Thursday, January 26, 2017

Running clothes wear thin

#ThrowbackThursday: Originally published July 1, 2009, in the Sports section of the weekly paper "News of Delaware County."

If clothes make the man (or woman), then everyone I lay eyes on is a runner. At the airport, it’s all Nike, Adidas, Brooks, Mizuno—from top to bottom. People of all ages and sizes are decked out in training clothes, performance gear and running shoes.

It’s the same on the streets of Philadelphia. Ditto all around Delaware County, the state, the nation. Can it be that everyone has jumped on the exercise bandwagon? Or is active wear thought to be so cool, so comfortable, so convenient compared with regular clothing that it’s now the preferred garb?

I don’t get it. I hate wearing sneakers. They’re big and clunky and not at all flattering. I wear them to run—and then stow them away until the next time. Actually, it’s not recommended, or even budget-friendly, to use your expensive running shoes for everyday wear. Better to save them for workouts than wear them out at the Acme.

I used to have a hierarchy for running shoes. Fresh shoes were for running. Then they became dog-walking shoes. Then gardening slip-ons or painting footwear. When they became too gross to touch, they were garbage. Now I look for sneaker recyclers; I’m not exactly sure how they recondition or reuse old sneaks, but it sounds like a better option than landfill.

As for running bras, shirts, shorts, skirts, skorts, whatever—there either is or should be a limit to how many hours you spend encased in spandex. Remember the natural feel of cotton. The ruggedness of denim. The universal appeal of khakis. Does everything have to stretch and be formfitting?

For some people, wearing athletic clothes seems to fulfill their pledge to exercise. They feel fitter and ready for action when disguised as an athlete. Yet they wouldn’t dream of running, unless it’s to the bank or to do errands—and then “running” really means “driving.” I’ll bet marketers are behind this push for all-day, everyday athletic wear. But that seems short-sighted. Just as one-size-fits-all often means it fits no one all that well, having what is basically one wardrobe misses the opportunity for variety and specialization.

During a recent drawer reorganization, I took stock of all the different flavors of workout wear I’ve accumulated over the years—and how some are more suited to certain activities than others. For power yoga, I definitely need spandex tanktops or something else that stays in place when I stand on my head. For my very first yoga class, years ago, I wore a cotton T-shirt and sweatpants—and I thought I was going to die. Throughout the 75-minute heated class, my clothes became wet, heavy and totally in the way as I attempted twisting and inverted postures. I fought more with my clothes than against gravity.

For weight training at the gym, I don’t need such formfitting clothes as with yoga. What I need is coverage, so I don’t make a spectacle of myself while doing squats or hip thrusts or donkey kicks. When I work glutes, I want to concentrate on the exercise, not worry about what I might be revealing to innocent bystanders.

When it comes to running, that’s the easiest choice to make. There are fewer worries about wardrobe malfunctions. Shorts work just fine and any T-shirt will do, although technical fabrics are better than cotton for keeping you cool and dry in the summer heat. The first thing I do when I get home from any exercise is to shower and change. Yes, I could put on fresh workout clothes for whatever’s next that day—but I don’t. I like that divide between working out, when I don’t mind getting sweaty and dirty, and everything else I have to do, when I’m showered and clean.

It’s a mental thing. Or maybe it’s the persuasive power of learning by example. When I see masses of humanity decked out in running clothes, with no intention of ever working out, I don’t want to be mistaken for one of the crowd.

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