Function or Fashion: A Runner’s Dilemma
The relationship between stylish gear and performance is not as superficial as it sounds.
I love the days when every cell in my body craves a run: legs are springy, heart is willing, mind doesn’t care if my GPS is dead. I’m so primed for miles, I could wear DIY jean shorts and a pitted-out cotton tee, and run forever.
Unfortunately, that feeling strikes once a quarter.
The majority of the time, my head lives in the I-know-I-should-but-I-really-don’t-want-to space. The most reliable weapon in my quiver that helps me commit? Stylish gear. Tanks with designs so sophisticated, they could double for eveningwear; shorts constructed to flatter strong glutes and quads; capris with funky patterns that demand to be worn during daylight hours. Clothes that make me feel fast, fit, and powerful—and, as such, motivate me to stop waffling and just go run already.
The relationship between stylish gear and performance is not as superficial as it sounds. (OMG! You have the newest Saucony capris? You’re going to so totally PR your 10K!) Science backs it up. In 2012, researchers at Northwestern University coined the term enclothed cognition after proving clothing choice is a significant indicator of both how you feel and how you approach a task. In other words, wear a nice suit when you want the job, a little black dress when you’re on the prowl, and flattering Lycra when you want to nail your tempo run.
Lest you think enclothed cognition applies to the likes of me, middle-of-the-packers who grocery shop in our capris, but not you, runners who only believe in training hard and racing harder, think again. Picture your first run in a fresh pair of shoes: ridiculously energizing, right? Now transfer that feeling to a pair of black shorts whose soft, paper-thin fabric makes you feel like you’re flying through an 800 on an Olympic track, not huffing out fartleks in suburbia before work. You get home, and decide to eat breakfast, check email and then shower, reversing your usual order of post-run tasks because, you realize, you just don’t want to take off these amazing shorts.
To be clear: I do not forgo function for fashion. If an adorable shirt continually chafes, it’s relegated to the Goodwill pile. I rarely have to take such action, though; today’s running gear, which seamlessly fuses fashion and function, negates the style vs. substance question.
More importantly, it definitively answers the other question we runners continually battle: Should I stay or should I go?
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Denver-based writer Dimity McDowell is the co-founder of Another Mother Runner and co-author of several running books, including “Run Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line—and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity” and “Tales from Another Mother Runner: Triumphs, Trials, Tips, and Tricks from the Road.”