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Photos: Lululemon
Photos: Lululemon

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What Training for the Boston Marathon Taught Me About Fashion, and Myself

Learning to love the sweatpants-clad athlete within.

When I signed up for the Boston Marathon, I thought running 26.2 uninterrupted miles would teach me a few things. You know: dedication, determination, not being a complete flake about stuff that sounds like a good idea until I actually set out to do it, like running 26.2 miles. I haven't run the entire distance yet, but I've spent the past six months getting myself ready (body and mind) to do this thing. And I really have learned a lot from the entire process—mostly about my relationship with clothes.

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The last thing I wanted was to be branded a jock. So I never really talked about being a Division 1 athlete.

Getting dressed to play sports is nothing new for me. I actually can't remember a time when I didn't have to pack a bag for practice. I owned Adidas soccer sandals (massage edition) before they were re-branded as "normcore." Snap pants and soccer ball printed scrunchies were my religion. However, as a closet hoarder of magazines (literally, I kept them in my closet under my soccer socks) and a girl obsessed with the high fashions available at the local Abercrombie & Fitch, it was difficult for me to reconcile what I saw as two competing forces: loving clothes and playing sports.

So for the most part, I kept these identities very separate. There were the clothes I wore to school and the clothes I wore to practice. As a collegiate lacrosse player, there were the sweatpants I lived in and the skanky tops I wore out on the weekends. Each was its own uniform of sorts, and my identity changed to reflect what each realm viewed as valuable: aggressive vs. passive, supported boobs vs. full cleavage, strong vs. skinny, agile vs. trying desperately to walk in high heels. For me and many of my teammates, this separation seemed like the only way to be taken seriously as an athlete without giving up all the things we loved about being a girl—clothes included.

Fast forward to moving to NYC and working in, and around, fashion. Sure, I still worked out, because I had always worked out. But since my day job placed a priority on looking the part, I did everything I could to distance myself from the girl who got up at dawn to run stairs and had a closet full of lax pinnies. Before, I'd felt like my love of clothes made me less of an athlete, but now I started to worry that the fact that I'd always cared about something other than fashion made me less believable in this realm.


Insecurity, maybe—but the last thing I wanted was to be branded a jock. So I never really talked about being a Division 1 athlete. Even at 5'10", I wore high shoes rather than anything with a rubber sole. And unlike the plain black spandex and white Hanes t-shirts that I wore on my morning runs, my look was fussy, over-thought, and almost costume-y. In short: the opposite of anything fast. Even when I loved my outfits, I never felt completely comfortable in what I was wearing until it came time for me to strip down to my sports clothes and lace up my sneakers.

When I signed up for to run Boston, my fourth marathon, I knew that training wouldn't be easy. One of the hardest things about this particular race (besides that famous hill) is that it takes place in April, which means you're agreeing to train through the winter. In other words: less daylight, more freezing cold, slush, and snow. As such, and in large part due to my refusal to run on a treadmill, I knew that my "couldn't care less" attitude about getting dressed for my daily runs wouldn't fly. Black spandex and white tees don't hold up when it's raining, snowing, or 23 degrees ("feels like -37.") My running wardrobe needed to step it up.

I wanted my clothes to keep me warm or dry, not just sit there and look pretty.

I began obsessively researching running apparel like I would a trend, looking for anything that could keep me outside in extreme conditions with all my extremities intact. I found gloves and hats that wicked sweat, special spandex with fleece lining, base layers, medium layers, and outer layers. Literally, layers on layers. If it was thermal or waterproof, I stalked it like it was Theyskens or Wang. I obsessed over seam placement, fabric specs, and even the various performance-enhancing properties of my socks.

In the process, getting dressed to run began to resemble getting dressed for everything else: I'd check the weather, I'd evaluate what was clean, and I'd begin to build an outfit piece by carefully considered piece. But in this case, I could have cared less about how I looked, as long as each piece answered a why, from the special blister-proof socks to the moisture-wicking jacket.

Around the three-month mark, something clicked. For one thing, my body started to get stronger and regain the muscles that I thought ran so counter to fashion. I started to look like an athlete again—and I wanted to dress like one. Also, I was running all the time, so the idea of putting an immense amount of energy or effort into my day-to-day outfits seemed exhausting. I just wanted simple and easy. I wanted my clothes to keep me warm or dry, not just sit there and look pretty.


I gradually noticed that my style began to shift from complicated and fussy towards basic and practical—even sporty. When only a year before, my winter coat looked like something from the Wes Anderson costume department, this year I found myself a utilitarian Rag & Bone parka. And lived in it. I bought plain black boots without a heel, Nikes, and jeans that didn't have those deliberate, pre-made holes in them. I became okay with the idea of looking sort of boring, but feeling comfortable and efficient. I started to own my athleticism in a more visible way, because I was earning it every damn day.

I started to own my athleticism in a more visible way, because I was earning it every damn day.

Now, it takes me about ten minutes to get dressed and my discard pile is considerably smaller. So what did running hundreds of miles teach me about clothes? That at their best, your clothes should do something functional. It sounds pretty obvious, but for me, it wasn't clear until I was outside, in the middle of a torrential downpour, and realized: Wow. This Patagonia rain jacket is doing real work right now.

I think after you've put your body and clothes through the paces, you start to demand a little more of yourself and your stuff. And some of it just can't cut it—I love you Zara, but your flimsy zippers are never winning anything. It's no secret that now more than ever, fashion is borrowing from sport, and vice versa. This cross-pollination just goes to show those of us who were saving our sneakers for the gym that a gray area can be a really beautiful thing where your wardrobe, or, in my case, sense of self are concerned.

We're all a little more complicated than the clothes we wear, though how we put ourselves together will always be an important part of how we see ourselves in the world. The thing I've come to realize (finally) is that whether I'm in high heels or running shoes, I am an athlete. So when I cross the finish line, it will be as a very sweaty and tired version of myself—an athlete, who's been planning her outfit for weeks.


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View all stories in Essays