Monday, May 16, 2011

Play: On embracing spandex

Recently I've realized that a superhero's powers may be less about the cape and more about the tights.

It all started about a month ago when I decided to upgrade my gym wardrobe from the utilitarian running shorts I've been wearing for years to a pair of lightweight spandex that hit just below the knee.  They were incredibly comfortable but proved too low-rise for vigorous exercise.  Hoping to justify my purchase, I took to wearing them around the house.

I also spent a lot of time twisting around to survey my rearview in the full-length mirror in my bedroom, a view which, though that mirror has proven overly optimistic in the past, was actually encouraging. I goaded my husband into confirming this for me on an almost daily basis, and after a couple weeks I had the courage to take the show on the road.  I wore the shorts to Little E's swim lesson at the Y and it was a revelation; they were as comfortable as sweatpants but rather than making me look as if I'd given up on life, they made me look as if I might break into a purposeful sprint at any moment.

Then my husband did something wonderful.  For Mother's Day, he bought me a pair of spandex shorts even more glorious than the original.  Not only did they feel great and make me look like I do 10Ks in my sleep, they were the most comfortable thing I've ever run in.  It was like jogging naked but without the inevitable jiggle and chafing.  With two pairs my lycra-loving pleasure was doubled. I slid on spandex and running sneakers for the grocery store, Daisy Scout pick-up, the sidelines of both youth and adult soccer games, a stop at a local farm stand; if I wasn't paid to be there, I was in spandex.

I wore my spandex shorts and polyester track jacket so often that week that they came to feel like a uniform --not in the bad way like the humiliating striped top and visor I wore in high school as a McDonald's counter girl but in the good way, like Wonder Woman's badass boots or Superman's pec-enhancing unitard.  It was probably this association that suggested to me at the shorts were in some way imbued with super powers.  Before the week was out I had decided that I needed to train for a triathlon. Never mind that I despise bike riding and never mastered rotary breathing, I picked an event, penciled it into next year's calendar and started researching training programs.

Yesterday afternoon I set out for a run, planning to stretch my mileage to five from my normal three because I'll surely need a strong run to offset my bike and swim times and because I just knew that my shorts were up to the added challenge.  About two miles in it started to rain, but my shorts, magic as they are, were unfazed. I soldiered on through the rain, which quickly became a torrent, even when a mass of passing cyclists forced me into a deep puddle on the dirt shoulder.  I even kept a brave face as they insultingly echoed the warning "Walker!" through their ranks, despite a spandex-fueled pace that should have categorized me at least a jogger.

As I neared mile four, I was attempting maintain my pace and wringing out my spandex-free shirt amidst the angry splattering of massive raindrops when my husband pulled up and offered me a ride.  I jumped in gratefully but was awash in guilt before we even pulled away.  I'd failed to live up the shorts.  Their powers, it turned out, were only as strong as the will of their wearer.

Despite yesterday's disappointment, I love the spandex too much to stop trying to live up to them.  I just hope that someone will do me this one kindness: should next summer pass without me competing in that triathlon, please tell me --gently-- that it's time to hang up my shorts.  Without the powers, the tights are so much more sad than super.


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