The Race T-Shirt: Our favorite Swag (Usually)

Before we ever run a race, we decide to take up running. Sometimes we take up running BECAUSE we want to run a particular race. Others simply want to get in some kind of shape.  Whatever the reasons, we make the courageous decision to take the first step.

John “The Penquin” Bingham says it best:

The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.

When it does come to our first race though, we learn quickly about one of the perks: The Race T-Shirt!  It is an exciting piece of runner’s swag in our Goodie Bags. It can be short sleeved or long sleeved. It can have a “mock” turtle neck like the Marine Corps Marathon shirt. It can even be a vest, which is what they gave out one year at the St Luke’s Half Marathon.

In the past, the shirts were cotton, but now most are “technical shirts.” Sometimes I miss the cotton because I cannot wear technical shirts when I am not running (my “Runner’s Odor” sticks to them no matter how much I wash them).  However, technical shirts are great to use for future runs or races.

When I first raced again as an adult, I wore my race t-shirts with pride (still do I guess). Of course, I wore them AFTER I completed the race. I have always felt that I do not deserve to wear the shirt until I have officially earned it. Some newbies get so excited that they like to wear the race t-shirt IN the actual race in which they are competing. This is not the best thing to do if the shirt is cotton!  Plus, there is an unwritten rule that this is a no-no. My wife would say it could jinx you if you wear the race shirt of the race in the race.

Over the years, we can accumulate a ton of race day t-shirts. Running veterans have drawers full of them.  We give our spouses strange looks when they deem it’s “time”  for us to purge some to make room for new ones. We agonize over which ones to keep or not. I save some to “throw away” near the starting line of colder weather races.

Sometimes, we get disappointed if we look into our race bags and see a shirt we don’t like.  Some are a color we aren’t into. Others have so many sponsors, it’s hard to figure out which race it even is.  We eventually get over it because we will get another shirt at the next race.

These shirts become symbols of our effort and accomplishments. They can even intimidate. We have all seen the guy at the local race wearing his Boston Marathon t-shirt with pride. For the other runners, it is a signal that “Oh crap, that guy is fast.” The “psych-out” has begun!  It’s true: the Boston shirt gets longer stares.

However, they are also a way to temporarily bond with someone we do not know.  We’ve all seen strangers with an old shirt from the same race we have done too.  The shirts are a badge of honor that connect us: “Hey, nice shirt. That was a great race, wasn’t it?”

Race t-shirts become sentimental.  Just the other day, I had on my “fraying” yellow Philadelphia Marathon shirt (from 2001). I will wear this one until it disintegrates because it was the shirt for my first marathon.

Even though it’s nearly impossible to keep EVERY race t-shirt, they really are a great way to keep track of the history of our races.  Sure, the medals are nice, but we can’t wear them years later. I would get some pretty strange looks if I still wore my medal from the 2006 NYC Marathon, wouldn’t I?


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