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?


Less of a Runner?

This question comes up once in a while on Facebook or Twitter:

What is on your running playlist?

People join in with their choices, from Hip Hop to Heavy Metal, Electronica to Alternative, and yes, the Rocky theme. In addition, someone inevitably chimes in with:

DONT RUN WITH MUSIC!!!!!! You miss too much around you” or

You’re less of a runner if you listen to music while running.”

I laugh at the prospect that listening to music during runs makes someone less of a runner. If I wear Under Armour or gloves in the winter, am I less of a runner? Heck, if I wear running sneakers, am I relying on the cushioning too much? If I take “Gu” during a race, am I cheating?  Does a Garmin give someone an unfair advantage?

I respect those who don’t use music while running, but to insinuate that one is not a true runner if they use music is silly.  I understand that on social media platforms, this will usually be mentioned (just like “running is bad for your knees” usually gets mentioned. This was recently discussed in a Runner’s World piece).

Personally, I only run once per week to music.  Yes, sometimes the quiet is better. Sometimes the sounds of nature are a good soundtrack to our runs; however, if the mood is right, the combination of running with music can be very rewarding.

Some say there is the possibility of becoming “over-reliant” on using MP3 players, iPods, etc. Use of such devices is even banned from some races, despite the fact that many of these events boast of the number of live acts or bands along the race course. These same races have “pump up” music at the start and finish areas. Isn’t the most popular ‘brand’ of race “Rock n Roll?”

Others worry about safety (not hearing traffic, other runners or potential predators).  These are legitimate concerns, but, no, listening to music while running does not make us less pure as runners. 

At the end of the day, it’s about the run.  So, let’s lighten up and enjoy it (and enjoy the music if you choose to use it!)

Road Test: “Run Run Run” by The Explorers Club…

Run run run, do what I have to do…”

Runner’s World posed another question whether the following song could be a new tune to run to: “Run Run Run” by The Explorers Club.  After my “Road Test” this weekend, the answer is NO. To be fair, I’ll briefly describe the song, which is a perfectly nice, simple number.

If Tom Jones and The Beach Boys mated, “Run Run Run” would be the offspring. It is the perfect tune for a game show or a lounge act in Vegas, but it’s not perfect for a run.

The theme itself is inspiring: A person’s determination to get back together with a loved one. It’s about someone willing to travel far for another in an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” kind of way.

I’ll get across the distance somehowAnd I’ll run run run ‘til I get back to you.

Inspiring theme for the romantic, no?  However, its delivery projects an image of Wayne Newton singing, not of Cam Newton running. During my weekend long run, the song was playing as I was passing in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it didn’t inspire me to run up the “Rocky” steps.

“Run Run Run” made me want to crank “Run Right Back” by The Black Keys, a song with a related theme (sort of), but one that will get you running faster.

Now, if you want a good chuckle while running (to test your breathing), then this is the tune for you!

GRADE: .5 WINGS (out of 5)

DISCLAIMER: I am only reviewing this song as a “Running Song,” not as a “good song.” I’ll leave the “good” part up to you.

Running With My Ears…

If I don’t shake your hand, it’s not because I’m rude, it’s because I probably can’t see your hand as you’re extending it.  If you try to hand me something, and I don’t take it, it’s not because I’m ignoring you, it’s because I can’t see that you are handing me something.

When I was younger, I was a klutz (still am), and, until a few years ago, I didn’t know why. At first, I thought it was because I’m left-handed. Lefties are notorious klutzes. However, here’s the real reason why: I have what is known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which is a degeneration of the retina.

Symptoms of RP include tunnel vision, bad night vision and in some cases, poor “central” vision.   Long story short: My field of vision stinks.  I trip over EVERYTHING, especially small children in crowded places. I apologize to your kids ahead of time.

Being a runner (heck, even a walker), RP has posed some challenges. My shins are usually bruised or scabbed.  The most painful object I have run into so far has been a fire hydrant.  I did this during my first group run with a local running club (slightly embarrassing, but more painful than anything…OK, very embarrassing).

Many of you might have had someone accidentally bump into you during a race. Some do it because they are jockeying for position, being aggressive, impatient, etc.  I do it because I can’t always see that you are there (OK, sometimes I’m jockeying for position too).

