Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Zaftig Sisters, Dress Your Curves (And Then RUN)

Coming Downhill at the Nanthala Hilly Half Marathon-Photo by Martin Kratzer  Nike Long Sleeved Top, UA Compression Capris, RRS Drymas Socks, Altra Olympus Shoes, Nathan Vapor Cloud Hydration Pack, MC Maia Bra     

Many of us larger ladies have some issues finding workout clothing that is 1) comfortable and 2) does not make us feel (or look) like a link of brats that is about to explode, or a bear in a big, ugly tent.  This is a major conundrum that must be dealt with or it might cause us to have an excuse to not get out there and be badass as we should be doing everyday.

I have had constant issues with finding comfortable, non-pinching and cinching outfits that make me feel and look good. When you can wear something that feels awesome on you, you kind of exude awesomeness. Although compared to say, 10 years ago, the offerings have increased a hundred-fold, but there are still not enough retailers and designers who keep us curvy folks in mind when creating beautiful, functional, and sport-specific lines of clothing. I would love to be able to pop into Lululemon (you know, the brand that isn't made for our bodies) and magically fit into some oh-so-beautiful-sleek-and-form-fitting-compression-tights and jackets but apparently that is not going to happen anytime soon, or ever.

Some companies have made a concerted effort to provide affordable and flattering sports clothing for us-Old Navy, Champion and some big name brands like Adidas and Nike are the first that come to mind--but I have found that the durability of those products is not on par with their contemporaries. Do they expect us not to jump up and down, or move? Do they know that things jiggle and cause pants and shirts and to bunch up, fall down, get stuck under my tummy, and/or cause wedgies? DON'T THEY KNOW?

I made the decision a while back to embrace my curves, wear form-fitting workout clothing that actually fits, and to look at myself in the mirror every single day and think at least one positive thought. This has made me appreciate my body in clothes. But it takes the right clothes--you know, pieces that don't look like you're in a parachute, or hot air balloon....or in jail--to achieve this.

So the point of this post is--

Do yourself a huge favor and go out and get yourself some high quality workout gear. You'll be thanking yourself forever when you invest in yourself. You are already running, spinning, walking, lifting weights, skipping, doing bootcamp, lifting your kids, having sex (definitely an athletic endeavor!), working, etc...

Here's what I wear these days, both on runs and during plyometrics, lifting weights, and yoga. I hope that this will help you think about how making the right-for-you athletic clothing choices will contritbute to you feeling sexy, say when you're doing three sets of a hundred jumping jacks in a room full of chiseled bootcampers...

Bras: The absolute most important piece of attire. You may NOT buy a crappy bra. So, Champion and Ulta are out ladies, unless maybe you're an A cup, or the type that doesn't really need a heavy duty bra.  Do you like wearing two or three bras all at once? I certainly don't. After three years of wearing two bras plus a tank with a shelf bra, I made the move to Moving Comfort Bras. If you have bigger hooters like I do (I fluctuate between a D and DD), go out and buy one RIGHT NOW! Depending on the intensity of movement I'm anticipating, I wear either the Juno, Maia, or Jubralee models. They have them both in normal colors and in more, er, fun colors. These are the only sports bras I will wear, until Nike or Under Armour make really amazing bras that will last more than 20 washes.

Bottoms: I love compression shorts and compression tights. I love that they are form-fitting. I love my thighs and my calves (on most days) and I show them the love by showing them off. Perhaps this is a bit narcissistic, but I'm OK with that. Compression bottoms are pretty much all I wear during all of the seasons. There is one caveat, however. Because my thighs are thick, I have to simply accept that the shorts or tights will, at some point, RUB OUT. This is sad for several reasons. When I find a pair that I love and that I feel good in, I wear them frequently, and then they rub out. When they rub out, say during a race, there will be some nasty and painful chafing. Also, the good ones may be pricey. So these (and shoes) will likely be the most expensive pieces in your running outfits.

I've had tremendous success with Brooks Infiniti tights (even though you may have to reinforce the inner-thigh seams with another seam of your own) and Under Armour Coldgear and Hotgear. In the summer, I usually wear some version of Road Runner Sports compression shorts, but these items tend to lose shape rather quickly, and can feel somewhat loose compared to other brands. However, they don't ride up unless they're past their prime, and the waist isn't overly tight and pinching. These items are made specifically for runners.  

