Dress the Way You Want to Run (AKA Plan B)
Being slightly desperate-I obviously lacked the speed or strength to complete 13.1 miles in 3:30-I decided that the best way to train for the half marathon was to buy some good activewear. If I looked like I could run a half marathon, maybe I could move faster!
When I first started my weight-loss project, the only place I knew that sold size XXL activewear was Target. One day I slunk in, grabbed two XXL semi-fitted Athletic Pants (available in black and grey), two XXL Ebony Work-out Tees (available in Ebony), and two gigantic XXL Women's Action Sports bras (available in black, white, grey, and hot-rod lime). I did try on some XLs, but they were too small. At 230 pounds, my main goal was to cover as much territory as possible.
After I lose 35 pounds (and get into Size 14-16 range) the choices get better. One hot June day I nearly pass out in exercise class.My well-covered body is so over-heated the windows are steaming up. Seriously! It's go sleeveless or die! After trying on dozens of possibilities in several stores, I finally find a Nike shaper long top at Nordstrom's. I gulp at the $45 price tag, but the top makes me look as fabulous as it is possible for 195-pound woman to look in a tank top. Which is to say, I am too embarrassed to wear it without a covering shirt.
Fast forward a year. Just as I figure out I can barely crawl 10.5 miles in 3:40, I get an invitation to the opening of the first Athleta store in the Washington area. Teri, the adored director of group exercise at my gym, loves Athleta. I have ordered high impact sports bras from them. They are expensive, but, "they turn your headlights into lowlights," as the catalog puts it.
Fat people don't generally get on well with active wear. It highlights our curves. During the quest for the shaper top, I venture into Lululemon Athletica, where a very thin friend of mine has bought fabulous stuff. Turns out, the largest size they carry is a 12, and I'd say it's a small 12. I struggle into an exercise top and look like a sausage oozing out of its casing and smile wanly at the saleswoman.
"I'll be back when I've lost 20 more pounds!" I tell her brightly. But I know I'll never go back, even if I lose 50 more pounds. No matter how much weight I lose, I'm never gonna be that thin.
I've noticed there's quite a wide spectrum of women's activewear. On one end are clothes so girly it's hard to see them surviving a serious workout, like these capris from Victoria's Secret (above). Also at the girly end is active wear for women who may be looking for romance at the gym: Coco Perez (below left) and Kelly Brook (below right) for Reebok Easytone (Has either one ever done a gym workout? Are we going for a male or a female audience here? Does Reebok take female athletes seriously?)
On the other end of the spectrum, active wear is so seriously no-frills competitive that you hardly notice it. (Of course, you hardly notice Kelly Brook's wear either.) Nike is famous for emphasizing its swish logo on top athletes more than its clothes, as in these incredible portraits of the world's top women athletes by photographer Annie Liebovitz for Nike Women's Fall 2011 campaign:
These women clearly know their way around a workout, and they aren't even remotely girly, though they have a raw, powerful beauty. They look fantastically competitive. Yet while these photos fill me with admiration, they don't make me yearn for Nike's utilitarian, no-nonsense workout attire. Their cold concrete workout space seems as grimly competitive as the athletes-and, well, just as black, white, and grey as the clothes. Not warm. Out of my league.
When I arrive at the Athleta store opening, something else-not girly and not ferocious-is going on. I fall in love at first sight--the first sight being a mannequin sprinting purposefully across the store-front window, while another pulls its foot in a pretty tight quad stretch. I've never seen such energetic mannequins.
More manic mannequins pop up inside the Athleta store. Some run across piles of cute exercise clothes, while others hit yoga poses. I am transfixed by them-when I'm not staring at Athleta's giant color wall photos of women athletes in beautiful locations.
There's Drisana Carey (below), a former Syracuse University volleyball player and Big East All Star who now teaches yoga. Her muscles ripple. The clothes don't look like they are about to fall off. She looks happy, healthy, strong, alive.
This is what I want: Apparel empowerment!
I am not alone. The opening, in DC's Georgetown shopping district, teems with some of the best-dressed women I've ever seen. By the time I arrive, about 30 minutes into the opening, a line for the fitting rooms snakes all the way through the store.
Athleta opened another store on January 18, in Scarsdale, New York. It's is the 10th since the company opened its first store near San Francisco a year ago. After Athleta's creation as an Internet retailer in 1998, it proved so successful that Gap acquired it for $150-million in 2008. Athleta stores have proved so enticing that last year it won one of four "Hot Retailer" awards from the International Council of Shopping Centers. Although Gap does not break out Athleta sales in its financial statements, a vice president reports that Athleta stores are selling $4 in merchandise for every $1 sold online to customers in the store's market area. So, while Gap recently announced plans to close 189 Gap stores, it's opening 40 more Athleta outlets by 2013.
I prance out of Athleta with a pair of "Kickbooty" pants and a "Headwinds" running top ready to "Go get 'em" at the Disney Half Marathon. Later I go back and get a running vest and more tops.
"I don't know what's getting into me," I tell a friend later. "I never spend this kind of money on exercise clothes."
She reflects. "Maybe you're putting on health, rather than putting in food," she says.
Later, I go even farther. "This is a whole new view of woman!" I gush to my daughter Sarah. "These women aren't sex objects, like the babes at Victoria's Secret, nor ferocious, like the Nike Amazons."
"It's not that new!" she retorts. "You've just never been in a serious sports store before."
Armed with new clothes, I proceed to Plan C in the half-marathon attack.
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