Winter Running

If you sell running gear – whether you’re a specialist retailer or not – you’ll know that runners love their toys. They love buying and trying new gear, discussing it, praising it or slagging it off. They’re great adopters of technology, and for winter running, that technology reaches its pinnacle.

Runners in winter need two things – warmth and visibility. Often, miles are clocked up in the early mornings or in the evening, when it’s dark. And runners tend to veer toward darker-coloured gear when they’re buying, so making sure your customers get some high-visibility clothing or ‘extras’ is both exceptionally important and a season-specific revenue stream.

There’s some wonderful product out there, and it won’t break the bank for a runner to buy. There’s Ronhill’s Vizion LED, new for AW09; it’s an LED which is designed to be used with the brand’s popular jackets and tops, and is lightweight enough that once on, it won’t annoy. With two settings (flashing or static), runners attach it by a velcro patch onto their jackets and are visible to all traffic. Best of all, it’s under a fiver, so there’s no excuse not to buy it! As Ronhill’s Oliver Carter explains: “For this Autumn-Winter, we included a small LED patch on the back of our jackets. It’s basically a velcro patch 6-7cm long. Our new Vizion LED attaches to that, and it will work for hundreds of hours. It’s an added safety feature in the small of your back, which increases visibility. It’s not groundbreaking or new technology, but we’ve incorporated it in a way which is aesthetically pleasing, while being very functional. There’s been no compromise in order to add the feature to the jacket, nothing’s been lost. The new Epic jacket actually comes with one, but bought separately they’re very affordable.”

For runners not wearing Ronhill, an alternative to this is the Nathan Magnetic LED, which gives visibility up to one mile and attaches, as the name suggests, via a magnetic attachment – one piece on the inside of your jacket or top, with the light on the outside. Retailing at around £12.99, it’s another good buy.

Buff’s neck/headgear offerings are an absolute essential for winter running. Their lines include Polar, for extra warmth, and most importantly they have a line of Reflective Headwear which includes a luminous yellow just to be sure of being seen! The material is wicking, lightweight and if worn as a scarf, a runner can pull it up over their mouth on a cold morning to avoid that awful ‘lung ache’ that comes with very cold runs. The reflective selection has a strip of reflective material as well, of course. With most Buff coming in at well under £15 (the reflective RRP is £11.99) – and not taking up a huge amount of space in a shop – they’re a very attractive addition to a runner’s protective armoury.

Gloves, hats, scarves and jackets all come into the equation for the winter runner, along with staples like good socks. With modern fabric technology, there’s no longer the need to wear something you don’t mind losing; runners used to layer up and wear something old and ratty on the top, which they could actually throw away in some cases if they were on a long run and got too hot. Now, with breathable, waterproof fabrics, there’s no need – it’s just a question of the wonderful independent retailer finding the upper to match the customer. Certainly of note in this category is Gore’s unbelievable Air System II jacket. It boasts AIRVANTAGE insulation technology – basically, parts of the jacket inflate with a single breath. This is important – the single breath part – because it means the jacket can be inflated by a cold runner on the move without breaking their breathing pattern. The hood is removable, the colours very visible and there’s a fair amount of reflective material. The price is high, but the value is there – at £275 RRP, it’s not cheap but you are getting what you pay for: pure quality.

Base layers must be a staple for runners in cold weather, too. There’s a wealth of excellent product out there from Canterbury’s lovely BaseLayer Cold (long- and short-sleeve) to Skins’ wonderful gear – their full-length compression tights are perfect for long winter runs. For runners wanting to try out base layers, Prostar’s range is probably most affordable, with a base layer (Geo T) coming in around £12 – at that price, anyone can afford to try it out. The only potential problem there is that the range has proved so popular, some retailers can’t guarantee Prostar’s base layers until February or March! Prostar also make a base layer-style undershort (Marino), which has an RRP of £10, and have a number of products from their training lines that are ideal for runners at good prices.

In terms of shoes, most running shoes have plenty of reflectivity. One pair that stand out is UK Gear’s PT-03, which has a ton of reflective material in the design. Not in large blocks, but in lots of smaller areas both in front and down the sides, giving what is probably 360-degree reflectivity.

Saucony’s Jonathan Quint knows the value of reflective material on shoes. He explained: “Most of our shoes have typically 3M Scotchlite reflective material on them, and it follows that the more you pay for a shoe the more of that material it will have on it because it’s a relatively expensive fabric to apply to a shoe.

“The feet move a lot when you’re running, and the moving parts of the body are most attractive to a driver’s eyes, so reflectivity in shoes is very important.” Saucony’s hi-visibility apparel range is getting a makeover in the new year - you’ll be able to see and read about it in our January issue.

Crucially, what we really need to know is, do runners wear reflective gear? And if they do, do they wear enough? Many runners go out at night clad head to toe in black, trusting in just a reflective brand logo on a top or tights to be seen by cars and cyclists; it’s just not enough.

Sports Marketing Surveys has undertaken some primary research for SGB amongst runners and sports participants. The respondents were regular or avid runners in terms of frequency – with 48% of them running three times a week or more in the Summer (between April and September) but with this rate dropping to only 32% in the winter months.

As runners, they do this for personal fitness and enjoyment rather than to build a base of mileage ready for spring races like the London Marathon – almost 60% have not run any races in the last three years, although over a quarter had run a 10K.

These runners are serious about their sport as indicated by the frequency of their participation, and with this comes a realisation on the importance of running with the right equipment and safety in mind. In the winter months, as well as the frequency of running falling – so does the mileage covered – 35% of the runners complete 11 miles or more a week in the summer while this drops to just over 25% in the winter.

The right equipment and the right preparation means more than just the right shoes and shorts – it is ensuring the right visibility is prepared, especially for the 60% of these runners who run on the roads, especially with over 55% of all runners active before 8am in the morning or in the mid to late-evening when ‘bad light would stop play’. However, just over a third of runners are concerned about safety when running in winter, and of those, three quarters where reflective clothing or head torch or flashing lights. However, to stay safe in winter a small minority will not run outdoors in the dark at all.

It is clear that the winter months and the dark does not stop the active runner, and so it is now down to the nitty gritty; of those who do wear reflective clothing, just over two-thirds wear clothing with reflective areas, a fifth wear hats with reflective strips, 18% wear reflective gilets – that mainstay of safety clothing – and the same number were gloves with reflectivity, while 13% wear reflective wristbands or straps. However, 57% chose to wear not specialist but high-visibility clothing.

Of the 165 respondents, 32% have not purchased any reflective clothing this year. Let’s hope that’s because they still have great gear from last year! Almost 20% have spent less than £10 which would suggest a hat, gloves or wrist-straps; 16.4% spent £10 to £20, almost 25% spend £20 to £40, and only around 10% spending £40 or more. The buyers are certainly out there, but the spread suggests many are ‘topping up’ their gear rather than splashing out on a whole range of reflective gear. But, this is where the retailer comes in – only two thirds are actively wearing reflective clothing and with 50% of these either spending nothing or less than £10, it is our responsibility to encourage safety, and the right reflective equipment is considered by all.

Of those who have purchased reflective clothing, only a quarter are buying on line, with 47% buying at a general sports store, and 37% at a specialist running store. This suggests that being able to see and touch – and try on – reflective or specialist high-visibility gear makes the local shop the place to go rather than online. The local shop provides the specialist personal touch that does not compromise on safety.

Look out for a feature on Saucony’s excellent new high-visibility range for 2009 in our next issue – it’s a real leap forward for the company and a must-see…