Eric Wynn/XTERRA
Sally Meyerhoff is the women's course record holder at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.
Over recent months I have been surprised to find myself at the center of an issue that seems to have raised the ire of many runners. Sweet, unassuming me has sparked a flame that seems to be getting bigger for reasons I don't understand.

Believe it or not, the running world is fraught with controversy.

Do you wave to other runners while you run or focus on the road ahead? Do you join the barefoot running craze or run with the shoe with the most stability? Do you listen to music on the run or the sound of your own footfalls?

Yes, we runners like a good debate.

Over recent months, however, I have been surprised to find myself at the center of an issue that seems to have raised the ire of many runners. Sweet, unassuming me has sparked a flame that seems to be getting bigger for reasons I don’t understand.

I run in a skort.

No, that is not a misspelling. I said skort. Confused? It’s really not that complicated.

A skort is simply a marriage between a boy short and a skirt. It’s really not that different from your average running short. The boy short, or compression short as it is often called, acts as the inner lining while the skirt portion covers the bum and part of the leg.

Skorts made their first appearance in the 1960s, but their popularity amongst the running community has surged in recent years. In fact, Runner’s World Magazine devoted an entire section to women’s fashion in its August 2011 issue and much of that was dedicated to the skort.

So what’s the big deal? Good question.

I’ve been wearing a skort for the last three years and have thought nothing of it. I didn’t intend to make a fashion statement. Please, anyone who knows me would never associate the word “fashion” with me. Ninety percent of my summer wardrobe consists of free race shirts.

No, I like skorts because they are comfortable. I tend to wear the shorter versions because I am not so tall and the shorter the skirt, the longer my legs appear. Chaffing problems have disappeared since I made the switch from regular shorts and I get lots of compliments whether I’m teaching class or running a marathon.

I am fairly oblivious to what others around me do, wear or say, so imagine my surprise at the abundance of negativity my skorts have generated from both male and female naysayers. I’ve been told that serious runners don’t wear skorts. One woman on the Runner’s World forum said only sissies wear skorts. Another male critic said I belonged on a tennis court rather than a road race wearing a skort.

First, I’m not sure what the term “serious” is intended to mean. Does it mean fast? Does it mean focused? Does it mean elite?

I’ll be the first to admit that I never took up running with the intention of being good at it. I took it up for fun and, and along the way, found that I have a little natural ability lingering in my legs. I’m far from elite. Nike’s not calling me anytime soon with endorsement deals, not that I would object, but I have worked hard to sharpen what skills I do have, learning everything I can about the sport and putting it into play out on the race course. Nobody can claim that I don’t put my heart and soul into my training. Isn’t that serious?

I’ve been told that those who run with a skort don’t run anything faster than a 10-minute mile. Well, in my purple skort, I ran a 5 minute, 52 second-minute mile at my last half marathon. My 5K split was 18:45. My overall pace was a 6:45-minute mile. I won that race with a finish time of 1:29:14, and was told afterward that the course measured long at 13.3 miles.

I may not be elite, but I’m not running in the back of the pack.

Speed aside, I know plenty of back-of-the-pack runners who train with serious dedication. They are committed to their training and are making sacrifices to get in their speed work, hill training and long runs. Their speed doesn’t tell me they are serious. Their commitment does. In fact, many of these runners take their training more seriously than their speedier counterparts. Their long runs are longer. Their speed work is tougher. What they lack in natural ability they make up for with heart.

As far as focus goes, ask anyone who knows me and my focus during a race is laser sharp. I’m like a horse with blinders. A car full of clowns could be driving beside me at Mile 10 and I would run past them like they were nothing more than a rock on the side of the road.

I will admit that I have yet to see many elite marathoners wear skorts, but why do I have to wear boy shorts and a sports bra to be taken seriously? Grete Weitz wore pigtails when she won the NYC Marathon nine times. My favorite female marathoner, Shalane Flannagan, rocks the white knee highs on her races. I dare someone to tell me they aren’t serious.

While Kara Goucher isn’t sporting the skort yet, there are some seriously competitive women who are. Sally Meyerhoff, who died tragically in a cycling accident earlier this year, was always known for her stand-out style. She did don the skort when she won 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championships and she was one tough cookie. Her biggest win was at the 2010 P.F. Chang’s Rock N Roll Arizona Marathon. She was a top triathlete who had her sights on the 2012 Olympics. She would intimidate me, skort or no skort.

Washington, D.C.’s top public high school track team has traded in the bun-huggers for skorts. When the Dunbar female athletes tried the skorts on, they said they felt far less self-conscious and were able to focus more on their races than on their appearance. The girls won the girls team title at the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association Outdoor Championships by a whopping 133 points, all while wearing skorts.

Look, I’m not trying to fan the flames of a meaningless debate. I just think it’s ridiculous to criticize women for what they choose to wear on the race course. In a world where Hillary Clinton gets more attention for the lack of volume in her hairstyle than the work she does, I guess this whole conversation doesn’t surprise me, but it does disappoint me.

Skorts do not slow me down, but even if they did, why would someone criticize that? Wouldn’t they be happy that there’s one less runner to compete against?

I am young enough that I haven’t ever had to gear up for the battle of the sexes, but this feels close enough. I shouldn’t have to wear what amounts to underwear to be considered serious. I shouldn’t have to look like a boy to be noticed on the field. My outfit of choice doesn’t speak for me. My legs do.

I placed first in the 30-34 age group at the Top of Utah Marathon. I placed third the next year. I placed third in the 30-34 age group at the Nike Women’s Marathon. I placed second in the 35-39 age group at the Utah Valley Marathon. I placed second in the 35-39 age group at the Park City Marathon. I placed second in the 30-34 age group at the Ogden Half Marathon and the Park City Half Marathon. I won overall female at the Legacy Duathlon (long course) and overall female at the Freedom Half Marathon. I have run Boston twice and will run it again this spring. I am in the lead of the female division for the Utah Grand Slam.

And every one of those races I ran in a skort.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mom, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and marathoner who just bought a new pink skort and a Sweaty Bands headband with pink skulls and crossbones for her next race.