CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our fitness advice is expert-vetted. Our top picks are based on our editors’ independent research, analysis, and hands-on testing. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Running Gift Guide: What I Bought to Run My First Marathon

When in doubt, just buy socks.

Bree Fowler Senior Writer
Bree Fowler writes about cybersecurity and digital privacy. Before joining CNET she reported for The Associated Press and Consumer Reports. A Michigan native, she's a long-suffering Detroit sports fan, world traveler, wannabe runner and champion baker of over-the-top birthday cakes and all-things sourdough.
Expertise cybersecurity, digital privacy, IoT, consumer tech, smartphones, wearables
Bree Fowler
6 min read
An image of someone trying on shoes in front of a Christmas tree.

Shoes are a tricky gift, but there are lots of other options out there for your favorite runner.

Getty Images

When you first start running, a lot of people will tell you that the sport is great because all you really need is the open road and a decent pair of sneakers.

In all fairness, I did find that to be true, at least for a while. But after I joined a neighborhood running team and started getting serious about racing, I found myself ogling the latest super shoes at my local running store and doing lots and lots of online shopping.

When I started training for the TCS New York City Marathon -- my first -- that shopping shifted into an even higher gear. I knew I had countless hills to summit, both literally and figuratively, over the next several months. And, as someone who studies technology for a living, I looked to the world of tech for the help I knew I was going to need.

I personally tested many of these products during my marathon training and while running the race itself. Others are favorites of friends in my neighborhood running club, many of whom are much more experienced (and faster) runners than I am.

Whether you're shopping for yourself or for your favorite runner, here's a handful of great gift ideas.

An image of Feetures socks.

It's a fact: Runners love socks.


Runners love socks

Running, especially long-distance running, requires you to take good care of your feet, and that starts with socks. 

Priced at about $18 each, several pairs of Feetures' colorful and long-lasting socks will undoubtedly show up, and be fought over, at my team's annual holiday gift swap. Specifically, the "Elite" versions of the socks offer targeted compression that helps protect and support your feet as you run, without feeling too heavy.

These were the only socks I used to train for the New York City Marathon and a well-worn pair of Feetures Elite Ultra Lights got me through all 26.2 miles without a single raw mark or blister.

Shoes are all about the runner

I can tell you what kinds of kicks my friends and I used to train for the marathon, but it doesn't matter. 

A size nine in one brand may fit completely different than in another. Shoes that your best friend, or even a world-class marathoner, thinks are amazing, may feel torturous for you to walk in. For this reason, you should never try to buy shoes as a gift for someone.

If they really want shoes, get them a gift card to their local running store, where someone with expertise can measure their feet; analyze how they stand, walk and run; and then give them several different pairs to try on.

The fitting technology used by many stores has come a long way. Early in my marathon training, I got an up-close look at the system used by Fleet Feet, a national chain of running stores. It uses artificial intelligence to compare a 3D scan of your feet to those of millions of other customers, along with the store's inventory.

The AI matches, combined with the expertise of the store employee using the technology, helped me find a great pair of shoes that ultimately carried me through much of my training.

Safety can be fun

Running gear needs to be comfortable and practical, but it can be fun, too. One of my favorite new toys is the Tracer2 light-up vest from Noxgear, which is a must for folks who run at night. Its rechargeable LED lights flash in a rainbow of fun colors, can be seen a quarter mile away, and last up to 20 hours on a single charge.

At $50 it's not cheap, and I'd recommend adding on the optional Tracer Lamp ($25) that clips on the front. It's super bright and can be aimed down to help you spot cracks in the sidewalk and to avoid blinding fellow runners who might try to look directly at you.

The vest, which also includes reflective straps, fits me perfectly and doesn't slide around like a less expensive version I used previously that was made by another company. In addition to running, I've used the Tracer2 for late night walks with my dog. Speaking of the dog, the company also makes a canine version of the vest ($50). It slips on and adjusts easily, and my untrained and energetic puppy tolerates hers pretty well.

My teammates would be upset if I didn't mention Noxgear's 39G wearable Bluetooth speaker ($60). They love how it kicks out a surprising amount of sound for its size. Instead of using headphones or earbuds that could block out the sound of an approaching car or another threat, you can use the speaker to listen to your tunes while also staying aware of what's going on around you. 

Fashionable and functional

Buying clothes for runners can be tough. Instead of a top or leggings, how about a hat, sunglasses or running belt?

Mission makes a line of baseball hats with built-in cooling technology. It activates when you soak the hat in water. This came in handy a lot over the summer. During one especially miserable 15-mile run, I pulled mine off, plunged it into the spray of a busted fire hydrant and felt instantly better when I put it back on.

Though I didn't need to chill my head for my November marathon, my hot pink Mission Sprint hat kept sweat out of my eyes and hair out of my face and helped my friends and family find me in a sea of people.

Just as popular with my team are Goodr's line of active sunglasses. At $25 they're a steal. They're extremely durable and they block harmful UVA and UVB rays, don't slip down your nose when it gets sweaty, and come in a slew of fun colors and frames. I never go on a run without a pair of these perched on my head just in case.

In terms of logistics, one of the toughest things about running any long race is figuring out how to carry all the stuff you need along the way, like water, gels, and salt tablets, along with your probably way-too-heavy phone. Recently, I've had luck with Nathan's Zipster Lite ($35). It doesn't hold a ton, but it stays put and doesn't make me look like I'm wearing Batman's utility belt.

Snacks for the road

Distance running is a strange sport in the sense that you have to eat while doing it. Calories, carbs, electrolytes, salts and other nutrients need to be replaced along the way, or you're just going to run out of gas.

Everyone has their favorite products and ways to do this. I have friends who will eat "real food" like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beef jerky during long runs. I even saw a few runners chug beers and do free shots of Fireball while running the New York City marathon (not recommended!).

But a lot of us who turn green at the thought of consuming anything substantial while bounding down the road rely on gels and chews specifically designed for runners. Why not treat that favorite runner in your life to a grab bag of these kinds of products?

A lot of my team likes Gu gels. I'm personally a fan of Skratch Labs energy chews. They taste less like chemicals and more like gummy bears. And some of my favorite products come from Untapped, a maple syrup company based in, you guessed it, Vermont. Their waffle cookies make for a tasty and easy to digest prerace snack, and their coffee-spiked maple syrup athletic fuel gives me the zip I need without including chemicals I can't pronounce. I buy it by the case.

Don't forget about salt. Runners who opt for water instead of sports drinks might want to consider salt tablets. These lemon-lime flavored ones from SaltStick taste like a margarita.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.