The stack of t-shirts was immense. I counted 24 in all. My son and I had just gone through our closets and dressers and were prepared to donate 24 running t-shirts. So, if we were planning to donate 24, just how many were we keeping?
Running t-shirts are the bane of the existence of every non-running spouse in the world. Fortunately, my spouse is a runner, so she ‘gets it’. As I have famously stated on more than one occasion, I have more running t-shirts than God. And as a family of runners, well, we could probably outfit most of the Old Testament tribes.
What’s with the t-shirt anyway? Why are they so popular with the running world? I have t-shirts in my collection that are still wearable, dating back to the mid-1980s. One shirt, from my very first marathon in 1979, is held together by mere threads and is (well, WAS) only worn on the day I was racing a marathon. It’s been to Boston, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, DC, Burlington and even Bermuda. It was retired when I retired from the 26.2 miles of madness.
T-shirts were (are?) all the rage in the 80’s and 90’s. They were the badge of honor for your entry into a race, be it a 5k or a triathlon. Race t-shirts are to runners what NASCAR t-shirts are to Jeff Gordon fans (or Tony Stewart). We wear them to brag, we wear them to remember, we wear them to shout, ‘look what I did’ and yes, we even wear them to run in… occasionally.
Speaking of running in them… somewhere in the early 90’s, the fashion industry took note and developed a slightly more expensive but also considerably more functional tech-shirt option. These breathable, quick-drying alternatives allowed runners to run comfortably in their hard-won apparel. It also limited one’s ability to remove the sleeves for that ‘sun’s out, gun’s out’ look. Tank tops tech shirts quickly moved in to fill the void.
In my nearly 44 years of running, I have given away far more shirts than I have kept. Back in the early 90’s, I spent a great deal of time working in the City of Chester with an organization called Team City Ministries. I used to donate a lot of clothing, race shirts included, to the homeless through TCM. One day while driving through the city, I counted no less than 5 of my shirts being worn. It was great seeing these shirts getting a second life. None of them were running, however.
In my basement, we have a t-shirt quilt hanging on our wall. It is made of 36 race shirts dating from 1980 through 2001. It’s a great stroll down memory lane, when I think of the races depicted that no longer exist, or days when I ran my brains out for the win, or my bride ran a PR. I did get yelled at for including my wife’s favorite stolen shirt, the Eriesistible Marathon, from 1990. She LOVED stealing that one and wearing it.
Race directors have started to bring back the shirt after a period when other SWAG (stuff we all get) became famous. Beer mugs, hats, synchie backpacks, etc… became popular for awhile when people started rebelling and saying, ‘not one more shirt’. But it seems the t-shirt is somewhat back in style. Smart race directors are offering the choice of ‘for an extra $10, get a race shirt’.
So what’s your favorite? Which is your go-to? What’s the biggest ‘brag about it’? My favorites are probably one of the seven LVRR Relay race shirts from my days in the Has-Been Track Club between 1998 and 2004. The go-to is one of two Hood to Coast shirts from 2015. And the biggest brag? It’s gotta be my very first USATF Master’s Championship XC race shirt from 2004.
Just a few of the 125 t-shirts I currently have in my closet. And yes, I wear them all (except that 1979 marathon shirt – never again).I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails.