Don’t Get Me Started On Women’s Running Shorts…

This has been a blog post many years in the making. This post is about women’s running shorts, pockets, and my decade-long struggle with both. I have been running half-marathons since high school, and so I have spent the last 10 years watching the sports apparel industry slowly catch up with the needs of long-distance runners — heck, women runners of all distances!

To preface: I have huge legs. Like, seriously huge. And they’re basically all muscle. One of my friends recently told me I have “cartoonishly muscular legs.” My thighs are probably bigger than most of the thighs of the men I run with, and my calves are, simply put, gigantic. But make no mistake: I am super proud of my giant legs — seeing them at work in race photos is one of the greatest pleasures in my life — yet that doesn’t mean I don’t hate searching for shorts to accommodate them! On with the saga:

When I first started running, pretty much the only shorts I had and could find that were socially acceptable were Nike tempo shorts. It was virtually the only short anyone on my high school cross-country team wore. Sometimes longer, loose-leg shorts could be found, but it was mostly those round-edged tempo shorts. And I loathed them. Firstly, they always ended up bunched up above my inner-thigh chafe-zone and I had to keep pulling them out of a vagina wedgie every 30 seconds. Second, they also only had one tiny pocket in the liner that was house key-sized. I’m not sure who decided that was all the storage space women needed, but that was the standard for most of my high school running experience.

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I spent a lot of this race pulling shorts out from between my thighs.

Then when I started running half-marathons, I switched to some Adidas shorts that were a bit longer — less ride-up, and if they did my thighs didn’t start a friction fire — and had a rear zip pocket. Yes, one single pocket. My dad had race shorts with 3 pockets, but the best women’s apparel makers had was a singular pocket. For a brief time, I wore men’s shorts solely for more room to carry gels and my phone, but they just weren’t as comfortable because they are cut differently than women’s shorts.

[I can’t find a good picture of these, which is sad, because I wore the crap out of them.]

At some point in college, I switched over to tight shorts because I was so tired of dealing with shorts riding up between my thighs til they looked like underpants. I wore tight shorts with 5-6” inseams because those were the only ones that didn’t roll up on my big ol’ thighs. However one problem with tight shorts is that if you were shopping at your local Dick’s Sporting Goods and not scouring the depths of Amazon.com: GOOD LUCK FINDING ANY WITH SOME GOD DAMN POCKETS. Because God forbid women have to carry things out on a run like keys or an ID! This was especially annoying as a college student because I had to carry a key and an ID card everywhere with me or else I couldn’t get back into my building post-run.

Then I found the perfect short: Saucony Ignite Tight Shorts. I’ve used and abused two (well-loved and miraculously long-lasting) pairs of these babies in the 2 years that I’ve been running marathons, and they are amazing. Long inseam, no roll, no chafe, big enough to hold my iPhone 4 as well as some gels, and by then I was using a hand-held bottle for on-the-go hydration so the rest of my gels could fit in the zip pocket on the water bottle. But sadly, I realized this spring that my beautiful relationship with the Ignite shorts had to end… why? Because I upgraded my stupid phone!

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But look how great my legs look in the Ignite shorts! I still love them and wear them on everyday runs.

One big drawback to the increasing size of cell phones is that they don’t fit in running short pockets, almost across the board. I hate running with a waist pack (tight straps around my waist make me feel, uh… intestinally nauseous) and I hate running with an arm band even more. But I like to have my phone on my person at races for immediate post-race texting and instagramming.

And so began my Spring 2016 Shorts Crisis Race Shorts Search.

Because I needed to put gels and my giant phone somewhere during my upcoming marathon, I tried so many shorts. I needed something to miraculously fit all my needs. And thank goodness for Running Warehouse’s fast shipping and generous return policy as well as Amazon’s super quick return-refund policy.

First I tried Saucony Bullet tight shorts. I tried these last fall actually before Philly (I ended up running in Bullet capris, with the amazing cargo pockets on the legs, but this was pre-phone upgrade when my iPhone 4 fit in the back zip pocket), and they were comically un-wearable. I put them on, looked hella cute and took a selfie, then went outside and ran .05 of a mile in them before I came right back inside to change because they had turned into underwear. Nothing makes you feel more like a cow/whale/other giant animal than having your thighs immediately gush out of a pair of shorts when you begin to move. Back to Amazon they went!

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Looking so thrilled, obvi. Like I knew I’d be disappointed only minutes later.

Then this spring I tried Saucony Scoot tight shorts. I was optimistic when viewing them online, but when I got them I was disappointed. The back pocket was ridiculously small — smaller than the Ignite short’s pocket. I could barely fit one gel in Scoot pocket, and definitely not an iPhone 6. I was bummed because they were super cute, but they were not going to work for a marathon. Back they went.

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Isn’t that print just to die for though?!

Then I tried Oiselle Toolbelt Rogas. I wanted so so SO badly for these to work. I love Oiselle. I run for a store-affiliated Oiselle team in a Oiselle singlet. The pockets were perfect: gels + phone fit in the back, and my ID and key could fit in the butt-cheek pocket. But then I tested them on a short loop around my complex and it was a no-go. I tried size 6 and size 4; the size 6 barely stayed up once I started moving, no matter how tight I cinched the drawstring. Then I tried the size 4 and I was almost too embarrassed by the fit to go outside. They were incredibly tight through the front, and the seam down the front made it look, uh, obscene. Major camel-toe happening. I tried them out on another complex loop anyway but again: flashing my butt at my neighbors, no doubt. Both had to be returned.

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I wanted these to work so badly. LOOK AT THAT. 4 POCKETS!

