Does Minimalist Running Demand Minimal Hair?

Pretty, yes, but I bet it took a week to comb out the tangles. (Image from

They say women don’t run as fast as men because of our bodies. More likely, it’s because of our hair.

Don’t take this personally, guys, but most of you don’t have a lot to work with above the forehead. Even those of you with enviably full heads of hair – think beautiful Dean Karnazes, ultra-marathon man – don’t sport hair that can slow you down. Many women, on the other hand, are both burdened and blessed with hair and hair products that cut deeply into our times.

The presence of hair spray alone, I’m convinced, can take a minute off our best miles.   They don’t call it Aqua Net for nothing.

Shoe manufacturers spend a lot of time and money trying to design trainers that are an ounce lighter than their competitors’.  So why aren’t women runners cutting off their hair en masse, trying for the same effect? Why doesn’t the current popularity of minimalist running translate to minimal hair?

Because we know the story of Samson and Delilah, that’s why.  Hair equals power, yes?  Even when it’s weighing us down.

To compensate, women who want to run faster must find ways to control our hair, lest our hair control our runs.  I’d love to run with my hair flying behind me, but I’d have to call in the National Guard to untangle the knots afterwards. Long or medium-length hair must be restrained somehow, which leaves the choice of braids or pony tails, both of which conjure up unwelcome memories of first grade.

Heidi or not, here I come.

When I first braided my hair for a run 10 years ago, my then-husband took to calling me Heidi, and he didn’t mean the supermodel,  which might explain why he’s now a then-husband.  (Or “wusband,” as Kristin Armstrong says of Lance.)  But to hell with the mockery, I like braids, even though some people say no one over the age of 13 should wear them. Braids make me feel a bit rebellious and unconventional, who-cares-what-the-devil-may-think.  Sort of like the act of running itself.  And race-day hair  can be just plain fun, as Pepper reminded us earlier this year.

Can a hairstyle make us faster, more aerodynamic, like a streamlined sports car?  It’s unlikely, unless we’re willing to go for a buzz cut.

Our choice of hairstyle, however, can help us get out the door, and sometimes getting out the door is half the battle.  For me, the act of braiding my hair has become like the sound of a can opener for a cat:  a sign that something good’s about to happen.   Heidi or not, here I come, and I don’t care at all if anyone is laughing.

Salties:  Would you cut your hair short to get faster?  What running hair style is most comfortable for you?

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Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I chopped off my hair back in May and the first few runs without any kind of hair piece were amazing! Over time though, I’ve come to miss my sweat-soaked pony tail. I’m now growing out my hair and it’s in an awkward phase where it’s too short for a pony tail and a wrap around headband tends to fall out. I cannot wait for the pony tail to come back! Maybe it just becomes a part of you?

  2. I love your wit Mace. This post certainly made me smile.

    I like running fast, but I like having long hair too. For me it is a compromise. The pony tail usually does the trick for me. BUT I was actually just telling my friend who cuts my hair that I finally had to cut it because I couldn’t run unless I braided my hair (otherwise had ridiculous knots that took 1/4 bottle of conditioner to remedy). At least it makes me cut my hair every few months. :)

    Upcoming problem: I can’t run with a winter stocking cap on with a regular pony tail without major knots. Back to the braids soon.

    But I think braids are kind of awesome – no matter what kind of Heidi people perceive you to be. ;)

  3. I used to have a pixie cut, and come to think of it, I WAS faster… oh wait, I was in high school :)

    I cannot stand my hair touching me when I run. When I had my hair super long a few years ago, the weight/thickness of it meant that ponytails would fall out my the end of the run. So I resorted to what can only be called a Princess Leia look – double side buns. Lately I’ve been doing a low pony/braid combination thing that I lovingly refer to as Prom Hair.

  4. On a slightly related note, I was running one day and a XC team was also running through the park at the same time. I heard a debate about my age by these young men due mostly to my height (or lack of) and how I had my hair done. I often do two french braids and tie the ends up. It was determined that the size of my breasts clearly made me too old to be in high school. ;)

  5. I used to date a guy that would get his haircut right before a race. It just made him feel faster. Of course, we could extend the discussion to shaving legs–I know plenty of people (especially men) who shave their legs before a race in order to be faster.

  6. I am so glad someone else is wondering about this! Watching the Olympics this year I just kept wondering what those amazing manes did to the times of the lady sprinters! While I can’t quite bring myself to go pixie, my paycheck isn’t determined by time, either.