Despite the added challenges, I have made it my mission not to let this “annoying” condition affect me, or any aspect of my running.  Well, it affects my running a little bit, but not enough to stop me.  I will say that I am most anxious about RP when a race is about to start (as if I’m not nervous enough for the race itself).  I worry about tripping and falling, but more so, I worry about tripping someone else.  Therefore, if it is crowded at the start, I will go out slightly slower than I used to, especially in longer races.

I have learned to live with RP. One of the techniques I have come to rely on is “scanning” which involves not only moving my eyes to see things, but moving my entire head with my eyes.  It’s often difficult to remember this trick, especially when running, so I utilize some of my other senses to assist me, especially my keen sense of hearing.

My ears help me when my eyes cannot.  For example,  I listen for the sound of another runner’s stride or their breathing to judge how far away they might be.  If I’m training on the road, I’ll listen for cars in addition to “scanning” for them.  It’s common sense, survival-type of stuff.

Thank goodness for my ears. This could explain my love for music; however, at the same time, I have had to limit the use of running with music, partially because of RP. As much as I love running to music, I need to concentrate on what’s around me.  This is ironic, given the name of my blog.

I have been fortunate that RP has not significantly affected my functioning or my racing yet.  The only time I noticed my limitations while racing has been during the Disney Marathon, in which a portion of the race is carried out in the dark.  Darkness is not kind to me.  For that race, my wife was my eyes (although darkness is darkness…and she struggled with that at Disney too!).

I’m fine with all of the above.  Thankfully, RP doesn’t affect my ability to do my job.  I count my blessings, and I understand many others have it MUCH worse than me.

I’ll keep running, but, as I mentioned, I am conservative at the start of a race.  Don’t feel sorry for me because I’ll eventually pass you (and I’ll try not to bump into you while doing so).

Top 10 Reasons I Love Running…

Here it goes…

I love running…

10. …because I’d rather spend $150 on race fees than for an hour with a therapist.

9.  …because nobody can get to me during a run.

8.  …so I can indulge on Philly pretzels once in a while.

7.  …because the “run” itself is so pure and fun.

6.  …to be around other runners, one of the friendliest collection of people in the world.

5.  …because it helps me with my confidence level, and carries over to the other things that I do.

4.  …because it helps me come out of my shell.

3.  …because I can.

2.  …because it brings me closer to my wife.

1.  …because I don’t need a reason to run.

I probably have 100 more reasons, but I will spare you.


(Normally, I’d reserve the term rUnconscious as the feeling of being “in the zone” during a run. The following could be an alternative situational definition):

I open Facebook.

I see a motivational running post from [Insert page of your choice here] – From one of the many motivational pages we all “Like” on Facebook/ or Follow on Twitter.

It says:

The feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running.”

I think Good one.

I add to myself: A bad run is better wishing you were running too.

Then I think, Why the heck am I on Facebook?

I could be running right now.

(and the stream of consciousness goes on)…

Hmm, I guess talking about running is better than nothing?

Good Run>Bad run>Talking about running>Facebook/Twitter motivation>No Run

Then I think of the last part of the quote: “…wishing you were running.”

Hmm, what if you are injured or if it is rest day?  You might wish you were running then?

Good Run>Bad run>Talking about running>Rest Day>Facebook/Twitter motivation>Wishing-you-were-running>Injured Runner>Non-Runner

Injured runner?  What is good about that? Not much, but at least you’re a runner (just unable right now). You can do lots of things even if you’re injured.

Cross train? Not ideal, but it’s something.

What else?

Volunteer at a race?  Oh, I like doing that.

Good Run>Bad run>Cross Train>Race Volunteer>Talking about running>Rest Day>Facebook/Twitter motivation>Wishing-you-were-running>Injured Runner>Non-Runner

Then, I’m reminded that I’m sitting on my butt: writing, not running.

Hmm, Writing about thinking about talking about wishing I was running.

That is kind of confusing, and I’m not even drinking.  I could use a glass of wine.  I really need to run though.

Hmm…. Wine=Running?

8+ MPH

Sometimes a workout defies logic. Before a recent run, I didn’t eat well or prep well. It was slushy. It was rainy. My left foot had been bothering me. Yet, it felt effortless. It was one of those “Breakthrough Runs” I’ve written about in the past (see post from 11/1/11: The Breakthrough Run). I didn’t question it…I just decided to enjoy the moment.

I am starting to think I have turned a corner in the 14-month runner’s rut I’ve also posted about. The motivation is back.  The form is back. The desire to race (at my pace) is back.

Speaking of racing, last week I did the Icicle 10 Miler in Delaware. It was my first non-rabbiting race at that distance in over a year. I was not satisfied with my pace, but it was a decent pace for me in January.  However, I was not satisfied.  This is a key sign for me.

Those of you who know me know how I feel about contentment with running performance.  I’m rarely content with my own performance.  At times, I have not signed up for races because of this attitude.  However, after last week’s race, despite feeling a bit humbled, I’m ready for another one.  I am ready to push it again.  This is a good feeling.  This feeling has not surfaced in a while.

Look, I’m not an elite runner (few are).  Second, I’m not a “Back” or a “Middle” of the pack person either.  I am a “Closer-to-the-front” runner. This can be a wonderful but weird place to be: You don’t usually place or get medals (actually, when you turn 40, sometimes you place in your age group), yet you’re not there “just for the experience or the fun of it” either. You can usually detect such a runner because he or she has a certain intense look to them.

I’m one of those people. I generally run over 8 MPH during a typical training run.  In races, I’m usually in the top 5%. Good but not elite.  Good but not “just happy to be there.” Good but not content if it’s not a PR. It can sometimes be a tough place to be. At that pace, people don’t always look like they’re having fun.  Often, they appear to be dissatisfied.

I’ve run marathons at my slower-than-usual pace to help my wife or a friend achieve a goal.  I like doing this.  I tend to become more observant when I am running slower.  I’ve noticed that people at that different pace are often more talkative, and it seems like they smile more. It seems like most of them are having a blast.

I could be wrong. In fact, I’m sure people are intense and nervous no matter what the pace is, but, for me, I tend to have more vivid memories of the races in which I’ve slowed down my own pace.  Perhaps this is because I’m more relaxed at a slower speed?

Maybe others would have the same experience if they slowed down their own pace?

On the other hand, my memory is mush when I run faster.  When I am running my own pace, my wife will ask me afterward: “Did you see this or see that [famous landmark], etc?” and, to be honest, my answer is almost always “no.”  I usually have my blinders on, and I miss a lot of the scenery. This sometimes saddens me. Before you say: “Hey jerk, you expect me to feel sorry for you?”  No, I don’t expect that.  I’m just asking you to understand what goes through my head.

Why speed it up then?  Trust me, I am always tempted to run at that slower pace, but my competitiveness ultimately gets the better of me.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, but I think it’s because, despite the temptation to keep it slower, I’m ready to be faster again. I’m ready to go for it again. I’m ready for that “dissatisfied with my performance” attitude again. I think I’m moving out of Rutville.

Stay tuned.

#runchat Question 6 – 01/22/12

I loved all of the one word answers to tonight’s last question, so I tried to put them all together.  If I missed any, please let me know, and I will add to the list.

(from @RunningBecause): “One-word answer time: Give us one word to describe your state of running right now.”








































Ramping-up (one-ish)

Sunday Morning Streets

(Apologies to Patriot’s Day).

Road races allow runners to be unique pedestrians.   We get to see cities, small towns and countrysides with our feet having the “sole” right-of-way.   Few people get to experience this.

Unlike a training run, when you have to share the sidewalks, paths and roads with casual walkers, baby strollers or automobiles, during a race, it is only you and your running comrades in some pretty cool places.  Even a solitary running trail, while beautiful, can sometimes be an obstacle course filled with mountain bikes and pets.  However, on race day, which usually occurs on a Sunday morning (sometimes a Saturday), there is only one mode of transportation, and you are the vehicle.

This didn’t occur to me until I visited Times Square as a tourist two months after running the NYC Half Marathon.  As my wife and I walked and navigated around the claustrophobia-inducing sea of tourists and activity, I thought back to the race, which came down 7th Avenue before hanging a right turn on 42nd Street.   I thought to myself: “These streets belonged to runners two months ago, if only for a little bit.”

The feeling of freedom running through Times Square, the center of the universe, is almost indescribable.  The colorful, animated advertisements were illuminated, but the streets were filled with only runners, not tour buses and taxis.   The main sound was each runner’s stride, not horns blaring or whistles blowing.  This memory will always be with me, even though the race is long over.

I once wrote about the temporary yet lasting interactions runners have with each other, and sometimes with spectators.   Well, the same can be said about connecting with the streets of a race course.

During that same sightseeing trip to New York City, more memories came back to me, this time of the 2006 ING NYC Marathon.   I thought about the moments I spent on the 59th Street Bridge, a dark structure with a sinister sign overhead reminding us that there were still over “ten miles to go.”

