The Healthy Trail Running Holiday Gift List

Stay the CourseHappy Holidays, runners! If you’re like me, you loathe having to spend a lot of money and time buying gifts… for fickle runners! Whether you’re a runner buying for a spouse, friend, or family, or you’re a non-runner looking to support your nut-job run addict, it can be a major challenge to find a quality, useful gift with good value.

Moreover, the gadgetry for runner support and sports-medicine treatment and prevention continues to grow–in number and price–and these can be difficult to sift through.

Stay the Course presents a list of gift ideas encompassing all areas of runner support this holiday season. Here are 10 items to consider:

Double Tennis Ball

In my gift guide two years ago, I highlighted the tennis ball as a fantastic mobilization tool for the foot. What can be better than a tennis ball? How about two tennis balls!?!

Why: In all seriousness, a double tennis ball is a terrific mobilization tool. Beyond the foot, a double tennis ball can also be used to mobilize:

  • lower leg (calf and Achilles)
  • hamstring and glutes
  • spinal muscle and joints

Where: Any sporting-goods or pharmacy store. Assembly for this gift is as easy as taping two balls together using athletic or medical tape. Internet search: “double tennis ball taped.”

Elastic Exercise Bands

Why: All-purpose stretch bands are ubiquitous equipment for sports-medicine professionals because they are inexpensive, portable stretching and strengthening devices. They can be looped around and inside doors and posts, and are used for push-and-pull strengthening or as a simple stretch assist. And since they tend to wear out or break over time, they make terrific holiday stocking stuffers!

Where: Internet search keywords: “elastic stretch bands” for various brands and types of resistance.

Leukotape and Cover-Roll Medical Tape

Why: Most runners are well-versed in taping, whether it’s the duct taping of old or today’s “kinesiology tape.” However, the secret weapon of most sports-medicine professionals–not well known to mainstream runners–is Leukotape and Cover-Roll. They are the one-two punch for maximum adhesion, protection, and strength. Cover-Roll is (usually) a white, base-layer adhesive tape with breathable, cloth-like qualities. This makes it ideal as a blister-prevention layer that covers problem areas yet allows these areas to breathe. And because it is soft, one seldom gets crease-irritation issues using Cover-Roll. And for its softness and malleability, its ability to stick in all conditions–including high-friction–is unsurpassed.

Leukotape is heavy-duty athletic tape designed for maximum strength, adhesion, and form fit. Unlike standard athletic tape, which is strong but rigid and often poorly adhesive to anything other than itself, Leukotape is the superhero of adhesive tapes. It is strong but flexible and extraordinarily sticky. It can be applied aggressively to joints and it eventually gives just enough to allow athletic movement. A small amount goes a long way: combined with Cover-Roll as a base layer, a single strip of Leukotape provides tremendous support, making it a great choice for ankle and plantar foot arch support. Be careful: the ultra-powerful zinc-oxide adhesive in Leukotape will irritate the skin, so always use over a layer of Cover-Roll.

Where: Internet search “Leukotape Cover-Roll.” The brand-name manufacturer is BSN Medical.

Quality Protein Powder and Omega-Three Oils

Why: DIY recovery potions for post-run and race. Fueling and recovery products are everywhere… but often difficult to find when in a hurry to hit the trail. Having just a few simple components handy can allow a runner to mix together their own recovery brew. Research and expert opinion varies on what exactly we need post-workout (indeed, it varies depending on distance and intensity), but while fast-acting carbohydrates are usually readily available, high-quality proteins and omega oils are much harder to come by. Unsweetened protein powders and omega-three oils (namely flax-seed oil) mixed with a simple carbohydrate (such as maple syrup) make a potent–and good-tasting–post-run brew!

Where: Internet search keywords: “unsweetened protein powder” and “omega three oil” for various brands and quantities. Check consumer reviews on these products to help ensure what you’re buying is of sufficient quality.

Ultrarunning Documentaries

Why: Visual imagery and positive vibes are invaluable for a runner’s success. Besides entertainment value, ultrarunning documentaries provide a valuable inside look at races: the course, challenges, and inspirational stories of achievement. Before my first Western States, I must have watched A Race for the Soul a hundred times. The positive message–along with the detailed course outline–was an invaluable tool in earning my first Silver Buckle. And besides the mental and spiritual lift, purchasing ultrarunning films also supports the filmmakers, many of which are ultrarunners themselves.

Where: Supporting ultrarunning films can range from DVD purchases to tickets to touring film festivals. Journey Film, best known for its Western States release, Unbreakable, has several fantastic products for sale on its website, including its most recent products, One Day and The Long Haul. A Race for the Soul can be purchased through the public television station website, KVIE.

