5 Times It’s Ok to Wear the Shirt From a Race You Did Not Run

Friday 5In 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!

You can tell this crew all actually ran their races (the shirts aren’t very cool!)

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?”

Oh my god is that pirate volunteer wearing a Burning River 100 mile shirt? She’s never run over 50 miles!

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!

(Thanks dad for modeling the shirt in action!)

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?

A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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  1. I gotta say I don’t care who wears what, but if someone says they did something they didn’t do that’s a different story. Some things, like a Boston jacket do have a sense of badass about them, so maybe that might be a bit pushing it, but still. Maybe the person was cold or maybe she’s pregnant and the only jacket that fit her was her husband’s Boston jacket 🙂 I honestly never knew the race shirt thing was such a controversy to some people! Oh and I wear that Akron jacket all the time even though I DNF’d and I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. Afterall, I’m advertising a great race 🙂

    1. Therein lies the rub I think. Are you inherently implying you ran the race if you wear the shirt? 🙂 And where is the cutoff? Does only the Boston Marathon jacket mean anything, or only the Kona Ironman?

      For me I guess I realized I just don’t pay that much attention to what athletes are wearing and for me it isn’t the conversation starter it used to be when I first started in the racing scene. So I stopped caring 🙂

      1. Yeah, I think we get to a point where we’re so immersed in the running culture that the shirts become just shirts. Today I was wearing (husband’s) Towpath Marathon shirt and a lady asked me if I ran it and I was just like, ‘oh yeah” as if it was no big deal (of course I didn’t say anything about winning or anything) and she and the other clerk were laughing about my ho-hum attitude because they said they’d be screaming from the rooftops that they ran the marathon. And here I am just happy to be wearing a shirt that fits not even caring it’s the shirt for the one marathon I actually won! 🙂

  2. I’m with you Salty- I never care what anyone is wearing, but I couldn’t stand for someone saying that they did something that they didn’t actually do!

  3. I don’t care either! Although I would never wear anything emblazoned with IM just because I feel like those things are reserved for the peeps who do that. Additionally, I just went through my closet and donated a whole crap load of race shirts that I don’t ever wear so Goodwill will be offering them up at some point. 😉

  4. I think there’s a difference in wearing a shirt that says the name and even date of a race and one saying “FINISHER”. If the shirt is the finisher shirt, you only wear it if you finished that race that year. But if it’s just a race shirt, who cares?

    Last October I registered for a HM. Trained for it. Went to the expo and picked up my packet including purple v-neck technical tshirt. Then I woke up the day of the race and it was raining so hard that the city cancelled the freaking race. This was after months of drought (the worst in over 50 years) so it was hard to be as upset about not running when we were finally getting rain. I wear that shirt because it’s comfortable (women’s cut) and purple and it doesn’t say finisher. A lot of the women who had registered were angry that they didn’t get their $ back (read the race agreement) and wanted their finisher medals. The race organizers allowed us to choose whether to have the finisher medal or donate it to an organization that gives endurance medals to critically ill children and adults. I chose to donate it. I would never hang up or wear a medal that said finisher for a race I didn’t race so I thought it was a great option.

    Generally I’d say that the question of wearing a shirt/jacket from a race you didn’t run falls into the category of make your own choice and if you’re worried what others will think – why should they think anything? It’s your clothing and your body.

    1. I’ve been meaning to donate a bunch of old medals and trophies Debra. I can’t imagine wanting a medal for a race I didn’t finish, I don’t even want most of the ones for the races I did finish 😉

  5. I wear the Chicago 2010 race shirt ALL the time and I did not run the race. I had registered, but was having a terrible season and decided not to race that fall. BUT, I had paid the outrageous registration fees, I liked the shirt and it fit really well. So I shamelessly wear it all the time. My son wears one of my Boston jackets all the time too. Obviously he has not run Boston (he is 11), but he considers himself a runner and he likes wearing it – so I say go for it!!

  6. So glad to read this. I was registered for the Akron Marathon but had to withdraw because I had to have surgery. I just love the jacket and was worried that I was “lying” if I wore it. I am now happily back to running and already registered for the Akron Marathon for fall 2013. Can’t wait to do it.

