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Running Gear: When to Save vs. Splurge

Everyone loves a steal -- but when it comes to your running gear, sometimes it's important to spring for the real deal. Here's when you can save versus when it's time to splurge.

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James Michelfelder
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Save vs. Splurge

We know. It's hard to spend so much money on something you're just going to get sweaty in. And sometimes it's okay to be cheap! "A general rule of thumb I follow when buying my running clothes is that the closer it is to your skin, the better quality it should be," says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise and certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Read on for her advice about smart spending.

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When shopping for shorts, keep your eyes out for some serious savings. "Tons of brands are making running-specific shorts with fun additions like mini pockets for your keys," says Matthews. "You can definitely save and still get a good value, so long as they don't ride up." But if you prefer running in tights, splurge for the better quality. "You can feel the difference between a pair that's made right versus one that's not," says Matthews. Choosing a pair that's breathable and reduces chafing will make long runs much more bearable.

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Pick your preference before you settle on a price point. For runners who like tanks with built-in bras for extra support, you'll want to splurge. They'll have a better support system and will be made with a higher quality of fabric that won't shrink after washing -- a common issue with these tops, says Matthews. When shopping for T-shirts and long-sleeve shirts, you can definitely save. And look in unexpected places to get the best deal. Stores from Costco to Target now sell lines with sweat-wicking material at lower prices.

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A definite splurge, says Matthews. "You can comb through the deals and sales, but sneakers are the critical element for runners." Find a running store near you, such as Road Runner Sports, and get a gait analysis from a professional. Always test out a pair in person before you buy.

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Sports Bras

Splurging has way more benefits than saving a buck when it comes to sports bras. "You wear and wash your sports bras almost every day, so they need to be able to really support you," says Matthews. "Spend a little bit more for durable quality with heavy-duty construction, great support, and shaping." A sports bra made of strictly cotton or a less lasting fabric will lose its elasticity quickly, which could lead to saggy breasts, and, in some severe cases, ligament damage. Yikes!

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As long as you can find a shell that's water-repellent, you can save here...but invest in the layers under the jacket. "You can easily find an affordable jacket for inclement weather," says Matthews. "Just make sure the layers under it are a decent quality, protect you against cooler temps, and wick sweat away."

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"Something to remember with socks is that if it's made of strictly cotton, it's going to sop up moisture and retain it," warns Matthews. The solution? Buy a blend. Socks can have some cotton, but they should be mostly made of lightweight synthetic or polyester. And in the battle of regular socks versus compression socks, you're better off saving your money. While some studies and runners report improved recovery and runs with compression socks, there's not enough research to prove it's the better option.

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Hats, Gloves, and Sunglasses

Save with your lid and splurge to protect your peepers! "Sunglasses designed for runners and cyclists have tons of perks, including a snug fit that won't fall off once you start sweating and lightweight designs that won't press into your face and cause discomfort," says Matthews. For hats and gloves, make sure to pick ones with sweat-wicking materials, but otherwise, feel free to keep them low-budget.

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