In my newbie running days, I ran with two great training groups who taught me many things about the world of post-collegiate running. One of the lessons that stands out the most was the cardinal rule of race shirt etiquette: wearing a shirt from a race you hadn’t run was a huge no-no. I mean, it was the equivalent of lying! For years I didn’t dare wear a shirt for a race I didn’t run.
Sometime later I realized I don’t give a damn what race shirt so-and-so is wearing, and who cares if they did or didn’t run the race? More than a few times I’ve grabbed friends’ race packets when they didn’t plan on racing and you know what? I don’t care if they wore those shirts or not. Um, it’s a t-shirt!
There are a few situations in which, to my mind, it’s perfectly fine to wear a race shirt even if you didn’t run the race. I guess you could call them fashion dos and don’ts … that is, if race shirts can be considered fashion!
1. You volunteered. I remember thinking the Buckeye 50k shirt from one of the years I volunteered was really cool. So cool that I bought one, even though I didn’t do the race! At the time I don’t think I had even run 50k all at once, much less raced it. The horror!
I waited to wear that shirt until I had run a 50k, and even then I always felt a bit badly about it… but in retrospect, it’s no big deal. If you gave your time and energy to a race, there’s no reason you should be embarrassed to wear the shirt!
2. You’ve done the race before or you have done similar events multiple times. Your race crazy friend has decided she needs to wean her closet and she happens to be your size, and your running wardrobe just needs a refresher (those technical clothes don’t smell like roses forever!). I say go ahead and wear that local 5k shirt; hell, you’ve raced what seems like a million 5ks and you probably raced this one in the past. Wear that donated shirt proudly, and should anyone have the audacity to question your honor, don’t be afraid to say, “No, I didn’t run this race! You got a problem with that?”
3. You got injured or weren’t able to start. Let’s be honest, most race shirts kind of suck, but on a rare occasion they nail it! If you unfortunately weren’t able to race it, I say go ahead and don the shirt. You trained for the race, and you paid for the goods. It’s not like you stole a medal from the finish line!
4. The deal at the expo on last year’s amazingly fitted, perfectly designed shirt is just too good to pass up. This year at the Dances With Dirt ultra they had last year’s shirts on sale for cheap. And to be honest they were cooler than this years. I didn’t need a shirt, but if I did, I would have bought one and I would wear it, too. The shame!
5. You came out to support someone and you’re very very proud. I got injured, I cheered for the family, I have done the Detroit Turkey trot many many times, and the shirt is cool. Yep I wear this one, and I (gasp!) did not toe the line.
When my dad bought a jacket at Boston in 2005 from the previous year, I went red in the face. I mean come on dad, everyone will assume you raced Boston! His logical explanation of it being way too cold for spectating and that being the cheapest jacket at the expo seemed silly at the time, but its practicality is undeniable. And anyway, why should I be so upset? Any time he wears that jacket, if someone asks about the race he’s going to brag about me!
Have I just done too many races and lost the appropriate reverence for the wearing of a race t-shirt? Or was that “rule” just a silly one to begin with? I think this may have been a bigger deal in the past, when less people were racing, and there were less races to run.
Regardless, this is one of those fun ethical grey areas that comes with running and racing. Of course it’s not that important, but it nonetheless provokes a great deal of controversy among runners. And without a few rules, what’s to keep me from wearing a 100 mile shirt or go get an Ironman tattoo?
What do you think, Salties? Is it okay to wear the shirt for a race you didn’t run? Is it silly to even care whether or not someone ran the race?