I was laying in bed, getting ready to hit the hay when I first saw the video of Sally speaking at this year’s Muse Conference. The second she said, “...clothing has the power to transform not only how we feel but what we do”, a memory I’d stashed deep, deep in my shame cave flashed through my brain.
I thought about long it took me to feel comfortable wearing running clothes. And the struggles I faced trying to go from capris to shorts or shirts to tank tops. But the specific memory that raced through my brain was the day before my first marathon, when I went to over twenty stores to try to find an outfit that made me look like I could run a marathon.
Back when I was getting started as a new runner, I had a really hard time mustering the courage to go into a store to try on running clothes. On the one hand, I didn’t want to invest in new running clothes because I didn’t think I’d stick with it long enough to make my investment worthwhile. So I wore cotton shirts and cotton leggings from Target for the first few weeks. But once I stopped giving up on running every other week and found myself running regularly, I decided that I needed to do something about my cotton induced chafing.
So I turned to the internet and discovered the complicated world of technical running clothing. I started Googling words like “sweat wicking” and “compression” and decided to play it safe and buy a few inexpensive “sweat wicking” technical shirts for less than $20 a pop, and two of the cheapest pairs of capris I could find.
I remember when they arrived, how excited I was to try on my fancy new running clothes. But the second I looked at my reflection, I felt defeated. I didn’t look like a runner. My capris accentuated my waistline and my shirt did everything but flatter my body. But faced with the choice between clothes I felt insecure in and post cotton chafed showers, I chose my new running clothes.
As I started training for my first marathon, I couldn’t help but feel envious of the clothes the other runners wore. The women I saw out running looked like they had just walked off a fitness shoot with their matching pants and shirts. I felt like I looked like an imposter. But I was too afraid to go into a store and face an employee who may or may not believe that I was a runner. It’s embarrassing to admit, but a fear of people not believing I ran kept me awake at night.
Hell bent on finding special running clothes that made me feel and look like a runner, I started ordering more options online.
But they’d come, I’d try them on, and I’d feel totally silly in bright colors or matching outfits. What looked cool and effortless on the women I saw running by me felt ridiculous on me. So I’d return it all, one shipment after another.
That went on for four months until I found myself with no race day outfit the day before my first marathon. Sure, I could have easily have worn the same boring capris and shirt I’d been training in for months, but I’d worked so hard and I was so freaked out about surviving the marathon itself that just I really wanted to look like I was supposed to be there.
I remember the first store I went into, I walked around aimlessly looking at all the clothing, feeling overwhelmed, until an associate came up to me and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular. I took a breath, readied myself to say, “I’m running a marathon tomorrow and I need a race day outfit.” But what came out of my mouth was, “No, just looking.” And then I quickly turned around and left.
The next store I went into, I found some options, tried them on, and still didn’t feel like a I looked like I knew what I was doing. (Spoiler alert, I didn’t actually know what I was doing.) I spent the entire day driving around San Diego, wasting my time, trying on clothes, and trying to find something that made me feel like I could run my marathon.
Out of options and time, I decided on the loudest pair of green capris with a matching hat, a bright yellow technical shirt, and my trusty two sports bras that I layered on top of each other.
Looking back, I can’t help but smile thinking about how I spent so much time agonizing over a way to feel like I belonged. My problem was never that I didn’t look strong or beautiful in running clothes, it was that I didn’t feel like I deserved to be in them.
But there isn’t a magic fix for those of us who don’t feel like runners. It took me a long time to work through the mental and physical parts of myself that I feel insecure about. From showing my arms in a tank top, to running in a sports bra, and going from capris to shorts that force me to show my legs. It took years to develop the confidence that I have today.
One thing I wish would have known back in 2013, as I was agonizing over how to look like I was a runner was to just be patient. That the strength I was working really hard to acquire will speak for itself with time. It’s like Sally said, “clothing has the power to transform not only how we feel, but what we do.”
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