Finishing Kick: Ultra-Fashionable

By September 28, 2006Running Times Magazine

Never underestimate the power of feeling good about how you’re dressed

By Rachel Toor

As featured in the September 2006 issue of Running Times Magazine

When I learned, in the summer of 2001, that I had to appear on the TODAY Show, I freaked out. Not because I was worried about appearing on live TV before a gigantic national audience. Not because I feared I’d sound like an idiot or stumble over difficult questions. Not because I had any performance anxiety at all. But simply because I had no idea what to wear.

I’d never watched TODAY. I knew that it would generate attention for my book about the college admissions process, that my publisher was thrilled. But honestly, the thing that scared me to death was figuring out the clothes part.

Fortunately, I know people who are good at the clothes part. My friend Valerie took me shopping and we found an outfit that looked, well, like a dressed-up version of me. People who saw me on the show said that I seemed relaxed. Comfortable. I was relaxed and comfortable. It was all about the clothes.

Never underestimate the power of feeling good about how you’re dressed.

I was leading a pace team at the New York City Marathon last fall. My friend Michelle showed up on race morning wearing a skirt. A black miniskirt made for marathons.

I shrieked. It was one of those moments when you didn’t realize that you wanted—that you needed—something until you saw it. I needed a skirt. It was, my fellow pacer told me, more comfortable than running shorts (“Duh,” I said. I got it immediately.)

Here’s what I’ve learned since: Nicole DeBoom wrote her senior thesis at Yale on female athletes and body image disorders. She is married to a fellow elite triathlete. And she hates her thighs and butt. So she started a company making running skirts (www.skirtsports.com). I’ve seen tons of pictures of Nicole DeBoom. They show her to be a beautiful and buff woman. That she hates her thighs is both ridiculous and completely understandable.

Nicole sent me a MarathonGirl skirt to try out.

I have run races feeling miserable, happy, sick, tired, cold, and weary. But until recently, I have never felt hot during a race. I mean HOT. Hottie-hot.

I went to Spokane, where I’ll be moving in the fall, for a race, and with the hope of meeting local runners. It was a beautiful, springy day, and I have to tell you, I looked fabulous. If I’d been on my home turf, trash, no doubt, would have been talked. I know this. I know my running buddies. But in Spokane I was just an anonymous woman in a little black skirt waiting for the start of a 50K.

I have always been particular about what I wear racing. I don’t like to look “fast.” I never wear shirts from races; my first choice is a child-sized ratty Bowdoin T-shirt my brother got for me his freshman year—1982. (I’m becoming fearful of washing it.) I don’t want to make myself a target, or to appear more confident than I am. I know that it’s always possible to have a bad day.

But I was having a great day this past April 23, trotting along the Spokane River under the bright sun of the inland northwest. I drew energy and strength from knowing how completely and totally hot I looked. The course was two loops, and when I came through the start/finish at the half, I stripped off my shirt and ran in only skirt and jog bra. I looked even hotter; the second half was a breeze. I didn’t know how far back the next woman was, but I knew that if she caught me, I could hold her off: the power of the skirt.

The next day I received an email from a guy I’d run with for a while, congratulating me on the win; he said that he’d hoped to keep up, but couldn’t.

I wrote back thanking him and saying that I had been having a good day and felt compelled to win the darned thing, what with wearing a skirt and all.

He wrote back: “Gee, I was running with you and then close behind you for several miles, and I did not realize you were wearing a skirt.”

Beauty is perhaps always in the eye of the beholder. The power of the skirt may be only in the body of the wearer. That day, running along the rushing Spokane River, scrambling over shale and basalt rocks the size of doll heads, I felt powerful.

Whenever I wear the skirt I get shrieks from women who, like me, see it and need one. During a workout last week a posse of college track girls were cooling down while we old folk were slogging around the oval. They called out: “Hey—love the skirt.” That got me to my fastest 800 of the season.

Men almost never notice that I’m wearing a skirt. When I point it out, they say “Oh.” Or “Huh.” Surprisingly, not one has ever said, “Wow. You hottie you. After you’re finished running, can I take you out to dinner and tell you how great you look in that skirt?”

There are no doubt women who feel about it the way I do—or the way I used to—when I see people in gobs of makeup at marathons. It’s silly and incongruous and seems to fly in the face of what we love about running: the lack of pretense, the simplicity of the sport. I’m thinking now that if a pass with the mascara wand is a magical nod toward helping someone feel good about herself while running, who am I to judge?

We all have little tricks to make ourselves feel good and ready to take on the world and our competitors. Whether it’s wearing a certain pair of shorts, saying a prayer, or eating a pre-race Pop Tart, we cherish our talismans of good fortune. I may in fact look like a dork in my skirt; like a middle-aged woman who is trying too hard. But I feel strong and powerful when I wear it. And yes, hot.