Athletes are notoriously picky about their stuff.
Their clothing has to be just right in fit and fabric so it’s comfortable during a long run or ride. The swim goggles must fit well enough so they don’t leak. They have their favorite brand of gear, or particular functions they want that gear to serve. And bike seats -- your cycling friends or loved ones will definitely want to make that selection themselves.
But there are gifts you can give the fitness nuts in your life that they’ll appreciate and won’t need to exchange.
Like socks. It may sound boring, but runners and bikers always need socks. And the gift giver doesn’t have to worry much about fit.
Randy Stearns of Body n’ Sole Sports in Savoy suggested a couple pairs of high-performance running socks as a good gift for a runner.
An item that has become quite popular is compression socks for recovery after a hard run or a race, he said.
“They speed up the recovery,” Stearns said. “They increase the blood flow and cut down on some of swelling.”
They’re also available in styles that go from knee to ankle -- a calf sleeve, without the foot.
Another recovery aid: a deep tissue massage tool. It’s like a dowel rod with plastic pieces that you roll over your calf or quad muscles for a deep massage, to work out the knots and soreness. Body n’ Sole has a new brand, called the T-Roller, that comes in three different sizes that start at about $25 or so.
There are foam rollers as well, and Body n’ Sole has a new, shorter foam roller that has been popular, Stearns said. And there are small balls with nubs to massage the feet.
Stearns recommended a basic watch with a stopwatch function for new runners who don’t have a running watch. The ultimate way to track speed and distance is with a Garmin GPS unit, but they can run several hundred dollars.
A more economical alternative to the Garmin is the Nike+ system. A sensor in your shoe and receiver in your iPod or iPhone register your time, distance, pace and calories burned. The kit with the sensor to go with the iPhone costs $19, and the one for use with an iPod costs $29. If you don’t have an iPod or iPhone, there’s the Nike+ Sportband for $59, with a receiver you wear on your wrist. After your run, you can download all your information to keep track of workouts.
For swimmers, Stearns suggested swim aids such as hand paddles, pull buoys or a kickboard; or a duffle bag and mesh bag for a swimmer to take his or her things to the pool and store wet suits and gear after a swim. There’s also special shampoos and conditioners to protect hair against damage from chemicals.
The cyclist’s answer to the Nike+ system for runners is the bike computer. Most calculate distance, speed and time, and the ones with more features will also provide information on cadence and heart rate, said Nick Dornik, service manager at Champaign Cycle. He said bike computers start at about $25.
He suggested insulated water bottles to keep water cool during summer rides -- and keep it from freezing in the winter (unless the ride is really long).
For cyclists still riding in the winter, Dornick recommended hats, gloves or booties. The latter are neoprene foot covers that are windproof and waterproof and cover the clip-in cycling shoes. The clip-in shoes “are very poorly insulated,” Dornick said. “They’re meant for summer and are lightweight and ventilated.”
He also suggested bike tools for cyclists who like to work on their own bikes.
If you’re looking for fitness equipment, some of the most popular items at Durst Cycle & Fitness are therapy balls and stretch bands, said Doug Risken, director of fitness for the store.
The therapy balls are large rubber balls used for stretches, sit-ups and other exercises. They’re used a lot by personal trainers and in fitness classes, Risken said.
The rubber stretch bands provide resistance for stretching or strengthening exercises.
The store also carries yoga mats; tri-fold mats, which are thicker and provide more padding for floor exercises such as sit-ups; and dumbbells.
Stocking stuffer ideas include Body Glide for runners (especially important in winter to eliminate chafing); reflective apparel or flashing lights for people who will be exercising outdoors when it’s dark; and energy gels or bars or recovery drinks for runners, cyclists or any endurance athletes.
Finally, if you are buying for someone who loves fitness classes, the Champaign Park District offers gift cards that can be used for any park district program or for facility entrance fees. The Urbana Park District doesn’t have gift cards, but if your athlete has an account with the park district, you can add money to it to be used for any program or event.
And one of my favorites: The Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center sells punch cards for admission to the pool, at a slightly cheaper rate than daily admission for most days. A five-punch card is $23 and a 10-punch card is $46.