And then I remembered that one of my favorite instagram runners, bridetoboston, loves Oiselle distance shorts, and I happened to have a pair of distance shorts that I’d gotten last fall to bum around in my apartment… so why not try those? I took them for a spin around the block, and they were surprisingly good for running. Sure, they ride a bit, but that can be cured by some Vaseline, and unlike other loose-leg shorts they never quite make it to underwear-shorts status. But the biggest perk is the pockets; I’d deal with any amount of thigh chub chafe for these pockets. My phone fits easily in the back zip pocket, and the side zippered pocket will easily hold a few gels among other things. I tried them on an 8 mile run the following day and they worked great. It took me a while to get used to air hitting my butt under the loose legs of the shorts after so many years of tight shorts, but the shorts made me feel fast, and once I was sure I wasn’t flashing anyone, I was in love.

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Distance shorts in action at River Horse 6k! Loved them for the 10 mile run down and they were so light and airy during the race, I swear they made me faster.

So after many online orders, trial runs, and returns… my marathon shorts had been under my nose the whole time. I am excited to be wearing Oiselle distance shorts for my marathon on May 1. I’ll stuff my phone into the back pocket in a plastic bag along with my ID and some cash, put gels and chapstick in the side pocket, and lube up my thighs with Vaseline like crazy. But at least I can rest easy knowing I have shorts that will carry all my shit for 26.2 miles!

Pockets now seem to be way more common with women’s running shorts in the last few years — especially if you aren’t looking for tight shorts — and apparel makers have finally moved past just the house key-only liner pocket.  But as phones get larger and we start carrying more crap out on the run with us, apparel makers are going to struggle to keep up to make their pockets larger and larger. I am sure this will not be my last shorts/pockets crisis in my running career!

And remember, apparel folk: WOMEN NEED POCKETS TOO. I mean, really. We are shamelessly mocked for our huge, over-stuffed purses, and then we get the short end of the stick with running short pockets? Seriously?

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16 thoughts on “Don’t Get Me Started On Women’s Running Shorts…

  1. I’ve got some Nike tempos now with a zipper in the back…when I first saw it I was like, ‘Thank you, Nike!’!! haha womens body shapes vary with different types of shorts…but I feel your pain. I personally love my tempos.

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  2. Oh girl, I hear you on the shorts-become-underwear! I have an added problem that a lot of shorts don’t come in my size (XL – or brands like Nike make their XLs teeny). I found a home in Skirt Sports products tho, lots of pockets and anythign 5″ or so seems to stay down on my thighs, thankfully. The trial and error is so hard, and our bodies are all so different!

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  3. I also have newer Nike Tempos with zip pockets in the back. Clearly someone at Nike got the memo!

    I haven’t had too much trouble with shorts but my problem is that, because I have long legs and wide-ish hips and a round tush, the “short shorts” that are so popular in running just don’t work for me. The look like underwear on me and my legs look like comically long chicken legs, and they ride up like crazy. I have a couple pair of Lulu short shorts that work well, but they are loose in the waist and bunch up a bit; my tempos are okay but I don’t like that weird ballooning in the front. Honestly, I usually have better luck with capris and running skorts. The struggle is real.

    And, FWIW, I don’t think your legs look that big, at least not in these pics.

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    • If I could stand to run in capris in 60 degree weather, I’d do my Bullet capris for my marathon: lots of pockets, guaranteed no chafing…. But that sounds like a recipe for heatstroke to me. I’ve seen a lot of Lulu shorts lately that I love, but I just can’t justify the price tag! But some of my running buddies last week were sporting some cute Lulu shorts with zip side pockets that I wanted to copy+paste onto myself!

      It’s hard to really demonstrate my legs’ size in photos. My thighs are just a little bigger than most ladies’ — definitely not the skinny things most distance runners seem blessed with! — but my calves are HUGE and are often a topic of conversation in my running group. They’re 15″ around on a small day and used to top out at 16.5″!! They’re a pain to squeeze into skinny jeans, but whenever I think about my calves getting smaller, it makes me sad. They’ve become a point of major pride!

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  4. This post is great. I’ve been through this same process!! I wore the distance shorts for two marathons, then moved to the Roga Toolbelt for my last marathon. Those were a size “small” — then they moved to number sizing and I didn’t realize until race day that the pair I ordered was too loose! I thought they were fine…until I tried to run with two packs of ShotBlocks in the back. They were way too heavy, so I ended up having to run with the second pack in my hand until I finished eating them at mile 12. Less than ideal. I hope more companies wake up to our need for pockets soon!

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    • Oh no! The switch in sizing was confusing. The distance shorts also changed; my old pair are a 6 and in the newer versions I’m a 4, even though the shorts fit the same. Oh, Oiselle! (No dig at Oiselle though because they understand our need for great fitting, well-pocketed shorts!)

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  5. I have to try these distance shorts! I enjoyed this post because I stopped running with my phone. I don’t want to carry it in my hands when I run. I also have the iPhone 6 and it’s wayyyy too big. There isn’t a reason for a phone to be so huge and pockets to be so tiny! In fact, after the marathon I didn’t have my phone and I wish I did so I could have called and found my husband immediately after finishing. I had to borrow someone’s phone while I shivered at the end of that mile long chute! I gotta try these shorts!

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    • I highly recommend them! The pockets are so roomy. Definitely need to put the phone in something waterproof bc the pockets aren’t but otherwise they’re A+! (The Toolbelt Rogas are great too, just not for me.) I hate running with my phone usually since they are so darn big, but it’s a must have for me at a marathon!

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  6. Girl, I have BEEN DOWN THIS ROAD. Almost the exact same road, actually. I love the Distance shorts SO much. I did find success with the Rogas too, but I do see how they would be a little too much if I were a couple inches taller (I’m 5’2″ and they actually hang pretty low on me for that reason).

    Anyway, glad to see I’m not the only person struggling with this!

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