Run Like a Girl

I’ve been a tough cookie all my life – a tomboy, a cowgirl, a horsewoman. Always the opposite of a girly girl, I have worn pants of some sort since I could walk. Yet now, at age 46, I often wear skirts while running ultra marathons – for 50 or 100 miles, for 10, 12, even 24 hours. I won my age group at the Leadville 100 wearing a skirt. I crossed the Western States finish line at the Pacer High School track in a skirt. Whenever it’s warm enough, I train in a skirt. The rational explanation I give is that I can pick up a few things at the grocery store right after running without feeling awkward or out of place, though I’m the only person wearing this type of outfit while pushing a cart through the aisles. But that’s not the only reason.

Skirts and cowboy hats are appropriate attire for burro racing. Bella and I, 2015

I was born in 1970, in Germany, into the second wave of feminism. When I was very young, women burned their bras and started dressing in power suits. I don’t remember consciously thinking about women’s rights while in kindergarten, but I did grow up a tomboy. I stopped wearing dresses and skirts when I was five because wearing jeans was much more practical for riding my bicycle or kicking soccer balls.

Love is a hugging a pony: Lily and I, 2012

Like many German girls, I discovered horses when I was in the third grade. Unlike most of them, I never grew out of this phase. Unless you ride side saddle, it’s impossible to wear anything but pants and boots when on a horse, or around horses. At age 19, I moved to New Mexico. I spent many years as a cowgirl and professional horsewoman, in starched Wranglers, buckskin gloves with holes in them, and roper boots held together by duct tape. I saved up money for a pair of show chaps made from buttery suede, and a show hat the left a dent in my forehead every time I left it on for longer than ten minutes.

Dressage is funny sport: showing Dorina to a win at the RMDS Futurity, Parker, Colorado, 2008

I switched from training Western horses to training dressage horses in my thirties. I splurged on skin-tight white breeches and a pair of tall, black boots that made my feet hurt. My current horse endeavors combine Western and dressage, so I wear a much more comfortable compromise outfit in the form of riding jeans and jodhpur boots. Because I am now in my mid-forties and a little wiser than I was in my twenties, I also, at least sometimes, wear a helmet.

My current riding outfit, including helmet.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that skirts and dresses were never part of my wardrobe – until I turned 40. That year, I experienced a serious midlife crisis. Running longer and longer distances was, and still is, the best way to deal with such an affliction. Like anyone else who suffers from a midlife crisis, I reexamined my past, my horse passion, my child-free state which until then had seemed a blessing. I convinced myself that I had missed out on life outside the barn, on life as a normal woman, whatever I thought that was.

Because I wanted to catch up, I quit riding and went back to grad school. I became familiar with applying mascara and eyeliner. I started getting hair cuts on a regular basis. I started taking bubble baths and painting my toenails. I bought a couple of dresses, which I wore once or twice, then gave up on. I didn’t feel like myself wearing them, and besides, it was just too much work. Writing a thesis about postcolonial literature seemed less of a hassle than developing the set of skills I now discovered I lacked: I had never learned how to sit down and get up in a skirt, how to coordinate different parts of an outfit, or how to walk in any heels higher than an inch or so.

Vertical climbs are o problem in my power suit: Wavine Cyrique, Dominica.

My midlife crisis took its course. I appreciate my child-free state now more than ever. I switched careers. I felt miserable. I switched back to working with horses. A lot has changed in the last five years, but two things stayed the same: I kept running, and I kept wearing running skirts. During my makeover frenzy, I had bought a couple of these items, which felt much more comfortable than the real-life skirts that had graced my closet briefly before finding their way to the thrift store. For one thing, running skirts have built-in shorts, which makes the sitting down and getting up part a breeze. For another, they go with the rest of my running wardrobe and are as comfortable as running shorts, but a lot cuter, and a lot more versatile. My running skirt is appropriate attire for anything except, maybe, an office job, or riding horses. I don’t have an office job anymore. For everything but my horse work, I can wear running skirts.

Invincible: Second-place female at the Cedro Peak 45-miler, 2016

According to one of his campaign staffers, Donald Trump has one simple directive for his female staffers: “Dress like women.” These words prompted a flood of outraged responses from women across the US, who by and large feel that, by wearing anything they choose to while female, they already dress like women. I agree with them, because their logic makes sense and because I despise Donald Trump. At the same time, as a woman and as a runner, I know it’s not that simple. Most women go through their girly phase in their teens or early twenties. I did not. For me, right now, my running skirts give me the right balance between toughness and cuteness. They allow me, at age 46, to connect with my long-neglected inner girly girl, without having to learn the rules of skirt etiquette, without squeezing my feet into uncomfortable shoes.

Yes, shorts are fun, too: Lavaredo Ultra Trail, Italy, 2016

Yes, running shorts can be fun, too. I own some. But my skirts are my superhero outfit, my power suit. I feel unstoppable when I wear them, and I will keep wearing them when I’ve reached the the 75-plus age group.

The highest point n New Mexico: Wheeler Peak

It’s a good time to be alive and running, in a skirt, in shorts, or in anything else you choose to wear.

Still a cowgirl most of the time, e.g. while helping out at Antelope Canyon Ultra, February 2017

See you out there,


6 thoughts on “Run Like a Girl

  1. amylso

    What a great post! I especially like this thought: “I didn’t feel like myself wearing them.” I think the key is finding what makes you feel like yourself. That’s exactly why I love my running skirts too. (That and the pockets!)

    1. silvakat Post author

      Thank you, Amy. I one of the greatest pleasures of getting older is realizing that what others think of me is not that important. The days of trying to look like someone else’s expectation of me are over! And yes, the pockets are great 🙂


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