Fresh to Death: The Evolution of a Running Wardrobe

This photo was on old-school paper, so I had to scan it in. Clove in the infamous white cotton long sleeve.

I ran my first marathon in a white cotton long sleeve shirt from the Gap, paired with 1990’s uber-trendy fuschia Umbro soccer shorts.  It was pouring rain to boot, which meant by the time I crossed the finish line, the hem of that awesome shirt (which would now be in a pre-race “throwaway” pile) was making a play for my knees.  But truth be told, I don’t think that outfit had anything to do with looking cool (although I did love those Umbros) – it was simply what I had.

Times have changed since that rainy May morning in 1998, and I’ve learned a lot about running clothes.  We started out with Cool-Max, moved on to wicking, got more creative with our fabrics.  And somewhere along the line, we as runners and the companies that dress us turned athletic clothing into an industry that rivals – and often melds with – more traditional clothing lines.  Lululemon, anyone?

My current go-to running outfit is nothing special:  gray PE Revival shorts by Saucony with green and white stripes down the side and a green Nike tank.  It is, by most standards, an average and run of the mill outfit.  The shorts are not tight, nor does my butt peek out of them.  The top, while fitted, is not suctioned up against my abs in any obnoxious manner.  It has a little tiny bit of flare at the bottom, just enough to conceal the dreaded PMS bloat, meaning I can wear it all month long without feeling like a sausage stuffed into lycra casing.  Yes, even skinny girls sometimes feel like that.

But the most important thing about this relatively average outfit is not how it looks – but how it makes me feel.  For some reason, this outfit makes me feel light as a feather.  The shorts, inexplicably, seem to make my quads look just a little bit bigger.  Airbrush that, tabloids.  Yes, I just implied that I like it when my quads look bigger.  The top disguises any misperceptions I may have about my abs that day, and has fun, stylish spaghetti straps that the smaller-endowed of us can get away with.

FTD, baby.

This outfit makes me feel strong.  Or as our friends in the Jersey Shore house might say, “FTD.”  Fresh to death.

“Fresh to death” is a feeling to be sure; less about what you’re wearing, more about how it makes you feel.  Strong, brave, capable, confident, energized, inspired, fearless.  Ready to take the world on, and not necessarily on the world’s terms.  Maybe, just maybe, today’s the day you do it on your terms.

But this green and gray confection certainly isn’t my first rodeo.  Oh no, my friends, this girl started running in the era of cotton and Umbros, back when the only cycling shorts that had chamois’ belonged to riders in the Tour de France.  So I’ve done a little digging, ladies.  Gone into the vault, the storage bins and the actual paper photographs (remember those?) to bring you some of my favorite FTD looks from years and races gone by.  Prepare yourselves … this is going to get flowery and the cotton is going fly.

Man that shirt was heavy!

Circa 1998:  The original and still the best, the white cotton Gap long sleeve and the Umbro soccer shorts.  It was raining and I didn’t want to, like, be cold at my first marathon.  Check out the baggy drowned rat look at the finish line – priceless!

Circa 1999, 2000:  I kept those Umbros going until the inner thigh seams ripped (poor little guys), but finally switched up the top.  After all, the white long sleeve never went back to its original shape after its marathon journey!  What did I move on to?  A gray cotton tank with a cotton sports bra.  I’m chafing just thinking about it.

Circa 2001:  Things finally started to improve in the running apparel department when I started dating DB.  It wasn’t newer knowledge as much as traveling to more marathons together.  More marathons meant more expos, which meant more and more options staring me in the face.  And let me tell you, those options were flowery.  I had yellow flower shorts, purple flower shorts, blue flower shorts.  But as Anastasia Steele might say, only two words come to mind when I think about my favorites:  “Oh … my.”  Like Laura Ashley wallpaper, a beautiful fuschia and coral explosion of flowers all over a cornflower blue background.  Paired with a spaghetti strap cotton coral tank top (still hadn’t learned that lesson yet), those shorts carried me through my first Boston qualifier, my first Boston Marathon, and a few PR’s to boot.  That’s also about the time I stopped cutting the liners out of my running shorts because I already wore underwear and didn’t need two pairs.  Salty wasn’t the only one who got perplexed by the whole running/underwear issue!  (***Disclaimer:  I have not read “Fifty Shades of Gray.”  I would own up to it if I had.  I have, however, read numerous critiques that discuss the number of times Miss Steele utters the phrase “Oh … my.”)

Flower power!


Wallpaper or running shorts? You decide. (I love you guys! We qualified for Boston!!!)

