New pants!

With holiday festivities in their winding-down phase, it’s time to take stock of the year passed and the next one pending. Before we come over all philosophical, let’s appreciate the gifts from those we cherish as we tidy up and pack them away. No matter the gift, it’s the thought that counts, right? Even the socks that you didn’t ask for, and the underwear you hurriedly put out of sight?

Even those!

If you’re trying to get fitter, for the New Year or for all years, you’ve probably got new shoes to buy, maybe a new bike. Maybe those were amongst the gifts you gladly received, or perhaps you’ve got a shopping list.

There are plenty of good reasons not to splash out money on loads of brand new clothing and equipment. Walking, running, swimming, even cycling don’t have to be expensive activities, especially to begin with. No fancy GPS watches, fins or paddles required when starting out. Any second-hand, road-safe bicycle will do, and the most costly part of going to the gym should be the membership, at least until you know how much you enjoy it and how seriously you want to take it.

That said, there are things you’ll want to be aware of, equipment-wise. Clothing that fits and is comfortable is going to make a big difference. I don’t mean running shorts and tech t-shirts either; those new socks and pants that were such disappointing (and cliché) gifts might be doubly so if they leave chafed skin and blisters in their wake.

It’s not nice to think about, much less experience. I have to imagine that it’s scarcely better to hear about, but it needs saying…

If you find yourself out of shape and lacking fitness, your body will not be able to do the things it used to, and it may react quite negatively to your new-found enthusiasm for activity. I, for one, used to walk everywhere in my teens and twenties: cinema, shops, gym, pool, up hills and across countries. In all that time I never had a blister. Not a one.

Fast forward a decade and my feet now sweat. Like I said, not nice to hear about, but nor were the blisters that resulted from even a few miles walking. My first thought was the shoes, maybe they just didn’t fit as well, or weren’t adequately vented. What I soon realised was that the socks were the problem. “Sports socks”, to be precise.

Never has a product been as inadequately labelled as the sports sock. Comfy, springy even, thanks to the thick cotton cushion; the same cotton that makes them horrendously absorbent, retaining any sweat right next to the foot. If I could offer one piece of advice to those taking up walking and/or running, it’d be to pick up some polyester running socks, five-toed ones if you suffer inter-digital blisters.

If I could offer two pieces of advice, the second would be to take just as seriously your underwear selection.

As Luisa Omielan will tell you, there’s nought wrong with having thighs that touch. On the other hand, if they touch a lot, and you decide to start suddenly running or walking or cycling everywhere you go, you might want to put something in-between those thighs (now, now, none of that).

Like sweaty feet and blisters, chafing between the thighs (or “chub rub” as it is apparently called - thanks, internet!) is nearly as difficult to discuss, hear or think about as it is to experience. Ointments, lotions, lubricants and all manner of moisturisation might be recommended, before or after friction has destroyed your inner thighs. However, it transpires that, to avoid chafing, the solution that worked best for me was to coat them in lycra.

That’s right, the second of our (hopefully imaginary) disappointing Christmas gifts - underpants!

Call them what you will - compression base layer, leggings or good old cycling shorts - knee-length, skin-tight lycra underwear has worked wonders on both warm and cold days when I’ve been walking up to 25 thousand steps (20km/13 miles).

I know, not what you wanted to hear; those y-fronts and Santa socks just aren’t going to cut it on the road or in the gym. I’ll be the first to warn against expensive, hi-tech equipment when all you want to do is go for a jog, but if you are blister prone or have thighs that gently nudge one-another as you walk, some new socks and pants might be the best present you give yourself.