If I Were Cold, I’d Be Wearing Pants

“It’s not summer time you know — its winter!”

“Don’t you know its COLD outside?”

“Did you see that crazy guy?  He’s running in SHORTS!”

I’m used to leaving the occasional comment or shocked utterance in my wake almost any day during my commute — after all, I am the only person I’ve ever seen running in East Flatbush, and the sight of of a white guy running with a neon-orange backpack and safety-yellow vest and shorts really is note-worthy.  I don’t begrudge anyone their surprised reactions.

During these crisp winter days, however, I get a lot more comments, since as soon as the temperatures start rising into the mid 30’s I switch from tights to shorts.  The other day I also wore a pair of UnShoes hauraches rather than closed-toe shoes.  But these comments — the one’s that all boil down to “It’s cold, you should be wearing more clothes!” — do bother me, because they often have a slightly different tone.  Its more judgmental, almost angry, as if the person I’m running past things I’m breaking a legal or ethical rule; that’s it just wrong to be outside in the cold in shorts.  True, I’m the only one on the sidewalk in shorts and sandals, but then I’m also the only person on the sidewalk running.  And sweating, despite the near freezing temperatures.

***

This phenomenon overlaps with the Judgmental Old Ladies that any parent will be familiar with, the one’s who see you with your kid in public and feel it is there God Given Right, perhaps even their their Divine Responsibility, to point out what your kid is doing wrong: running too fast, picking up rocks, being to loud, and most egregious of all, not wearing a hat or gloves even though its cold out.  “Put a hat on that kid, he’s going to get sick!” “You should have her head covered!” “Why isn’t your son wearing a jacket?”

My immediate response wants to be “YOU try getting him to keep his hat on, lady!” but I usually just hold my tongue and ignore them.  What confuses me is that I get this response, both to my kids and myself, not just in the dead of winter, but on brisk spring days — days when I think going bareheaded and jacket-less is not just acceptable but invigorating and refreshing.

What gets me angry, however, is that people who make these comments seem to have no understanding that we might be having different experiences — that one person’s “cold” is another person’s “pleasant.”  When I’m running, I’m NOT cold; in fact, the other day I left my school in hat, gloves, socks, and arm warmers, and I stopped three blocks from my school to strip all of them off because I was too HOT.  And then people I ran past shouted at me because I had to be cold.  As if they knew what I was feeling.  As if I hadn’t chosen to go outside in shorts.  As if my son wasn’t perfectly happy running around the playground without a jacket on.  As if there were rules that simply need to be followed, without question, no matter what, regardless of how you are feeling.

***

“It’s not summer, you know!  You should be wearing pants!”  This was from teenage girl the other day.  I normally give teenagers more lee-way in terms of stupid, obnoxious comments: after all, it is the role of the teenager to be stupid and obnoxious.  That is their God Given Right.  I remember when I was in high school thinking it was hilarious to pretend to have a French or Brittish accent and do “funny” things while at a mall, or to try bowling with frozen chickens at the grocery store, but looking back on it I realize that we must have just come across as simply stupid and obnoxious.  I’ve had plenty of teenagers shout stupid things at me, and I usually just smile; sometimes I wave, or invite them to run with me, which they find hilarious.  

This girl, however, wasn’t being stupid or obnoxious — she was horrified that I was breaking the rules, that I didn’t know the right way to behave.  She wasn’t shouting at me to be witty or impress her friends, but because I was doing something wrong.  And that depressed me.  That she would spend the rest of her life choosing what to wear based not on the weather or how she felt, but by what was right, what was proper.  That she’d teach her kids the same thing, and in 60 years she’d be at the playground, scolding young parents for letting their kids run around with hats and gloves.  And that she was already going it at 15.  It depressed the hell out of me, it really did.

There’s always a dumb horse race, and some dame breaking a bottle over a ship, and some chimpanzee riding a goddam bicycle with pants on.  It wolndn’t be the same at all.  You don’t see what I mean at all.

I mean, its depressing enough with its from an adult, from from a teenager?  From a kid? Not “Mister, you’re crazy!” which I understand and even embrace, but the distain of not following rules.

Follow the rules that matter, that mean something.  By all means, wear pants if you’re cold, jog in sweats or gloves in May if you need them.  But there are no rules here, only what works for you, what feels right, what feels good.  So often in life doing what feel good isn’t the right thing, so shouldn’t we make sure to follow our feelings when it is right?

Run in shorts, pants, shoes, socks, barefoot, in the snow, in the sun, on trails, the sidewalk, a treadmill.  In a tutu.  But enjoy it.  That’s the only rule.

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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4 Responses to If I Were Cold, I’d Be Wearing Pants

  1. awesome.

    of course, I am a cold blooded woman married to a guy who cannot stand long pants. over the years, I have become accustomed to this. now the only time I impose pants related rules is when in a place that would treat him significantly differently based on visible calves. like france. they are so french there.

    more power to you for wearing what you wish.

    • Chris Van Dyke says:

      my partner is always cold, i’m always warm. people seem to get that one person will want covers on and someone else won’t, but for some reason when we’re outside there’s an objectively “right” temperature. i do push shorts as late into winter as I can get away with, but I haven’t tried it in france. seems like france and east flatbush have more in common than i thought.

  2. This is all very much an outrage and all…but what I don’t understand is why people think it’s appropriate to shout at you at all. If I saw a person walking down the sidewalk in gloves, hat and skis in June – I wouldn’t say anything. Just like I don’t yell out at people who are running in coffin shoes “hey – what’s wrong with your feet?!” I just don’t get where people are coming from when they decide to yell out stuff at strangers.

  3. Leah says:

    Meh to them. Maybe I haven’t found the right tights, but even in the 10’s and 20’s I prefer to run in shorts. Yes, it sucks for the first five minutes or so, and maybe my thighs are pink from cold when I get home, but it’s better than having wet tights in sub-freezing temperatures because it’s too damn cold for my sweat to evaporate. I have some fairly serious Raynaud’s (which makes hiking in the cold suck pretty hard), and even that doesn’t flare up when I run because I’M MOVING and my core temperature is rising.

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