Jodi T. Peikes, mother of Katie 11, Samantha 8, Jonathan 5 and Claire 3, wakes up at 4:50 a.m. six days a week to run. In race season, she averages 40 miles a week with a long run on Saturdays of 11 to 13 miles. As soon as she drops off her youngest at nursery school, she hits the pool or goes for a bike ride.
Peikes swims 3 to 4 miles a week and cycles between 60 to 150 miles a week, depending on the season. To date, Peikes has completed 8 triathlons, 5 marathons and about a dozen duathlons.
“My kids have been watching me do this for years,” says Peikes, a West Hartford, Conn. resident and former nurse practitioner. Two summers ago after a 50-mile bike ride on an “incredibly hot day,” she remembers taking a short snooze. “I was a tad dehydrated,” says Peikes. “As I came in to the house, I had to lie down. One of my daughters asked me if I was going to go for a run. I thought nah, I'll just lay here for a bit.” says Peikes.
Gear for peak performance
When Peikes competes, she doesn’t just throw on an old T-shirt and shorts or a bathing suit off the rack. “I love CoolMax shirts,” she says. “The material keeps you cool by wicking away perspiration,” she explains. For triathlons, she wears a TYR tri-suit, a one-piece suit designed for triathlons.
Peikes routine may be unusual but she is just one of many women who seek out performance gear when they hit the track, take a hike or head off to a yoga class. As a matter of fact, sales of women’s performance gear increased about 10 percent from $15.7 billion in 2003 to $17.3 billion in 2004, compared to a 1.7 percent increase in sales of men’s active wear in the same time frame, according to NPD, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based sales and marketing research company.
Obviously, the right gear is important to both men and women athletes. But “women customers place fashion, style and comfort on a par with performance and quality,” says Debra Christle, brand manager at Activa, a San Diego-based company that carries women’s active wear from brand-name manufacturers, such as Nike, Adidas, Asics, Champion, Merrell, New Balance and Patagonia. Other companies that cater to women or stock a large selection of women’s active wear include Petaluma, Calif.-based Athleta and Baltimore, Md.-based Under Armour.
“Of course, the support, style and size are geared to a women’s body and needs,” says Christle. But “women also want larger selections with brighter colors that they can mix and match for different activities and their lifestyle.”
Bicycles built for womenBright colors and lively prints dominate the selection at Macedon, N.Y.-based Terry Precision Bicycles, best known for its bicycles built specifically for women. Female consumers will find all sorts of snappy outfits, from colorful CoolMax cycling tops to skorts — mini-cycling skirts or bike shorts with a wrap-around skirt attached. CoolMax tank tops cost $45 and sleeveless tops, with front zippers, sell for $50. Pro-racer skorts retail for $80 and padded commuter skorts cost $90.
As for an endorsement of the equipment, Peikes says, “the most comfortable bike seat I have found is the Terry split saddle for women.”
The least expensive bicycle at Terry is the Susan B., $450, designed for moderate rides of 10-25 miles, says Paula Dyba, Terry’s vice president of marketing. Racing bikes with a Reynolds 631 steel frame start at $900 bicycle and top off at $2,900 for a bicycle made of extremely lightweight steel.
Flattering active wear
Spandex/cotton blend is a popular fabric at women’s sportswear company Title Nine. It’s “a combination that offers a flattering, feminine fit,” says Missy Park, the company’s founder. The 5 percent spandex/95 percent cotton mobility dress, priced at $59, is described as the “little black dress of choice at T9” in the catalog. Made of the same blend is the tight-fitting “bra-burning tank” for $34.
Title Nine also stocks close to 40 styles of bras, says Park who founded the company because she was “tired of talking to 15-year-old boys in sporting good stores” about what she wanted in a sports bra. “Women consider their bras to be right up there with their shoes as a most essential piece of sports equipment,” she adds.
Title Nine, which has retail stores in California, Washington and Colorado, is named after Title IX of the Education Amendments, which mandates schools that receive federal funds provide female students with an equal opportunity to compete in sports.
Flattering styles are par for the course at Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based Smart Wool. The science and technology of the fabric is beyond the scope of this article but somehow the folks at Smart Wool figured out a way to modify fine Merino wool from New Zealand and transform it into comfortable performance apparel. The result is a product that keeps one warm in the winter and cool in the summer as well as doesn’t itch and is relatively odor-free. Did I mention its machine washable and guaranteed not to shrink? Women's apparel ranges from $34.95 for a Boy Brief to $84.95 for a Zip T. The flash-based Web site is far from user-friendly but there’s a retail locator online.
Personally, I’ve never run a marathon — nor do I intend to — but for several years now, I’ve stationed myself in various places along the route of the New York City marathon to cheer on my good friend Vinnie, now a grandmother, who has completed 14 marathons. It’s an exhausting day. I start out early in the morning in Brooklyn, hop over to the boro of Queens mid-day and then head into Manhattan for the final stretch.
As a spectator, figuring out what to wear on marathon day is always a challenge. The day starts out chilly in Brooklyn, warms up in Queens and the temperature drops again as Vinnie enters Central Park. A few years back, I discovered how smart Smart Wool is. Wearing a Smart Wool tank top and shorts as a base layer, I was comfortable all day. It was my best race ever.