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A Workout Wardrobe—and Self-Image–Makeover

Rowing unitards: my previous athletic uniform

I recently whittled down my workout wardrobe. Out went the over-stretched sports bras—my boobs, deflated from breastfeeding three bambinos, deserve better. Bye-bye to the few remaining pairs of running shorts I had from, oh, 2004—as you probably know, I’m now a skirts-or-capris-only gal. And formerly white or bright sweat-stained tops got the heave-ho. I dug deeper, unearthing a motherload of unitards. No, not leftovers from my Step-classes-at-the-Y days, but one-piece garments that are tanks on top, fitted shorts on the bottom and worn for rowing.

The rattiest of the five unitards has almost attained “relic” status, being from the summer of 1992. Its white top, slashed with a navy banner like a pageant sash draped across the shoulder, bears the crest of the oldest boat club in the U.S., Union Boat Club, where I’d been a summer member the first two years I lived in Boston. Its overly shiny black shorts, which had always reminded me Lycra is a petroleum-based product, wouldn’t even do Giselle Bundchen’s butt any favors. Then there’s the Marin Rowing Association unitard that made my heart swell with pride, thinking about the glorious races that had been won while wearing it. Two other “unis,” ones I’d worn regularly at Marin practices, were stained with salt—from my sweat as well as spray from the San Francisco Bay.

Proof unis don't flatter butts: Yes, that's me with my back to the camera
Then there’s the newest uni, the badass black-and-grey one from Portland Women’s Rowing, the club I rowed with in 2008 and 2009. It looks nearly new as I only raced a dozen or so times with the team. Looking at the five unitards, I had an epiphany: It was time to toss ’em. I stopped rowing nearly 18 months ago and, except for missing a few of my rowing buddies, I haven’t looked back.

My rowing buddies and I (in the middle) sporting unis and medals
After taking up rowing in college, I’d proudly thought of myself as a “rower,” even when I took a nearly decade-long hiatus from the sport after moving to Portland and starting a family. If someone asked, I was “a rower who runs.” But while the stretchy unitards still fit me, that definition doesn’t anymore. I’m not even “a runner who rows.” Nope, I’m a runner, pure and simple.

So I packed up all but the Marin unitard (I’m too sentimental to get rid of it) and handed them down to Kendall, a bright, spirited high schooler I know who rows with a local club. She’ll get years more wear out of them—and now I have more room in my drawers for fresh sports bras and running skirts.

18 responses to “A Workout Wardrobe—and Self-Image–Makeover

  1. I still need a few to erg in though…..my first JL from 1991 with the pretty flowered top and my Riverside uni too….the rest will go the way of the boat and yours, to the next generation (the single is with a a family of 4 kids and getting used by every one of them, thank goodness!)

    I just say I’m a “recovering” competitive rower and for the good of all of the folks on the river should stay running on the side of it, not in a boat (especially not in the bow of a double at the HOTC).

    My apologies though, I do always describe your book as “an awesome book about momma running written by two former rowers, both of whom are taller than I am” It’s a very cool thing in my world….two runners, taller than I am! No way!

  2. I’m so sentimental! For whatever reason I can’t part with my favorite sports bras years back even though they’re stretched and nasty. And terribly enough, they date back to 1995 (and perhaps even earlier)! But, as new loved ones have come in, I’ve parted with the ones that crack as they stretch and I just heard my drawers beckoning yesterday for more cleaning. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. I had a hard time getting rid of the tshirts that I had won from other coxswains during the only year I was a coxswain. We’re going back to 1983, I believe! I can’t depart with my own college shirt, the one we would use to give away if (when) we lost.

  4. I recently did the same thing! The pre-baby stuff just doesn’t fit like it used to. I always thought I was fat when I was younger and could fit into a size 6 with zero effort. Oh the idiocy of youth.

  5. I have a hard time getting rid of any clothes and end up getting sick of them before they were out. I’m now on a pass-it-on rule; when I get something new, I pass on my old to a friend. It works well both ways.

  6. I love this post SBS. It’s fabulous, and reminds me to embrace the ME of right now. Thank you.
    I’m going to go upstairs and pack up some items for Goodwill/Salvation Army/YWCA/whomever. Not packing up running gear or workout clothes, but some things that I just don’t need anymore as a mother/runner/student that some working mother would probably appreciate.

  7. I think I need to say bye-bye to shorts. I am pretty lean, but my thighs indeed touch, so loose shorts ride up, and tight shorts just leave me feeling exposed. I love my capris and skirts. More of those might be in order.

  8. I saw this thumbnail on FB and thought, “Why is SBS posting a pic of her UBC uni??”….nothing like the “double-panel” seat of the trou, eh? And the “waist” on the unis – whose waistline is actually where that seam is?? Sad to hear you say you’re not a rower anymore…but then I’ve given up running for rowing so I understand. That being said, you’re still getting in a 2x with me on the Chuck this summer! Now I must go toss those too-many-years-old sports bras…thanks for adding to my “to do” list!

  9. Just got a fantastic sports bra on clearance at Old Navy for 8.50! I still have a ton of softball stuff that I need to clear out. Those shorts never made me look good.

  10. I was thinking I needed to do a ‘spring cleaning’ of my workout wear, perfect timing to be inspirational, thanks!

    1. Lisa–Would you believe that I was so crazed this weekend that it didn’t occur to me until midday today that my timing on this was good with spring-cleaning and all?!?! Of course, now I’m playing it up on Twitter and such! “;>)

  11. Purging the rowing unitards is a great way to lighten your load of unflattering sportswear! I try to stick to the “new piece in, old one out” rule, but it always seems that there’s way too many tired things hiding deep in my drawer. Funny enough… I just finished taking beginner and novice rowing at the Jacksonville Rowing Club and, at age 46 as a runner who now rows, am NOT looking forward to that body-squeezing spandex.

    1. Good job taking on a new, fairly complex sport at 46. Thankfully, Masters rowers come in all shapes and sizes, so there’s no judgment. Enjoy your time on the water!

  12. Funny you should write this…I just realized this weekend that I needed to go through my workout clothes. I’ve come a long way from what I first started running in! It’s time to get rid of those things and stick with the ones that are working for me. Maybe I’ll actually be motivated to get this done today (amidst tball practice, dinner, baths, library, etc.)!

    1. Oh, it’s only a super-busy days that the spirit moves me to spontaneously purge my closet or clean up my office! Obviously if we waited for a quiet moment, the task would never get done. But also, by doing it on busy day, then there’s not as much time to ponder and debate–it’s just.get.it.done!

  13. Ah but you forgot to share the most amusing part of a rowing uni – the double layer of shiny lycra on the ass! It always amused me that the inner layer was a random color (one of mine is hot pink).

    You remind me that I need to toss mine… I haven’t been a rower in years yet I still have them…

  14. Sometimes deep cleans of our wardrobes can leave us feeling sentimental and naked! Good for you though, moving on and donating them to someone who was probably very encouraged by those. I did a deep clean of my workout clothes drawer but it only made me realize how unaware I was of the true importance of feeling good about the way you look while working out.

    On a side note – I ran a Functional Fitness 5K last this past weekend. The briefing was early and it was still pretty cool out so I wore my black long sleeve “Badass Mother Runner” shirt over my lighter weight running tank. I got so many compliments and questions about it! I directed them all to seek our your FB page or this one!

    1. Thanks for sporting the Badass shirt and doing some grassroots PR for us!

      So true about feeling sentimental and naked. I still can’t part with my heavyweight Colgate Crew hooded sweatshirt. I haven’t worn it in at least two decades, yet I can’t bear to part with it as it represents my transformation to an athlete.

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