingredients in protecting us. Surprisingly, Black is a good choice, as it absorbs all of the light/heat energy. But there appear to be positives from all solutions, so keep an eye for the UPF rating when choosing your stuff.
Wet fabric is known to be less effective against the sun, except for Polyester, which is fortunate, since studies show it often improves when wet, perfect as it’s used as the wicking element in most active wear.
Care of your clothing can help. Broken down, worn out and loose construction can begin to allow UV to penetrate your apparel.
*Use of protective cream is still highly recommended in combination with clothing, as no clothing is 100% safe.
7. Use in a layering system.
Finally, clothes work very well when in their ideal environment, but environments change. We can create our own system for anticipating these changes and react accordingly if we’re armed with enough of the correct items for a quick alteration en route. Lightweight wicking base layers offer the first line of defence, with mid-layers adding a second wicking layer along with ability to trap warm air between and create a barrier against any harsh cold or rain that might be coming at you from the outside. Only when necessary might you apply an outer ‘shell’, of wind or waterproof nature, as these trap far more moisture and heat than practical/safe unless conditions are seriously bad, or you’ve slowed to a pace which no longer generates much heat from within. If you’ve stopped, or at the end of a run, it’s advisable to add layers or to change into something dry, so to avoid the shock of your core releasing heat when your overall temperature drops too low in reaction to the end of exercise.
Finally – but crucially, as we continue to look for ways in which to preserve resources and reduce the impact our manufacturing has on the world around us, it is increasingly vital to re-use and recycle the materials we’ve no longer use for.
Many clothing companies are these days making running apparel from recycled plastics in attempts to minimise the waste and pollution happening around our planet. Names like Patagonia, RaidLight and inov-8 are introducing recycled and sustainable materials and providing all of the above features without contributing to any unnecessary waste/pollution.
Their efforts and those of similar brands will only double in time, with likely enforcement from governments and authorities. To produce anything harmful in a time of environmental urgency will eventually (I assume) be outlawed. what this means is for runners and active types, the clothing we select will by default, be produced without footprint, or as close to carbon neutral as possible and will eliminate the potential for disposal into our oceans, as plastic is already at an emergency level.
Worth thinking about as you debate the short term bargains versus value for money long term solutions.