Running Like a Girl

Jen, you asked for it. Be careful what you wish for…it’s a long ‘un!

Historically, I’ve gone several rounds of either defending or attacking running attire.

Round 1 — High School Girls versus Easily Shocked Matrons of Smalltown, USA. During the first part of cross country season and the last part of track (or, when the temperature climbed over 85 degrees), most of the distance runners ran without shirts on. With the exception of one or two girls who were hoping to attract a boyfriend and maybe an occassional fella who just wanted to show off his skinny distance runner physique, the motive for this scandalous action was performance-based. (1) It’s hot. (2) Running without a shirt is cooler. (3) Case closed.

Boys without shirts? No problem. Girls without shirts? Someone call the superintendent! Enough phone calls came in that the girls were ordered by the assistant principal to wear shirts at all times. Just the girls. Thanks for the fairness and equality, folks. For the first couple of weeks after this, the AP would stand outside the school and wait for us to return from our run…checking to see if shirts were on.  He eventually got tired of this, and when one day the guys stole our shirts (Being so outstandingly clever, we took them off when we were out of sight of the school and hid them behind a hay bale. This was too good a practical joke opportunity for the guys to pass up on.), forcing us to traipse through the school in sport bras and shorts, the AP didn’t say a word.

I woudn’t have minded the shirt rule if the boys were treated the same way. It was being treated differently that got under my skin. That battle was a big deal at the time, and I celebrate its victory now by…well….wearing a shirt. There’s something be said for the safety of a lone female runner, and a whole lot to be said for how much my stomach doesn’t need to be seen in public. Eek. But at the time, it was (for me) a significant victory for womankind.

Round 2 — Megan versus College Track Coach. Let’s talk for a moment about buns. Hip huggers. Spankies. Running briefs. Track briefs.  Bikini wannabes. Whatever you want to call it, the ridiculous spandex underwear that many collegiate women distance runners are expected to race in. My spandex underwear even had mesh, see-through sides. Lucky, lucky me! Ask Coach why you have to wear the spandex underwear instead of shorts, and he’ll say, “Because the rest of the team is wearing it.” But Coach, why does anyone have to wear it? “It makes you look faster.” Why does it make you look faster? “Because all the other teams are wearing it.” But why is everyone wearing it? “Because it makes them look faster.”

And this is when my brain explodes from the sheer, mind-numbing illogic of it all. Auuuuugh!!! Who?!?! Who decides that I have to wear spandex to look fast? Who decides that unavoidable wedgies and showing crowds of strangers more skin then I’d ever want to reveal makes me a better runner? WHO??? I think it’s a conspiracy. I don’t know what the point of the conspiracy is, but the fact that the fellas aren’t wearing “buns” tells me all I need to know. Spandex. Doesn’t. Make. Me. Faster. Don’t expect me to buy the “wind resistance” theory, either. If that was actually true, you’d see long distance boys wearing buns…and it would probably be a scary sight. Something that would permanently scar the retina. Oof.

I ended up losing this battle, but a freshman runner carried on in my stead and eventually convinced Coach to let the entire team choose what they wanted to wear. Many do wear buns, but some (like J. Jo) get to wear shorts. Hallejulah.

This brings me to Round 3, which isn’t really a “round” at all because it doesn’t directly affect me. It is, however, something I’m especially perplexed about and have been wanting to have a nice rant about for awhile. So, please bear with me. Or quit reading if you are particulary enamored of…

Round 3 — running skirts. My initial feeling about a running skirt is that there is no such thing as a RUNNING skirt. Perhaps there is a “jogging” skirt, or a “look cute while exercising” skirt. But a running skirt? No sirree Bob. Does not compute.

I know that I should just let this one go. No one is making me wear a running skirt. I certainly don’t want to detract from the enjoyment that anyone else might get from wearing a running skirt. I just get this feeling…like with the buns…that it doesn’t make logical sense. What’s the point? Does it reduce chafing? Is it cooler? Or is it just a fashion statement? (Sidenote: Scott predicts that I will be wearing a running skirt by the end of the year, because any time I am so adamantly against something I usually end up liking it. See Exhibit A: the ipod. He may be right, but I can’t see it. For now…I rant.) I personally have a problem with the whole “fashion statement” line of thought because I’d rather wear my old, beat-up t-shirts out to get sweaty than a cute, color-coordinated outfit. I’m cheap, and lazy, and this is the best use for race t-shirts that I’ve come up with so far. I don’t expect everyone to think like me, but this whole running skirt thing has really surprised me. Why, why, why?

A dream I’ve had throughout my running career is to be taken seriously as an athlete. While I’ve had a tremendous support system over the years (see Super Fans), there have been enough instances of inequality or stereotypical views at one extreme or the other to motivate me to achieve more even as they hurt my heart. An elderly gentleman telling my parents that they  had a “nice-looking pair of boys” (In his defense, my hair was cut in a bob at the time. It was the last time I’d have short hair.) Stupid, immature boys yelling obscene things at me from the sidelines. People recommending that my mom NOT let me run in college because I’d turn “butch.” Girls only getting to race a 2 mile when boys run a 5k. A teacher telling my brother that I’d better enjoy running during my early years of high school because eventually I’d get “big hips and slow down” and not be able to win races. People assuming that I would stop running (and quit college!) just because I was getting married. Being told that I have to wear a shirt when I run because I’m a girl.  

