Okay, so the title is a little misleading. I have never run naked, but ask runners and I bet they will tell you they wish they could run in their birthday suit during D.C’s hottest months.
D.C. in the summer is hot. Not just 95-degrees-and-sunny hot, but 95-degrees-and-oppressive-dew-points-that-make-you-think-you-transported-to-the-surface-of-the-sun hot.
This past summer has been no exception. Despite this being my third summer in D.C., this was my first time living here as a “runner,” as in someone who despises treadmills, uses a GPS to track miles and reads running blogs in one’s spare time. After being bitten by the running bug last fall, lacing up my sneakers has made me one of “those people” who actually enjoy sweating en route to the monuments or along the Rock Creek Parkway.
Sweating in the summer, however, is a whole other story. Having begun training for my first half marathon last December, my runs were mostly done in temperatures requiring gloves to hold the water bottle that remained cold regardless of how long I ran and five minutes post-run peeling off layers of clothing to reveal that, in spite of the wind chills and inability to feel my nose, I still managed to work up a sweat.
Nowadays, I can barely keep the layers on. When the heat index is already 85 degrees at six thirty in the morning, a part of me cringes at the idea of attempting any sort of mileage. But then there is also that part of me that loves racing past the Kennedy Center and down to the Lincoln Memorial, watching as the sun peeks behind the Washington Monument and illuminates the National Mall’s Reflecting Pool.
Unfortunately, as a consequence of my runner’s high, I finish my summer runs in need of a shower as much as I look like I just took one— hair underneath my baseball cap soaked, shorts sticking to the back of my legs and running top looking as if I had just taken it out of the washing machine. After pushing my run even earlier in the morning and still feeling/looking like a hot mess before the official sunrise time, I made a decision: hello, sports bras.
During my recent runs, I could count on two hands the number of women I have seen running the streets in only a sports bras, a number far less than the number of men I have seen pacing shirtless through the city. The low value does not surprise me. Myself a subject of street harassment while fully clothed in broad daylight, I can understand why a woman would not want to subject herself to the torment of beeping car horns and obnoxious taunts simply because she wanted a little relief from the heat.
So when I see those few belly-button displaying women I pass, I feel admiration. By running in a sports bra, even if they just want to feel less sticky or have a less awkward runner’s tan, these women say to society:”Look, I don’t care whether you judge me; I don’t care if you holler; I don’t care if you can see the chicken pox scar near the bottom of my spine—it’s hot and this is how I feel comfortable!”
This level of comfort is the main reason behind my respect for these women. Females are all too familiar with the anxiety of wearing a bathing suit on the beach, so running in a sports bra can be equally discomforting. Yet with these women, I sense a great deal of self-confidence in themselves and their bodies. At times, I almost want to stop mid-run and high-five them for being such bad-asses and inspiring me to work up the courage to don the bikini top of running apparel.
If you had asked me four years ago whether I would ever venture outdoors in a sports bra, I would have fiercely shaken my head in the negative. Insecurity and body consciousness were regular thoughts that drove me to exercise for not always the healthiest reasons. Though days of low self-esteem and body loathing are not absent from my calendar, I am in a much more comfortable position with the way my body looks and feels today. Whereas before running was something I mainly did to burn calories, today I do it mainly for the pleasure, for the sweat and sense of accomplishment that comes with running half of a half marathon before the work day begins. Choosing to run only in a sports bra has been a small way of demonstrating to myself, and to others, that I am comfortable enough in my own skin to show it off.
Running in a sports bra is the closest a woman can get to running naked while avoiding an arrest for indecent exposure, but It is also an act of empowerment, well-being and self-confidence. Even if I notice runners glance at my bare belly, their subtle acknowledgement is all I need to remind myself how much my self-esteem has grown to feel comfortable enough to run sans shirt, sweat, flaws and all.