Circa 2004:  I traveled through a bit of a bland period from there.  I was getting over the whole flower thing, but still hadn’t established any brand loyalty.  Being so petite, I was mixing up my ill-fitting Mizuno, adidas and New Balance tanks and shorts in random combinations, only taking pains to make sure they matched without being too “matchy-matchy.”  And then it happened.  The expo and the short that would change my relationship with running apparel forever.  Little did I know it at the time, but this new short would drive me to the brink of insanity and back.  I would lose all sense of dignity, of self-control.  I would become obsessed, tracking websites, style numbers and closeout sales.  Outlets, bargain bins, whatever it took to get my fix.  Yes, ladies, at the Boston Marathon expo in 2005, I met the original Nike tempo short.

I can still see it today, the wall of retro-looking coral tempo shorts at the Nike booth.  I remember remarking to myself what an uncanny resemblance they bore to my beloved (long deceased) Umbros.  I thought and thought and thought about those shorts.  But I had reached my spending limit for the expo, and I left without them.

Life went on and I forgot about that beautiful coral short.  I forgot about that coral short for about all of two weeks, when one of my training partners showed up for a run it.

And it was on.  I bought turquoise tempos, black tempos, orange tempos, green tempos.  Those flowery bloomers of days gone by were getting relegated to the bin faster than I could say “rebound.”  Navy tempos, pink tempos, purple tempos.  Every time I worked an hour of overtime, every time I got a mileage check from work – tempos!!!

I had never loved the way a short fit me – or made me feel – than an XS tempo with the waist folded down.  At long last, I had found a short I could truly commit to.

True tempo love. Believe it or not, we hadn't PLANNED the matching outfits.

And then Nike had the nerve to re-cut them.

They weren’t straight anymore.  No, now they had this weird “flare” at the bottom.  Women everywhere were raving about the new, more forgiving fit.

I was just raving.

So my friend and I, we went on this mission.  If there was an outlet, an expo, a closeout bin, we were there.  And we rationalized the hell out of it, we did.  See, it was okay to have thirty pairs of them.  And it was okay to have extra pairs of black or navy ones with the tags still on them.  Because we were making an investment.  See, we were going to have these shorts for years to come.  And when the seams came out like those seams on my old Umbros – well, I’d just swap a new pair into the rotation, right?

But like all good infatuations, the gig was eventually up.  I think I only paid $7.99 for the very last pair of tempos I found.  But was it worth peeing in a parking lot next to the Mexican border?  Probably not.

But to this day, a tempo fresh out of the dryer can still catch my eye.

Sadly enough, this is only a portion of the full collection ...

Circa 2008:  I became an ultrarunner, and I discovered “butt shorts,” or bunz.  Tighter than the tempo and quite a bit skimpier, it wasn’t just the ultrarunning thing.  I was also getting more and more comfortable with my body, and frankly, looking to wear less and less as I faced runs of six to eight hours in high heat.  Butts were also the perfect choice for the new core/Pilates classes I had started taking, and they quickly became a gym/running hybrid.  It took me a bit longer to fall for them; we didn’t have the instant attraction that the tempo and I did.  But slowly, they worked their way into my heart, and I still won’t wear anything but a butt on the trails.  After all, I wouldn’t want to rip a tempo.

Circa 2012:  I’ve opened my heart to a variety of brands again, variety being the spice of life.  Saucony sponsors the Clif Bar Pace Team, and I’m genuinely enamored of their PE Revival Short, retro like the original tempo, but a little lighter and more “naked” feeling.  Nike will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because of our tempo days, but because their cuts seem to fit my petite frame the best.  Sugoi and adidas make some badass butt shorts, and I thought I had found sports bra heaven with Champion.

But a few months ago, someone new caught my eye.  You might have heard of them, this little Canadian company called “lululemon.”

Here we go again …

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Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. My husband ran his first marathon in 1997 wearing a cotton T-shirt and umbros! It was a thing! My first real running shorts were the original Nike Tempos and I still wear them, mostly for knocking around but I still think they are WAY more flattering than their second incarnation. I’ve even sewed one pair back together. The newest version is pretty close to the original so you might want to check them out! And then bunz! You know I’m a recent convert there too. I wish my current condition didn’t cause me a secondary condition which makes me self-conscious about wearing them (ok we’ll call it ass spread!) I think my bunz days are probably over for a while. WAAAA! Good thing I busted out those Hawaiian print tempos 🙂

  2. I have one 1999 pair of shorts left. I don’t think they will ever go away! It’s so funny to think what we will be thinking 15 years from now about our current styles. They seem so current but Umbros also seemed so current 15 years ago!

  3. I find it funny that you opt for the tempos on the roads and the bunz on the trails. I love the bunz for the roads now but tend to wear my looser shorts or running skirts on the trails these days!

  4. I remember pleading to my mom to let me wear my umbros to school when I was in the 3rd grade. I think they were purple paired with a pink shirt and was told I didn’t match at recess. Oh well… Umbros were quintessential cool. Maybe we should bring them back?