While temporarily facing this harsh reality, the other runners and I ran on, eventually crossing the bridge.   No cars would be going from Queens to Manhattan via the 59th Street Bridge that morning or early afternoon, just us runners.   We were then catapulted down the spiraling road from the bridge and up First Avenue via the inspiration from the screaming spectators.  The 59th Street Bridge and First Avenue are simply unforgettable.

Soon after our trip to New York City, we were visiting Washington, DC.   Memories flooded back from where I once ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  This time, I was crossing the streets surrounding the National Mall…streets that once belonged to a group of us runners, if only for one Sunday morning in October.  On that race morning, if a politician needed to head to the Capitol Building, he or she would have to yield to the runners passing around the Mall.

Being the pedestrian and the vehicle is an interesting phenomenon.   This especially rings true for me in point-to-point races, such as the Steamtown Marathon or Boston Marathon (a Monday race…um, I don’t like Mondays).  If you don’t know, point-to-point means that the starting line is geographically 26.2 miles away from the finish line, and this can be intimidating.   The only way you’re getting to the finish line is with your legs. However, it can also be inspiring because each step you run is a step closer to the finish line.

That linear, point-to-point route belongs to you briefly, and it is usually a scenic state road containing enthusiastic small town support along the way.  Such races also have amazing final stretches, whether it is from the inspirational cheers of the St. Joseph’s children on Electric Street near Scranton or the goosebumps produced from the action of making that left turn onto Boyleston Street in Boston.

There is nothing like being the engine that gets you through the streets of a race.   You can’t hail a cab or hop on a trolley.  Your running stride is the mode of transportation.

Crossing famous streets where you once raced is a satisfying feeling.  You can always say those streets were briefly yours.

Running It Forward

Do you remember when you started running?  Did someone you know get you into it?  Chances are, the answer is “yes.”  Chances are you got someone into running too.  I call it “Running It Forward.”

I blame and thank my brother, Tom, for getting me into the sport as a teenager.  I was going into high school, and since my dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball player had been crushed by a three-error inning over the summer, I needed something else to do.   My brother was a senior on the Cross Country team, so, as the younger one who mimicked everything he did, I became a runner.  I am not sure I would have considered running otherwise.

I ended up running every season in high school (twelve if you want the count).   I “paid” or “ran” it forward by influencing my younger cousin to pick up running too.   I call it “Running it Forward” because you are passing something good on to somebody else: the interest in running.

My 20s were essentially “run-free.”  I only ran partially through college because I discovered other things, such as female students and kegs.   That was it, until about age 30, a time in which I was going through a divorce and needed something that would be less expensive than therapy.   Running again seemed to make sense.  At first, it was casual.  A slow jog here and there, then a 5K or two.

It wasn’t until I was a spectator at the Philadelphia Marathon in 2000 that I decided to go “all in” as a runner again.  I witnessed my friend, Bob, run and finish it.  I knew then that I would run the same race the following year.

So, as an adult, I blame and thank Bob for rekindling my interest in running.   He “Ran It Forward” by getting me into it again.

Soon after witnessing Bob’s race, I met my current wife.  Jill was into fitness but never ran a road race in her life.  She was a spectator for my first marathon in Philadelphia, and she was amazed at the number of people running 26.2 miles.  Jill couldn’t imagine running that far.  She recently qualified for the Boston Marathon.   I got to “Run It Forward” by influencing her to pick up running and racing.

Jill has, in turn, gotten two friends into marathons.  In 2006, she helped her friend Kim complete the Marine Corps Marathon.   This sparked Kim’s husband’s interest in running a marathon, and he and I did the same race in 2007.

In 2008, I got my friend Jeff to complete his first marathon, and he has in turn gotten his girlfriend and one of his friends into the sport too.

You get the point?   Most of us have been influenced or inspired by someone to pick up running.   Furthermore, each of us has influenced or inspired another to run as well.

In 2009, I got to repay my brother by issuing a challenge:  Disney Marathon 2010.   He hadn’t run much since high school, and I figured he would say “no.”  He surprised me by saying “yes.”  So, it sort of came full circle, or maybe I “Ran It Backward” in getting him back into it.   My cousin and wife joined us in Disney, and we all continue to run.

(Pluto is my favorite Disney character)

I even keep a “Running It Forward Chart.”   It is organic and growing.  I bet you can come up with your own, similar chart.   It is fun.   Give it a try.