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