Looking good and wearing well for my date with destiny

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 January, 2009, 12:00am

For eight weeks, Anneliese O'Young has been torturing her 'non-runner body' for the Standard Chartered Half Marathon on February 8. She is raising funds for the Cancer Fund in memory of her mentor, veteran reporter Kevin Sinclair, who died of cancer a year ago.

We have cracked the two-month barrier of training - yehaw! But I'm always being given a hard time about my running gear. This is nothing new. I wear the same cheap running shorts as an ex-copper, my shirts are freebies from volunteering and colour co-ordination is beyond me.

Yes, I may be runway gorgeous at dinner parties in my designer dresses and sky-high shoes, but like the many 'crazies' who sport some questionable running gear, it is function over form for me.

Is it really so bad - black fleece jacket, red scarf to keep the neck warm and black leggings to keep my legs pedalling? Clearly so, because when I went for a quick 12km sunset run through the Sai Kung Country Park, a mini-van driver hung his head out of his window wildly honking his horn and shouting out some reference about me moving my bottom.

Maybe he was speaking to the herd of cows up the road, but I did the only thing any sensible Hongkonger would do. I went home, showered and headed into the dungeons of Wan Chai where my cleavage and I got into a conversation about sports fashion.

'You look cute in your black outfit,' a mate laughed, imitating my running plod.

'I'm sure you look very cute but what about chafing?' a male friend asks, wiggling his eyebrows and launching into a disturbing story about his mate's family jewels that suffered during Trailwalker.

Who would have thought, but this is a common issue for those who don't take precautions.

Gloria Yao Lei, project manager for high performance sportswear at the Polytechnic University, says chafing results from a combination of sweat and friction.

'In the humid climate in Hong Kong, this is common,' says Gloria. 'When you are running, the whole body sweats, and this becomes running liquid on your skin. There is swelling and a loss of mechanical properties. Then comes friction.'

It may sound like a horrible affliction but the solution is quite simple.

'We say it is best to keep the skin dry and wear specific high-performance sportswear with the aim to reduce thermal strain,' says Gloria.

The Polytechnic University's Institute of Textiles & Clothing has three laboratories that design and test fabric and high-performance gear. Durability, tactile feel, water repellence and heat are a few of the tests conducted. They even have a life-size sweating mannequin named 'Walter'.

Hong Kong triathletes work in tandem with the Polytechnic technicians to trial and evaluate the performance of the clothing. These laboratories are also responsible for developing the hi-tech uniforms for the Olympic team.

In order to create high-performance sportswear, there needs to be a thorough knowledge of sports psychology, computer simulation and product design and innovation. The aim is to integrate all disciplines to produce a fabric that will enhance athletic performance.

'Running is a high-intensity sport and the core temperature of an athlete can get very high,' says Gloria, who gives the sports fabric a bit of a tug. 'Controlling the temperature will enhance the performance of an athlete. We do this with different panels of fabric around different parts of the body. With a long-sleeved top, the various panels help reduce heat in the chest, under the arms, along the forearms and around the back.

'We also use seamless technology which helps reduce the friction of the cloth next to the skin. There is also no cutting or sewing because we can put parameters straight into the computer and they will knit the different panels to measure.'

This all sounds very hi-tech and I confess to Gloria that when I head out for a run, I am only concerned about 'wardrobe malfunctions'.

'A good sports bra is important for a lady athlete,' agrees Gloria.

I may be born in Canada, but I am Chinese and have a mane of thick midnight hair. My brown eyes are almond shaped while my legs are shapely, but also very Asian. The only part of me that is non-Asian is my chest.

Before a run, I channel Barbara Streisand's melodic voice and wrap myself up like Yentl, the young Jewish girl who was forced to impersonate a man for religious education.

'There are some so-called sports bras that are just a strip of fabric,' says Gloria. 'To get real support for high intensity activities, you want the movement of your chest to go from 'down to up' and 'surrounding to central'.'

Watching the motions of her hand, I gather she means the bra should mash my breasts together to rest near my collarbone. The solution to keeping the breasts 'up' and 'central': two sports bras.

While the high-performance one-piece Star Trek-like suits may not be in my future, the innovations are quite remarkable. Every day, I see the techniques such as seamless garments, employed in everyday clothing.

The other day, I was volunteering for the King of the Hills where I was greeted by a sea of lovely legs. Shorts seemed to be the preferred running uniform, while seamless dry-fit T-shirts dotted the landscape.

Before taking on this training endeavour, I would on the rare occasion observe people in strange athletic apparel - but brushed those 'crazies' off without a second thought. Thinking back, fellow journalist Mark Graham used to waltz into our local in his bizarre and often brief running gear while the icon of fashion in Sai Kung, Kevin Sinclair, was renowned for his ratty singlet and shorts for his weekly hikes.

When you compare yourself to such style-stars, it's pretty hard to live up to expectations.

This week, I have reached 40km and will celebrate with a nice glass of Margaret River Shiraz. Who would have thought my spandex-clad legs could take me so far?

I think Kevin would have approved.

Red is my colour

Anneliese treats herself to an Australian Shiraz to celebrate a successful week's training of: 40km

Age: 29 Height: 173cm Weight: 67kg BMI: 22.4 Fat 28.5% (-0.3%)