I have developed a strange inability to leave a sporting goods store without a new pair of running socks. Two years ago, I thought it perfectly acceptable, desirable even, to run in a standard pair of cotton athletic socks. Then, my life was flipped upside down by a single $10 pair of socks. Synthetic material to wick away the moisture from my little tootsies. Dual layers of said material to prevent blistering and chafing. That perfect percentage of elastic to snugly hug foot and ankle. It was a revelation.
Perhaps my credit card statements would have been better off without the revelation, but my feet and sock drawer are now leading fuller lives. The same can be said for many of my running fashions. As my average mile-time has gone down, my cost-per-running-pants has gone the other direction. It’s not so much that expensive gear has made me infinitely faster — though surely it’s helped shave some seconds off — it’s that when I visualize the finish line or the end of a long training run, there’s often a shiny new running tog floating above it (and/or a delicious brunch). I am running towards a new Lululemon hat, a fresh, sleek pair of Saucony tights, or, even, just another pair of the aforementioned socks. For the most part, I hate shopping – I might like to declare an adult uniform that I would wear on a daily basis, supplemented by the occasional special occasion duds – but running gear is another story. Its purchase doesn’t beg for fashion magazine consultation (though a quick check of Runner’s World reviews doesn’t hurt). Color choices are typically somewhat limited, the better for my indecisive personality and secret desire to wear more turquoise. And, perhaps best of all, any shopper’s guilt can be effectively tempered by thoughts of “what a healthy habit running is” and “how much I deserve this new piece of apparel for all the miles I’ve logging” and “really, this isn’t a luxury, but a simple active wear necessity.”
Pictures of me at the end of five and 10k races last year show a look best described as “indie athlete” – a good pair of running shoes (which distinguishes the indie athlete from the “hipster athlete,” who might be as crazy as to run in a pair of Converse All Stars, arches-be-damned) mixed with some cotton capris vaguely suited for active duty, a t-shirt festooned with a large Barbara Kruger print and the sleeves cut off, and perhaps a kooky, cheap pair of sunglasses to top it all off. It’s an awkward look, in retrospect, but not without its charms… and affordability. It was a mix of yoga gear and beloved old t-shirts, and it did me well… enough. Then, as a reward for running some distance (I can’t quite recall the terms of my justification), I bought my first pair of pricey Adidas running capris. They were my gateway drug into the world of running togs.
There is something uniquely liberating about running fashions. With regular fashion, one often says it’s just about “how that dress/blouse/shoe/romper makes you feel.” But, that’s often bullshit. Yes, clothes that make us feel great are great, but really, many of us are willing to suffer not feeling so great, or downright pain, to wear a certain pair of towering heels, that pinching skirt that you would have bought a size bigger if it they had it in stock but they didn’t so you make it work as long (as you’re not PMS-ing) in order to look just right for a big job interview/date/wedding/run-in-with-an-ex/face-off-with-a-lady-nemesis. And, even if a great looking outfit also happens to be comfortable, “how it makes you feel” often translates to how it makes you feel about how it makes other people feel.
But, running clothes are different…liberating even. Function trumps form, surely, but really, function is form. There’s beauty in a well-placed hidden pocket that can comfortably hold an ID and a few bucks for seven miles…true art in a tank top that doesn’t chafe for the half marathon…and sports bra… Well, no real pulchritude there, but there is something miraculous about the right one, if simply because the wrong one can make things ugly. Real ugly.
Last fall, as the weather got chillier, my capris just weren’t enough. I needed another fix. Something harder, more intense, and, yes, pricier. I found them in a pair of Sugoi SubZero running tights that cost more than many of the pants in my closet, and I didn’t look back. If it were financially viable and socially acceptable (not to mention temperature appropriate year-round), I’d probably choose to wear these pants every freakin’ day. It’s not that I find tight, black synthetic pants lined with some sort of peachy thermal material all that flattering, it’s that in these pants such phrases as “flattering” or “not-so-flattering” cease to exist. In these pants, I transform into a sleek amphibious action hero, the first female Navy SEAL, or, at the very least, a woman capable of setting a new personal record for a 10k on a chilly morning in late autumn. Same difference.