A few other films had fairly recent release. Finding Traction, featuring Nikki Kimball’s epic Long Trail FKT, can be found here. Photojournalist phenom Myles Smythe and his film debut, This is Your Day, highlights this year’s Western States event, highlighting the races of Rob Krar, Karl Hoagland, and Caroline Boller through a truly unique (and local) lens. Lastly, the long-awaited film, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, is set to release this month.

Trail-Running Media

Why: Trail- and ultrarunning media supports runners, providing informative content on the logistics and science of training and racing, as well as insights from from top runners, past and present, and injury treatment and prevention tips. While most mainstream media obtain short blurbs from various experts, a few publications employ those experts who provide their insights and wisdom to readers first-hand. Subscriptions and gift memberships support these publications and provide runners with a steady stream of information and inspiration.

Where: UltraRunning magazine, the encyclopedia of the sport since 1981, provides print content 10 times yearly, with free weekly online content. It is produced for ultrarunners by ultrarunners. Subscription information is here. Trail Runner Magazine also employs myriad experts on all things trail with a monthly print magazine available here. Lastly, of course, is iRunFar! The website not only provides daily trail and ultrarunning content but also real-time race coverage. iRunFar accepts one-time and ongoing donation support here.

Recovery-Facility Membership or Gift Certificates

Why: The recovery facility is the new gym membership. Whereas the gym is about working out, the recovery spot focuses on… the recovery! Inspired by the athletic-training facilities found at most collegiate-training rooms, a few creative runners have brought this concept to the public, offering everything from hot tubs to cold whirlpools. Newfangled technologies–including compression therapy and infrared saunas–represent cutting-edge recovery tools with modest research backing. Whether these modalities are truly effective (or simply a feel-good placebo), the idea of having a bona fide recovery center is a novel one: where runners can access not only these recovery tools, but conventional–and valuable–cross-training tools including spin bikes, elliptical trainers, and even gravity-eliminating treadmills, which allow tender runners to baby injuries via decreased weight-bearing.

Where: Right now, these centers are few, but here on the west coast, Recharge, has centers in Bend, Oregon, San Francisco, California, and Vancouver, Washington. Founded by professional runners Austin and Renee Baillie, Recharge offers a variety of recovery therapy, cross-training, and other medical services. They also support a large number of trail and ultrarunning professionals so they can stay healthy and strong. More information on memberships and gift options can be found here.

Specialty Running Store Gift Certificates

Why: Specialty-running stores are the backbone of local running communities. Shoe and gear deals are all over the internet, but local specialty shops provide expert advice on what products will work best for you–tailored to your body and the local terrain. They also galvanize the running community with group runs, workshops, local training, and race-day support.

Where: Local stores are too numerous to link here, but a quick internet search will direct you to their pages and means of obtaining gift certificates.

Video Gait Analysis and Training

Why: Often the best gifts are those that people truly need but seldom want to purchase themselves. Running-gait analysis may be the most valuable gift for any runner. An efficient stride is the foundation of fast, enjoyable, and sustainable running. This present is a win-win for the gifter who, by giving the gift of good health, can avoid dealing with the whining and complaining of the beat-up, injured runner!

Where: While many sports-medicine clinics provide gait analysis as a medical service, some also offer it at cash rate. Also, some major university exercise-science departments also provide gait analysis. Either way, ask around to other runners who have had success as the ability to train a new-and-improved stride is where the true value lies. A precious few, including yours truly, provide remote, online video gait analysis to those who do not have convenient access to a brick-and-mortar facility.

Metabolic Testing

Why: Similar to gait analysis, metabolic testing represents a technical assessment of the individual runner. Metabolic testing can determine precise, individualized training zones, including aerobic, threshold, and maximum-oxygen-uptake speeds and heart-rate values. Moreover, with periodic re-testing, metabolic assessment can provide a concrete way to measure fitness gains and avoid injury and burnout. Similar to gait analysis, there are a few private testing centers, but many university-research facilities offer metabolic testing. Patronizing these facilities often supports research activity and student learning as well.

Where: Internet search keywords: “metabolic testing running” may reveal private testing facilities. Also check major state and private university exercise-science and kinesiology departments. Many offer testing services.

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The greatest gift for us all is good health and happy running. My hope is that these items will help your runner along toward those goals. Happy holidays!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Anything on this list that you really want for the holidays?
  • What else are you hoping to gift or be gifted in this holiday season that’s running-related?
Joe Uhan

is a physical therapist, coach, and ultrarunner in Eugene, Oregon. He is a Minnesota native and has been a competitive runner for over 20 years. He has a Master's Degree in Kinesiology, a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and is a USATF Level II Certified Coach. Joe ran his first ultra at Autumn Leaves 50 Mile in October 2010, was 4th place at the 2015 USATF 100K Trail Championships (and 3rd in 2012), second at the 2014 Waldo 100K, and finished M9 at the 2012 Western States 100. Joe owns and operates Uhan Performance Physiotherapy in Eugene, Oregon, and offers online coaching and running analysis at uhanperformance.com.

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