They’re little things. Careless (if hurtful) comments from people who ought to know better. There are two different extremes to work through, and both are extremely wrong. (1) Girls aren’t athletes. They’re too delicate, or non-competitive, or undisciplined. They won’t work as hard as guys. They might be able to compete when they’re younger, but eventually their bodies will betray them. This train of thought usually relies on the fact that the fastest men have better times than the faster women to prove their theory. (2) Athletes aren’t girls. Extreme competitive activity will turn girls into lesbians, or make them infertile, or both. I’m not even going to argue with this one. It’s too stupid.

What does any of that have to do with running skirts? It’s harder to prove to some people that women can be athletes then it is to prove that women athletes retain their femininity. I think this is why I’m so antagonistic about the running skirt. It feels like a step backward to me, because I’ve usually gauged my “athleticness” by doing what the boys do. If they get to take their shirt off, I want to as well. If they get to run a 5k, then count me in. Does wearing a skirt make me a better runner? I have a hard time seeing it. It might make me a cuter runner, but I think I’m afraid that it might somehow make me look like a less serious one. (Sidenote: I was going to have this whole wonderful point about the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, where women got to compete in the 800m for the first time.  Half the field collapsed, and distance races were eliminated for women for almost 40 years because competitors were too “fatigued.” I had this idea that they wore skirts …but all the photos I found of those Olympics show shorts so I’m fairly certain I made it up. It would’ve made a great point, but it’s not historically accurate. Phooey on that.)

End rant about the running skirt. I feel better now. Ladies, be proud to RUN LIKE A GIRL any way you can. If that means a skirt, then get a skirt. It just doesn’t for me.


14 responses

  1. I HATE those skirts. Saw them for first time at my 5k in Phoenix. I think you can run like a girl without looking like an idiot. I think if anything it’d be heavier and get in your way. And besides, doesn’t it detract from people actually seeing you run like a tough girl. I think we should be proud of being women and wear whatever ratty old shorts and tees we have. That being said, I dread the day I’ll wear some skin tight outfit thing in my first tri. **shudders**

  2. When I started reading this post I was praying there would be mention of the buns…you know how I loved them! If I looked like you did in college in buns I would wear them everyday…just fyi. Also, I considered playing tennis just so I could wear the skirt, are these running skirts like tennis skirts? I just googled to check it out and found this wonderful website: I hope if you check it out you laughed as hard as I did at these girls. Also, they have maternity skirts, cause that’s what you should be wearing when pregnant…a short skirt?
    I’m totally buying one!

  3. Um, holy cow. So, I went to that link with the “running dress” and IE spontaneously crashed. That’s all I have to say about that. That, and…just when I thought it couldn’t get any more ridiculous.

    Yes, D, the running skirts are pretty much like tennis skirts. From what I’ve read, they either have biker shorts or some kind of liner built into them. The video on that “running skirt” website is pure comedy. Thanks for adding the links!

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  5. Oh wow…that’s great. Thanks so much for sharing. Now I know how to get Scott back if he gets me a running skirt as a “joke” for my birthday!

  6. umnn… don’t knock it ’til you try it.
    Seriously — it will make you a better runner because you will be able to run longer, more comfortably. For me, running skirts have all but eliminated the concern for chaffing.

    Plus, because I can wear my workout clothes to run errands before/after the run, I end up running more often.

    Anyways, say what you will, but having run several marathons and triathlons — including Boston, I am comfortable enough with my athleticism that I don’t feel the need to compete with the boys, one way or another. (Usually they are behind me anyways!)

  7. oops. forgot to add – the you do need to get the right one… if you get one that does not stay in place, you’re no further ahead. I like the one with shorts from – I haven’t had chaffing in over a year. YAY!

  8. Congrats on your multiple marathon accomplishments, Angie. That’s great! I’m glad you’ve found the skirt comfortable. (However, if you’re essentially wearing shorts anyway, isn’t it that you found the right shorts to solve your chafing problem, and the skirt is just an accessory? Not trying to be sarcastic, just very confused about all this.) I’ve never had a problem with shorts chafing, but I imagine if I did I’d quickly be looking for a solution. Thanks for the skirt insight. 🙂

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  10. I agree with you about running skirts, but not the bun huggers. A skirt adds material you don’t need, wind resistance and restriction of movement, the opposite of what you want as an athlete, and they look decorative rather than functional or professional. In contrast bun huggers are form fitting, comfortable and mark the wearer out as a serious athlete. So while I get your hatred of running skirts, I don’t follow your dislike of buns. OK, guys don’t wear the, but there are obvious anatomical reasons. Plus equality doesn’t mean having to dress the same.

    • I never really found buns comfortable, and most of my college PR’s came while wearing shorts so I questioned whether the buns had any sort of useful purpose for me. It’s possible that was just my own self consciousness at work, sabotaging the spandex. Given the number of college, elite, and professional runners wearing buns, I’m obviously in the minority there. I had lots of teammates who loved wearing them because they made them feel fast, dedicated, and like a serious runner. Thanks for agreeing with me about running skirts. 🙂

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