Should Modesty Go Out the Window at a Race?

I've seen runners stripping down, peeing in public, and more. The catch? They're mostly women.

runner without a shirtThis guy should put a shirt on it … or not. (Photo via iStockphoto)


Recently, I had a chance to talk to a cross-section of local athletes about issues they’re facing today. One patron observed that there just doesn’t seem to be any modesty when it comes to races. She recently had been to a triathlon where one young woman decided to strip out of her bathing suit before putting on her bike shorts.

I have to admit that through my decade-long running career, my own discomfort with immodesty has gone out the window. Whereas I used to wear spandex under my mid-thigh shorts in high school, I now don’t bat an eyelash to wear a sports bra and mini shorts, or to see others wearing skimpy racing outfits.

I’ve seen my fair share of immodest moments, and I’ve even created my own when the occasion arose. Notably, when race directors grossly underestimate Porta-Potty needs, I’ve seen hundreds of racers take to the woods in search of relief. At one urban race I ran, there were no woods in sight, so a lone bush had to make due. My friends and I formed a human curtain while the other took turns peeing.

I can’t say that my fellow runners and triathletes were complaining. Some had been shocked by what they had seen, but they seemed more impressed with these women’s bravado than disgusted at their libertine displays. I couldn’t help but note that they didn’t seem so keen on seeing men in the same position.

It seems that when it comes to our sport, there’s a gross double-standard about proper attire. Think about it: while women wear tight, unflattering “butt-huggers” where even the name suggests their revealing nature, men wear billowy shorts. While women get away with sports bras or, in international competition, half-shirts, men must wear tanks that cover their entire torsos.

Women can (apparently) get away with public displays of nudity in the name of comfort during a race, but men don’t even enter the conversation. I can imagine a young mother shielding her child’s eyes if a man were to strip down once he emerged from the swim in a triathlon and quickly change into bike shorts.

I say, if our sport is understanding enough to look the other way while women take care of nature’s moments, then we should at least provide an equal understanding for all.