The theories and science behind race-day clothing choices

Since the Spanx-wearing incident, I’ve had quite a few folks say to me that I should consider wearing the Spanx on race day. Don’t worry, I’m not actually considering it, but it got me to thinking about race day attire and how everyone has their own theories as to what clothes will make them most comfortable, cool enough, warm enough, and, yes, even fast enough.

Clothing, shoe and accessory manufacturers’ marketing ploys also play into people’s theories when outrageous claims are made about the abilities of their products. For some, it’s not so much theory as it is superstition. People have their lucky shirt or shorts or glasses, ect. To me, it’s part superstition, part experience, and part comfort.

I have heard people say it’s the “runner’s rule” that you always wear shorts any time it’s over 30 degrees. Um… Not this runner. It’s got to be at least 60 degrees before you’ll see me in running shorts. In fact, it’s got to be at least 50 degrees before you’ll see me in Capri-length tights. I’m not sure what the science (made up or otherwise) is behind this so-called rule to wear shorts for anything above 30 degrees, but in my own personal scientific experiments experience, my muscles don’t work too well when they’re cold. And unless it is above 50 degrees, my muscles are cold. But if it’s hot, you can bet I’ll be in shorts to prevent heat exhaustion or dehydration from sweating too much. The only steadfast runner’s clothing rule I abide by is no cotton. It holds in moisture and weighs you down.

Maybe I just don’t run fast enough for the “runners rule” to apply to me. I’m sure no one who has watched a marathon in recent years has seen an elite female runner in pants, or even shorts that fall below mid-thigh. They generally have on briefs and a sports bra, even in cold temperatures. But it wasn’t always like that.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Kathrine Switzer, the first women to run the Boston Marathon. The pictures of her from that race show her in long, loose-fitting pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

Here is a picture of the first female Olympic marathon winner from 1984 in typical running shorts and what looks like a loose-fitting tank top:

Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984. She ran it in 2:24:52.

Here is the 2009 women’s Olympic Marathon winner:

Constantine Dita Tomescu, 2009 women’s Olympic Marathon winner. She won with a time of 2:26:44.

Samuelson, wearing the more modest and looser clothes had a faster time than the 2009 winner. But, Olympics notwithstanding (there’s lots of variables to how fast someone runs the Olympic races – weather, course elevation, ect..) maybe there is a science to the clothing since it seems like women continually get faster and faster and break new records with each new clothing trend. And because the trends seem to be less and less material, imagine the records that could be set in the Nekkid Olympics!

This blog post from Runner’s World makes the argument that the effect of “fast clothes” may be all in the head: If you dress fast, you’ll be fast. Kind of like dressing smartly when you go for a job interview.

I’ll never be a fast enough runner to know what difference clothes make, unless I find myself in a wind storm, running with shirts and pants three sizes too big and made out of parachute material. But I am fast enough to know that the pair of sunglasses I bought once that claimed to have been “made for speed” were manufactured by a company that took extreme liberties with their marketing claims. Although maybe I shouldn’t joke. I was running SO FAST one time that the glasses flew off my face. Then fell to the ground and broke. Sigh.

One item of clothing I do think can absolutely make a difference is the shoes. Not that they make you run faster, but foot, leg, ankle and knee comfort can absolutely be the difference between a run and a record-setting run. As I mentioned in my last post, I just got a new pair of running shoes. I decided to switch from my tried and true New Balance brand and got Asics. So far, I love them and think they will do me well on race day. Now I just need to figure what else I will be wearing. And, no. It will not be Spanx.

So what about you other runners: do you have your own theories when it comes to race-day attire? Or do you have a “lucky” item of clothing you can’t run without?

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About travelerontherun

I am a chronic adventurer who loves to see and experience new places. What I really love most is experiencing those places after parking my RV and lacing up my running shoes.
This entry was posted in exercise, Fitness, health, Marathon training, Running, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The theories and science behind race-day clothing choices

  1. Amy says:

    I can honestly say I’ve never heard of wearing Spanx as running gear (but after reading about your incident, it is quite resourceful!). I’m one of those people who wears shorts during long distances as low as 45 degrees. I just get too warm otherwise. Plus, I’d like to think that less clothing means less weight to carry, hopefully meaning faster times, but this could be wishful thinking! My bottoms also have to have pockets to carry stuff, and nothing can be cotton because chaffing is painful!

  2. I agree with the less clothes, less weight =faster time thinking. I’m just too cold-blooded to do the shorts in colder weather. I prefer my running tights (or Spanx in a pinch šŸ™‚ ) I totally agree with the pockets, too, and it’s ofen a challenge to find tights with pockets.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your comments!!

  3. Kristin says:

    Wear the spans!!!!

  4. Maybe if Spanx offered a sponsorship deal šŸ™‚ haha

  5. Laina says:

    I wear full-length pants for anything under about 55 degrees, I can’t run if I’m freezing! Also, my usual running attire is compression pants, capri-length, because I’ve got so much excess skin and it helps hold everything in place – less pain that way.
    I hope you like your Asics – I won’t wear anything else. And every new pair feels like running on clouds for the first 30 miles or so. šŸ™‚

    • Glad I’m not the only cold-blooded runner out there! šŸ™‚

      I think I found a new favorite with my Asics. I am in love with these shoes. This is the first time EVER that a new pair of shoes haven’t caused me some sort of issue like blisters or rubbing somewhere for the first few runs. They felt broken in with the very first run in them! I can also feel a difference in how my knees and ankles feel after a run.

      Thanks for stopping by!!

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