When I returned to running in 2008 after a four-year hiatus—I ran in high school, but stopped afterward following a move and career change—I soon discovered that finding good running gear was one of the most frustrating parts of coming back to the sport.
I struggled to find running gear that worked for my larger body. Nothing seemed to fit in a way that facilitated easy, comfortable movement, and nearly everything out there was plain black and just not all that inspiring. The tights I needed for the activities that I engaged in—5Ks, half marathons, and marathons—didn’t yet exist. Or more accurately, they didn’t exist for me.
Sure, there were tights, jackets, cute tees, sports bras, and tanks in technical, sports-oriented fabrics and cuts for thinner bodies, but I really wasn’t able to find many in a size that fit my plus-size body. And the ones I did? Most of the athletic apparel in larger sizes was cotton-blend, shapeless, and just not functional for higher-intensity activity or running longer distances. The waistbands would roll down once I started to move, the shirts would hike up and get stuck in the mess of my two or three ill-fitting sports bras underneath, and the jackets wouldn’t close around my chest.
So I soon found myself shopping in the men’s section, which, at first, seemed to help, since they at least were made for the activity at hand. I chose to wear a pair of men’s tights to the 2012 Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania. They were beautiful, sleek, and smooth against my skin. I felt ready to take on the race, and happy that I looked so good doing so. Unfortunately, the waistband immediately started moving south soon after I started running. It was so bad that I had to hold on to the pants with my left hand while I gripped my water bottle (before I knew what handhelds were) with my right.
It was a mess. That is, until I started sweating enough for the pants to stick to my legs, meaning I didn’t need to hold them up anymore! I ended up PR’ing in that marathon though, so maybe that was the missing piece?
Seriously, though, while the PR was great, the clothing experience as a whole was not. The chafing from those ill-fitting pants, the sore arm—I held those tights up for eight miles!—and the overall annoyance made for a frustrating experience that was unfortunately not unique for me, or for all the larger-bodied runners out there like me.
It’s isolating and demoralizing not to have access to the clothing that you need.
Since then, though, some women’s clothing brands that serve larger-bodied customers started to release their own sportswear options, like sports bras and tights, that were much cuter and trendier than the men’s stuff. These pieces have been useful to a certain extent, but still, they’re not really made for serious exercise: Many are often made at least in part of cotton, meaning they don’t exactly hold up over 26.2 miles, what with the rubbing of my muscularly voluptuous thighs and surprise chafing in other areas.
They lacked the benefits of the more technical apparel I needed. I couldn’t perform my best in tights that would get sweaty and immediately lose elasticity, or which would last only a few runs. I needed sweat-wicking tops and bottoms, and bras that would curb the enthusiasm of the ladies and give me ample support.
But I also wanted the same kinds of cute stuff in colors and prints that everybody else was wearing. I still found myself looking for the kinds of apparel that would make me feel agile, confident, and capable wearing them, while also meeting my movement needs.
Today, it’s a somewhat different situation. There are now a number of brands that cater specifically to plus-size athletes, and mainstream brands have opened their doors wider for people like us. That means we now have more options for functional, sports-oriented clothing that makes us feel good wearing them. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, we are still in dire need of more inclusive, expansive sizing, and pieces that will fit a range of body types and heights, but hopefully we are only at the beginning of this wave.
I’ve had the benefit of partnering with a number of brands (currently Lululemon and formerly Skirt Sports) that outfit me in the most advanced technical gear options. So I’ve been able to try a lot of stuff out to see what works for me—and what might work for you, too. Here are a few of my current favorites, as well as some must-haves from some of my fellow larger-bodied athletes.
See more from SELF’s Future of Fitness package here.
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