Running 10k in a Sari at Pinkathon Pune 2018

I ran ten kilometres.
I ran ten kilometres in a Sari.
I ran ten kilometres in a Sari effortlessly.

Being a fitness fanatic and a Sari Researcher, I had to find a way to pair the two effortlessly. I would be running a 10K race for the first time in my life. As I started mentally and physically preparing for the 10K Pinkathon Pune 2018 run, questions regarding the Sari plagued me. Would the Sari hold up to the challenge? Can I make the Sari equally, if not more, comfortable to run in than a pair of tights?

I focussed on the technicalities of the drape, the material of the Sari, and general safety.

If you’re interested in knowing how I maximised for running efficiently, read on.

1. The drape

My mind ran through varieties of drapes suited for running. The drape needed to fit the bill on many fronts.

  • Allow big leg strides
  • Avoid loose unmanageable fabric
  • Avoid chaffing
  • Easy to go to the toilet in

With this functionality list jotted down, the pants drape seemed number 1. The question was which one? There are many variations of the pants drape after all. In the past year, I have draped 10-12 variations of pants. I shortlisted three and tried them all during my practice runs. Two of them were the Odisha pants drape and a variation of the Dhangad drape.

The Odisha pants drape worked well when worn short but did not turn out to be comfortable with a below the knee length. The second drape was essentially a pair of shorts inside and a tennis skirt outside. The tennis skirt drape increased my body temperature as it was very compact. It did not help much with chaffing either and I dropped it after a 3-kilometre trial run.

For the final drape, I decided to create a customized drape selecting the best parts of all the pants drapes I knew. I looked through my past photographs in pants and stopped swiping when I saw the pants drape I’d worn in San Francisco on the occasion of my partner’s birthday. I would need to change one step to pee faster. One thing I am aware of is that textures affect the outcome of the drape. Getting the cascade effect below was not my priority. Getting the sturdiness at my waist, was.

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Ready for a birthday party, San Francisco January 2018. Photo: Baishampayan Ghose

2. The material

Running, as any other sport, generates heat. Since the start time varies race to race, I needed to be prepared for running in full sun. Undoubtedly, it would be a handloom cotton Sari.

I made a list of the fabric features. It had to

  • Allow rapid heat dissipation
  • Be lightweight
  • Be soft and comfortable

I had worn the Sari in the picture above for a 3K run with Milind Soman just a week ago. I chose it for the brightness and festive look. But wearing it for the final race was not an option. The thick border coupled with sweat gave me rashes on my stomach. The rather dense body did not help with heat dissipation.

The right Sari would need to be lightweight and porous to allow effective air and heat exchange. I never wear tights under my pants and this time wasn’t an exception. In fact, this time around I also wanted to avoid wearing an underwear. I needed a fabric that would have the minimum opacity for covering the pelvic region.

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The missing weave Sari

After trying many fabrics, I finalized on my one and only missing weave Sari. A missing weave Sari is one where the Weft yarn is missing regularly or at intervals while weaving. This results in a gap in the weave and makes it permeable. As you can now imagine, this pervious fabric effectively regulated my body temperature and kept me from overheating.

A silk fabric would have the opposite effect. The thick silk fabric traps heat. In the absence of heat dissipation, the temperature of the body rises. This impedes the run and makes it uncomfortable and tiring. While working out, one needs clothes that allow quick and efficient heat dissipation.

3. General safety

I prioritize functionality over the aesthetic. I did not want a surprise on D-day and went to the toilet in each of the trials. If it added even a second extra to my regular peeing experience, I changed the drape.

I avoided loose fabric flapping such as the pallu to avoid distraction. I twisted the two ends of the Sari into ropes and finished the drape by tying my Sari at the back in a tight knot. I gave it the illusion of a bow 🙂 The ankle length drape prevented the Sari from getting stuck in my shoes.

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Front view of the pants Sari drape

Experience

On 28th October 2018, I completed the 10K Pinkathon Pune run in 78 minutes at a pace of 7.51 minutes per kilometre. The Sari seemed like second-skin to me and did not impede my running at all. I even tucked a 500ml water bottle in my rope belt for the first 5 kilometres. For most of the experience, I had forgotten that I am wearing a Sari. Running has never felt this liberating and simple before.

