Menswear | August 18, 2020 10:06 am

The Case for Really Short Running Shorts

The time has come to liberate thine thighs

short running shorts tracksmith
tracksmith

During this, the summer of our great pandemic, you may have noticed two seemingly unrelated coverage trends emerge from your pals here at InsideHook. The first: running. As the open roads and trails have emerged as the workout of choice for many a gym-starved American, we’ve schooled you on how to sprint hills, stretch effectively, and compete against your friends via social media. The other trend: short shorts. The ladies of InsideHook HQ have spoken, decreeing that we fellas should be heeding the TikTok dictum of decreased inseams and shaving inches off the hems of our swimsuits.

The time has come, friends, to combine these two trends. The time has come for us, collectively, to embrace super short running shorts.

Running shorts began as a relatively long and blousey affair in the late 19th and early 20th century, and largely stayed that way right up until the 1936 Olympics, when Jesse Owens famously wore a diminutive pair to win four gold medals and give Hitler what one would wager must have been the quietest car ride home of all time.

Jesse Owens races at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The trend continued into the 1950s, when British runner Roger Bannister breezed his thighs into the first-ever sub-four-minute mile, and then on into the ‘60s and ‘70s, accompanied by the freewheelin’ long hair and formidable moustaches of stars like Steve Prefontaine and New Zealand’s Rod Dixon. Looking at photos of those guys, it’s hard to deny that there is a certain insouciant badassery to their kits, one that is, in your correspondent’s humble opinion, ripe for revival.

At left: Steve Prefontaine in action at the University of Oregon, 1973. (Rich Clarkson / Getty Images) At right: Rod Dixon in 1976, short shorts not pictured but very much in effect. (Wikimedia Commons)

For my experiment in said revival, I recently broke out five different pairs of shorts of varying inseam lengths, gave them a spin, and took notes on how I felt, not only from an athletic standpoint, but also from an aesthetic standpoint — not just how the shorts felt, but how I felt in them.

I elected to conduct this undertaking with our friends at Tracksmith, for three reasons:

  1. They are a running-specific company. Anyone who cares this much about the esoterica of the sport seems most deserving of supplying the gear for such an endeavor.
  2. They make shorts in many different lengths. I figured multiple inseams from the same brand would allow for a more apples to apples comparison.
  3. They make shorts that get … real short. Like, “I hope the liner on these things is on-point, lest we have some sort of wardrobe malfunction” short.

Below, my findings: 

claire coppins for insidehook

Session Shorts 7 Inch — 7” Inseam 

While the slimmer cut and supreme elasticity of the fabric make these nothing but a pleasure to run in, I couldn’t help but feel downright demure with 7 full inches of coverage below the crotch. I didn’t feel restricted in any way, but that’s just because Tracksmith is really good at making running shorts — they were comfortable, functional, but dare I say slightly prudish. These are shorts I would feel comfortable running in front of my grandmother in, if for some reason she were ever required to put her afternoon Manhattan in a to-go cup and come cheer me on.

claire coppins for insidehook

Session Shorts — 5” Inseam

At the risk of provoking a thorough roasting by my colleagues on Slack, I really gotta say: what a difference two inches makes! In my opinion, this should be the running short baseline from here on out. I understand that not everyone is going to be comfortable jumping right into the short shorts pool with both legs, but I feel confident in saying that even the most skittish amongst us could use the Sessions as a jumping off point. I stand by the assertion that 5 inches is still merely a waystation on the road to Nirvana, but just getting into this ballpark in terms of length feels really freeing. Moving on…

claire coppins for insidehook

Van Cortlandt Grand Shorts — 4” Inseam

Now we’re getting somewhere. The journey to thigh freedom is, much like Al Pacino’s version of football, a game of inches, and I’ll say with confidence that the move from 5” to 4” is one of those inches worth fighting and dying for. Furthermore, the Grands are made from Tracksmith’s 2:09 mesh (so named for “Boston Billy” Rodgers’ American Record time of 2:09:55 at the 1975 Boston Marathon, run in a mesh tank he found in the trash), which is not only retro-looking but also crazy lightweight/breathable/flowy and thus contributes a great deal to the overall short short vibe. Got some glances on the streets of Nashville as well as a couple approving nods from fellow runners that I can’t be entirely sure were shorts-related but sure felt like they were.

claire coppins for insidehook

Van Cortlandt Shorts — 4” Inseam

This right here, this is the sweet spot. I know these are listed at the same inseam as the Van Cortlandt Grand, but a glance at the above photo should tell you that they play shorter in practice, and in the best possible way. When I took to the streets in these puppies, the difference was immediately noticeable. Unencumbered by fabric, my knees seemed to rise and fall with astonishing ease. Wind resistance? Try wind assistance. My stride felt longer. Hell, my legs felt longer. I felt faster, gazelle-like. I felt like a real runner, and, strangely, more confident despite showing more skin. And it must have showed, because the Van Cortlandts were the first pair to elicit a compliment from a total stranger when an Uber Eats courier pulled down her mask long enough to shout from across the street, “Hey! I really like your shorts!” Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

claire coppins for insidehook

Split Shorts — 2.5” Inseam

Confidence bolstered, I donned Tracksmith’s shortest shorts and, if I’m being entirely forthcoming, finally flew too close to the sun on wings of polyester. I overshot the mark. Allow me to state for the record, however, that it wasn’t that the Split Shorts felt too short, per se, it was more that they felt slightly too competitive. On my previous outing, I had felt like I was projecting the air of a guy running recreationally, but one who’s not fucking around and not afraid to show it. This is, more or less (definitely less, but not a ton less) what I am. In the Split Shorts, I felt as though I had graduated to the level of “guy actually training for something serious” without, you know, doing the actual road work to be that guy. I felt like a bit of an impostor, and thus have reverted back to the Van Cortlandts on all subsequent outings. 

That being said, I do think I (and anyone else out there reading this article) could get there. There may come a time when I decide that a half marathon or something similar is in the cards, and when that time comes and I feel like my training is going well enough to warrant it, I will proudly break out my Split Shorts and give the world that little extra sliver of upper leg, secure in the knowledge that I’ve earned it.

Hell, I might even pair ’em with a crop top.

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