Gifts for the Runner on Your List

Every year, around this time of December, I start to feel like the local Ambassador to the Running Community. Friends and colleagues ask questions that begin with "Ashley, you're a runner..." and end with "...so what should I buy my [sister/brother/aunt/grandpa/daughter-in-law] who is a runner, too?"

It's a good question, and I'm honored when people turn to me for advice rather than consulting the many gear-laden "best gifts" pages on the websites of running magazines and equipment manufacturers. Don't get me wrong -- I'm as much of a gear nut as any other REI addict out there -- I simply believe that there are better, more meaningful ways to show a runner in your life that you care.

Great Gifts for Runners:

Protect the Trails They Love. The first gift I always recommend for runners is a donation to a local land trust, or to an organization like The Nature Conservancy that works to preserve natural spaces. The way I see it, your runner won't have any use for the latest ultra-lightweight waterproof trail gaiters or a snazzy new LED headlamp if the natural lands around us all end up paved, lighted and developed.

You can find a land trust near your runner by visiting the Land Trust Alliance. In and around Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy does great work preserving our open space from development and deserves the support of anyone who uses our local trails. Sure, a donation is hard to wrap a bow around, but most organizations will send your runner a note thanking him or her for the gift of nature that you made in his or her honor. It doesn't have to be a huge donation, either: gift memberships to the Nature Conservancy start at just $25.

Send Your Runner on an Adventure. An annual pass to the closest national or state park is a great way to encourage your runner to explore his or her surroundings. I lived 20 minutes from the vast trail network of the Angeles National Forest for nearly two years before I got around to purchasing an Adventure Pass so I could run there.

I have no idea why it seemed like such a hurdle, but once I finally bought the pass I discovered just how much I was missing! National Parks Passes are a bargain at $50, you can buy them online, and they're valid one year from the first time they're used, not the date of purchase. Google "state parks" and the state your runner lives in to purchase a state parks pass online.

A Healing Touch to Keep 'Em Running Strong. Not all runners are blessed enough to have a Certified Massage Therapist as a life partner, but those of us who are (including ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, Olympic marathoner Deena Kastor, and yours truly) can testify to the benefits that regular massage can offer any athlete. Massage helps your body to recover well, enabling you to train at a very high level with a lower risk of injury.

You can find a massage therapist near your runner by typing his or her zip code into the American Massage Therapy Association's massage therapist finder. Sports massage runs from $75 to $150 per hour, most therapists offer gift certificates, and many will even travel to your runner's home or office to make it totally convenient to keep those muscles well-kneaded. Is your runner in Greater Los Angeles? My massage therapist, Christi Brockway, has experience working with athletes and professional dancers, and can be reached at 323-351-1001.

"Come on, Ashley!" I hear you saying, "These intangibles are great, but I still need something to adorn with a red bow and leave under the tree!"

Okay. I hear you. Here are three more gift ideas for the runner in your life:

The Gift of GU. You might think diamonds are a girl's best friend, but for this runner, nothing says "I love you" like an assortment of my favorite energy gel.

Giving GU says, "I want your electrolytes to stay balanced." It says, "I want you to be healthy on the run." It says, "I don't want you to collapse and die in the backcountry, and for vultures and coyotes to pick at your dehydrated remains." Lemme tell you: it's a gift of love -- read my blog about bonking on the trail lest you have any doubts. Just be sure you know what version of gel your runner prefers; while I'm a devoted GU girl, other runners might prefer ClifShots, Honey Stinger Energy Gel, or Hammer Gel -- and some runners' sensitive tummies don't allow for much experimentation in this area.

Pamper Their Feet. I don't usually recommend purchasing crucial running gear as a surprise gift -- each runner has his or her own preferred shoe model, and most other gear (shorts, jackets) should be tried on before purchase for a good fit.

I make an exception for Injinji Tetratsoks only because they are so wonderful and I have yet to meet anyone who has tried them and not loved them.

These socks fit your feet like a glove -- literally -- hugging each toe separately and preventing the kind of toe-to-toe rubbing that can lead to blisters. I wear them on all my long runs and whenever I race. They're not just for runners, either: my aunt Suzanne (Genuine Colorado Native and All-Around Outdoorsy Person) is not a runner, but does everything from backpacking to cross-country skiing to kayaking, and is an Injinji fan. If you know your runner's shoe size, you can use the chart online to pick the right Injinji sock size, and make your runner's feet say "Thank you, Santa!"

Keep Your Runner Safe. What would happen if your runner were to be hit by a car, or collapse on the run? You would hope that a good samaritan would call an ambulance, but then what? How would your runner's family be notified so that someone could meet up with your runner at the hospital, or make important decisions about his or her care?

It's not fun to think about, but the folks at Road ID have made it their business to help runners prepare for the worst. Their stainless-steel IDs can be engraved with emergency contact numbers, allergy information, or other info that EMTs might need to treat your runner well in an emergency. IDs are only $19.95, and if you're not sure whether your runner would prefer the shoe ID, a wrist-strap ID, or an ankle-strap ID, you can purchase a gift certificate and let your runner choose for himself or herself.

I hope these gift ideas prove useful to you, and help you to show the runner in your life that you care.

I do, of course, have one last gift you might consider for your runner this year:

The gift of a running partner.

You.

Running might seem intimidating at first, especially if you have preconceptions about what a "runner" looks like -- but show up for any local 5k/10k, or even a marathon, and you'll find that the running community is filled with all kinds of people: old, young, tall, short, fat, skinny, women, men. We're diverse, we're supportive, we're welcoming, and we're friendly.

I love to talk about running -- I mean, I started a blog about trail running because I needed another outlet for all my running talk! It also re-energizes me to hear about beginning runners' experiences, and offer a tip or two when I can. Online resources abound, and there are many ways to build up from walking to running. One especially rich resource is the Runner's World website, which has an entire section on becoming a runner. There, you can get tips on how to start on your running journey -- and love it, every step of the way!

Happy holidays, and I'll see you on the trail!