This 10K race has inspired me to be a long-distance runner. After a week of post-race cool-down, I will begin my preparation for a half-marathon. Among many things, running has taught me patience and commitment. Seven weeks prior, I couldn’t run more than two kilometres without losing my breath. I learnt the importance of taking it one day at a time. All I focussed on was improving my last timing. And here I am a finisher. It took me all of seven weeks to prepare for the 10K Pinkathon Pune 2018 race.

I sincerely urge you to try running a few kilometres. As Desiree Linden, Boston marathon 2018 winner says “No one’s ever finished that and said ‘Wow! I wish I hadn’t gone for a run today!'”.

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Rear view of the pants Sari drape

 

The Journey Begins

The first time I ever shared my draping skills was at Mrinalini Pandey Awasthi a.k.a. Nikki’s behest. Mrinalini is the local coordinator for a Saree group on Facebook, “The Saree Story”. The group boasts of 5000 members who regularly share details about their Sari of the day and what it means to them. The camaraderie within the group is impressive with members forming friendships and organising meetups regularly.

Last Sunday, the group organised an Online Global Sari meet where Sari enthusiasts from all over the world logged on to Google Hangouts dressed in their favourite Saris. The local members from Pune convened at my home. We logged in at the time decided and after a quick “Hello” waited for others to join in. The response was overwhelming. More than 30 women from 7 cities and 3 continents joined the event.   

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Online discussion. Google Hangouts
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Offline discussion. Pune Chapter, The Saree Story. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi

I felt included and at ease within the group. It was a good-natured bunch of young women with a common love for the Sari. We began with a round of introductions that included our names, our occupation, and details about the Sari we were wearing. Since I was the only one in a non-Nivi drape, my introduction included details about the drape I was wearing. The ladies’ interest was piqued.

Since time was short, we immediately moved to my session where I spoke about the history of the Sari drapes, the introduction of the humble petticoat to the Sari trousseau, and the role of colonisation on the Sari. The fluid unstitched Sari has seen and survived many cultures. For the past 2500 years, women and men draped the Sari according to their occupation and geography. Rulers changed and so did the Sari. The cultural exposure over the years added layers of techniques, motifs and draping styles to the Sari. The British rule defined the ‘modest’ period for the Sari. The Victorian rules required women to cover themselves up even if it meant losing freedom of movement and efficiency.

Most of the women at the online conference were shocked. They had never known, least imagined an alternate reality where the Sari was truly fluid. The women shared their tirade of petticoats and rashes, being chided for imperfect pleats, and body-shaming. It disappoints me that a once freedom enhancing garment is now a freedom restricting garment to some. It seems like a reflection of the times we live in I guess.

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[L-R] Nishigandha in Venuka Gundaram, Nikaytaa in Santhal drape, Radhika in Boggilli Posi Kattukodam. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi

I had decided to demonstrate drapes that are simple and functional, yet aesthetic. I began with a favourite, the Boggilli Post Kattukodam from Andhra Pradesh. We then moved north to the Santhal drape worn by the women living in Jharkhand. We concluded the draping session with the Mekhla Chador, a two-piece drape from Assam. Nishigandha, Radhika and Mrinalini who were the models for the demonstration were visibly excited. Their smiles say it all! The enthusiastic trio didn’t cease to mention how comfortable they felt in the drapes sans the petticoat.

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Mrinalini in the Mekhla Chador.

The session came to a close with a photo session. My friends left soon after and I found myself happily drop on the sofa feeling a sense of happiness and achievement. “Some impact was achieved today” I remember saying to myself. 30+ women enlightened on the history and versatility of the Sari. Three members learnt and experienced the freedom of the drapes while I gained experience talking about and teaching the drapes. The journey has begun. I can feel it.

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The Santhal drape. Notice the translucence around the legs which would have been a blasphemy in the Victorian rules of dressing etiquette. Photo: Mrinalini Awasthi