And here's a little secret: as a bigger lady with a little bit of a shelf-butt, I usually buy the male versions. They tend not be be low-rise or that other version of low-rise which is "mid-rise", they cover up my bum, and my legs, tummy, and everything else that needs not to be jiggling about when I'm running is held in place. Sure, there may be a little bit more fabric in the front than I'm used to in my normal clothing, but hey, a little air-conditioning never hurt anybody... The truth is, no one notices unless they're looking at your crotch. If it feels good on you, and helps you to achieve your goal, then it's worth it.

I have not yet found a comfortable, durable, pair of women's compression bottoms besides the above (maybe except for Moving Comfort's 7.5-inch compression shorts that run up to a 2X) that don't pinch my waist severely and display a hideous super-sized banana nut muffin-top, show the crack, or start inching down when I start to walk or run and then get stuck under my front love handle. This may not be the case for you, but is worth experimenting with clothes that fit, feel comfortable, and do the job whether they are marketed to men or women. Make sure that when you try anything on in a store, jump up and down, run, stretch, and contort your body in various ways to ensure that the fit works for you and your activities. No one ever wants to be surprised that the awesome deal you got on clearance at Kohl's actually is extra-low cut and see-through...that is, unless that's what you were going for.

Tops: I haven't bought a top in a MINUTE. If you do enough cool races (and you should, especially trail-races) you will probably never have to "buy" a shirt again. I have accrued enough short and long-sleeved technical tees to last several lifetimes. Some are better than others, though. If you must purchase, I'm partial to The North Face tees, just because they look AWESOME and make you feel like you're training to summit Everest, feel great on the skin, and wick away moisture as if sweat were a fleeting thought.  If you can, avoid pure cotton at all costs. Just do.

If you haven't collected dozens of t-shirts yet (and you will), Under Armour, New Balance, Gap Body, Nike, Adidas, and many other retailers make wonderful tops for the Rubenesque consumer. I personally don't like to look like a military tank or football player, so I usually go with something form-fitting or just slightly looser so I don't feel as though I'm suffocating while trying to catch my breath during a bear crawl. Remember shoulder pads? Nuff said. I also don't want all my stuff falling out and getting in the way.

Shoes: You must get fitted for a good shoe. If you are able, get yourself to a running store (and I'm not speaking of a regular athletic goods store whose employees are trying to get you to buy the most expensive pair of KDs and skater shoes.) Get a gait analysis, and then buy what's comfortable and affordable, perhaps the same or similar model on Zappos, Amazon, or Road Runner Sports, Running Warehouse or The Clymb. If you have big feet like I do (depending on the make of the shoe, I might wear an 11 or 12 women's) there are many clearance outlets and discount places like Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack that will carry our sizes. All it takes is some research. 

Another confession: I usually buy men's shoes. They just seem to fit better and last longer. That may not be what works for you, so find something that does. I currently alternate the following shoes on a daily basis: Mizuno Wave Inspire, Mizuno Wave Ascend, and Altra Olympus. Also, if you only have one pair of running shoes, it's important to save them for running. Try to stay away from wearing them to work (unless you're a cross-country/track coach, Shalane or Meb.)

Socks: Stay away from cotton and cheap polyester. Period. Unless you want blisters or extra smelly feet, invest in some quality running socks. I like the ones that have a little extra padding on the heel, arch snugness, and no bells and whistles. That's my personal preference. My current favorite running socks are Feetures. They have the right amount of everything and when you put them on, you will exhale. Promise. The other socks that I wear are Road Runner Sports Dry Max socks.

Caps and visors: I wear both, particularly when it's sunny and warm. Running caps typically have a sweat band on the inside of them and have breathable tops. I haven't found a pair of sports shades that I like hanging out on the bridge of my sweaty nose for hours on end, so until then it's a cap or a visor.

Underwear: No cotton. I've found that Gap Body, Hanes and Bali make really good stretchy but firm underwear that doesn't chafe your private areas during a long, sweaty workout. There's no need to go out and buy a special workout or activity panty unless you don't mind shelling out a wad of cash for one pair. Again, stay away from cotton if you can. Because chafing. That's all.

Most Important: Find what works for you. All of the above has worked for me over the past 5 years or so. I've been able to enjoy the journey so much more being comfortable with what I'm wearing. If jeans and high-heels are your thing on a 6 mile leisurely run, then GO FOR IT! If you dig baggy sweats and pasties on a trail run, DO IT. Get out there and feel fabulous in your own skin and be a superstar no matter what you have on!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Beginning Of It All

I  started running for the very first time in high school while I was playing field hockey and lacrosse. I went to a boarding school in Westchester County where most everyone played sports. (The few who didn't had mandatory PE!!) I was excited to join a team since I had never had an opportunity to be on one in public school in Brooklyn. My friend KC and I chose to go out for field hockey, since we had looked over at the soccer tryouts in horror while their crazy coach was having them do 10 laps of the field, just to warm up!

We both looked at each other and made an instant but silent decision to try out for field hockey, since 1. we were closer to the field, and 2. they didn't appear to be running much at all. It looked a little like golf. We could definitely do this. Neither of us knew anything about the sport or what would actually be required of us. So naively, we shuffled over to the Field Hockey field, which looked to be shorter than the soccer field (score!). Plus, there was a woman coach--those were all good signs, right?

WRONG. After doing a couple of laps around the field 9 (I nearly died after every loop), we did a timed mile. I had NO IDEA what running a mile felt like since I had never had to run, for anything. (Childhood tag on city streets doesn't count and I'll talk about fence races another time.) That first mile ever was probably the most difficult physical thing I had ever done in my life. It consisted of 2 loops of the very hilly campus. The start of each loop was a short downhill followed by a rolling course around campus. The finish of each loop was a steady uphill until you turned into one of the school's main driveway, where even the stupid speed-bumps made me tired and angry.

My mile time was around 15 minutes--much of which I was walking and huffing and puffing and dying. When you have no idea of what a running a mile is like, or how long it is, or that a mile is like running from your block in Brooklyn to a block in another faraway neighborhood (like running from northern Bushwick to Bed-Stuy, for example), you believe you are going to be running/walking forever. I was disappointed to be the penultimate person, but ecstatic not to be the last that very humid, late summer day in the Hudson Valley.

After the mile-run debacle, practice started. We sprinted lengths of the field with and without our sticks, we practiced dribbling and driving field-hockey style, ran some more lengths of the field, practiced flicking the ball, and other field-hockeyish things.   KC and I were also introduced to the concept of the suicide, which on a basketball court might not be so bad, but on a FIELD HOCKEY FIELD was like someone pulling you from the sweet confines of restful death into purgatory over and over and over again. Two hours later I both couldn't feel my legs, my back, my neck AND then an hour later felt them very, very much.

What had we gotten ourselves into? How had we made this huge and STUPID mistake? Why was everyone better than us? How were these girls running up and down the field like it was second nature? They weren't even tired. KC and I were both kids from the city; she grew up in the Bronx and I had the honor of being born and raised in the borough of all boroughs, Brooklyn.

After the first week of practice, we still weren't accustomed to the demands of playing a sport everyday, let alone for two and a half hours a day. We endeavored to do better and decided that we would practice running so that we wouldn't suck so much at the sport.

This desire to be better took the form of early morning runs on the field of just a mile because that, we decided, was what was holding us back. So we practiced doing the 6 loops of the field hockey field, with its freshly cut grass and wild onion aroma. We stopped and started. Started and stopped. Bent over, breathless and chest heaving. We then would have to walk back up a humungous hill back to the dorms so we could limp into the showers before a much welcome breakfast.

At some point during the fall season KC and I started being able to run the warm-up loops continuously without stopping. We were able to dribble around the field without gasping for air. We could withstand the 2.5 hours of practice without keeling over face down. We could even make it through the rest of our typical boarding school evening--dinner, study hall, and socializing without being narcoleptic. That, my friends, is progress.

KC and I at our senior tea, after having survived years of field hockey
The other thing that kept us going was simply being a part of a team and knowing that if we got better, if we worked on stuff, the team would also get better. During breaks, our coaches asked us to keep working out, and to try to run everyday. This was my first foray into running for the sake of running. I would don my best "workout" clothes, cotton and all. I mean, who knew? Into the front pocket of my heavy sweatshirt would go my SONY Walkman stocked with a cassette tape with a combination of Whitney Houston, Sade, and Simon and Garfunkel. (Later on in my high school career, it would be Puccini, Special Ed, and Indigo Girls.
Go figure.)

I would start timidly at first, because NO ONE in my neighborhood ran unless they were playing tag or stickball or racing up and down the block. People would stare a little and then go back to what they were doing. I would run up my street until it ended at a public school track CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. Then I would circle the perimeter of the track, and continue on my street until it ended at a cemetery, and then I would be brazen and run through that. It wasn't until last year that I figured out the mileage of those runs back in the day. At the most, I ran 2, maybe 3 miles. Still, it felt epic back then. Just EPIC.

How freeing. How absolutely liberating! Especially in the confines of the grids of the real North Brooklyn, not today's hipster North Brooklyn. No hard feelings, guys......

This was when I discovered what running really was. To be able to move my body JUST BECAUSE was a pretty awesome feeling. That feeling continues today.