  7. Funny that you blogged about this, since this just happened to me this past weekend. I signed up to run the Spires Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Geneva, Ohio. I don’t know what I was thinking, because this was only two weeks after I ran the Akron Marathon. I think the enticement of a North Face Half Zip as the “race shirt” motivated me. But, after getting only three hours of sleep (due to 3 out of my 4 kids being sick and up many, many times the night before) and the fact that I was not fully recovered enough to even jog a half marathon, I skipped out. I was bummed. This was honestly only the second time that I have signed up for a race, but did not run it. But, I had to keep my health and injury risk at the forefront of my mind that day. I am going to play the #2 reason card here that you talked about. I have run a half marathon well over 15 times. I think I am almost close to 20. Plus the North Face half-zip is awesome. So, I am going to wear it. Of course I will be honest and tell someone if they ask that I did not actually run in the race. But hey, I think just carrying the badge of motherhood and the fact that I can still run a ton of races throughout the year is good enough, right?

  8. Can I add to this list “If it’s really cute”? I have a 5K shirt I wear all the time from a race that a friend’s work put on. They had extra shirts, it’s a really cute and comfy ringer tee with no sponsor logos. Technically I guess that falls into category 2, since I’ve done plenty of 5Ks!

    I did give away my shirt from the only race I DNF’ed. That was partially since it was ugly, but I also didn’t want to think about my sad race and the ensuing sag wagon ride when I wore it.

  9. Great topic! But guilt inducing. I’d never wear the shirt, but I do use a backpack from the Myrtle Beach Half that I got before bagging out of the race because I couldn’t sleep the night before (too many young children in the hotel room!) And Boston gives out jackets to its volunteers … I don’t volunteer, but have two, given to me by a person in authority. I wear them with guilt, not only because I didn’t earn them by volunteering, but because some people will think it means I ran Boston. Oh, the deceit…. but they’re really cool jackets.

  10. there were BT50K shirts for sale at VR for a dollar or something as they were old shirts. the race means something to me and i had been waiting almost two years to run it so i was not going to buy an old one. i think it’s all in how much value you put on it and not how much others place upon it. i don’t see anything wrong with it unless you *say* you finished the event.

    i really wish i had a few missing threads from my wardrobe that have been lost, misplaced, or taken over the years but only because they had value to me and not value based on others.

  11. I have no problem wearing a shirt from a race that I signed up for but couldn’t run. Sometimes life gets in the way of doing a race, the unexpected always crops up. Wearing a shirt from a race I didn’t run and saying I ran a race I didn’t run are two totally different concepts. I would do the former, NEVER the latter because that would be a lie. If anybody has an issue with me wearing a shirt from a race I didn’t do, that’s their problem, not mine. Don’t be such a snob!

  12. I don’t like wearing shirts from races I didn’t run. My first thing I do when I see someone wearing an interesting shirt is ask them about the race (I love race shopping). Other people do the same. I’d rather not start my conversations with explanations about why I didn’t run a race or can’t review it. That said, do what makes you feel comfortable.

  13. Most race shirts suck anyway, so I don’t run into this problem often :o) My mom bought a Boston Marathon jacket the first year I ran (the year of bright orange -terrible!) because she was so proud of me, and she loves to tell people about it when she wears the jacket. I think that’s cool. There’s a guy from Spain who works at my kids’ school who wears last year’s jacket almost daily – I asked him if he ran and he said no, but he bought the jacket to inspire him to train for it this year. I think that’s cool too. I would probably think twice about wearing something that said “Finisher” on it, but otherwise I appreciate the conversations that a race shirt can inspire, whether the person ran or not.

  14. i bought a turkey trot shirt in Alaska for $5. I bought it because the turkey is being chased with a hatchet and it is a terrible shirt. Its so terrible I had to have it. I have trouble wearing a shirt if I didn’t actually run, but they do make great throw away shirts. In fact pepper, I’m pretty sure you picked up a shirt for me from Youngstown that I left at a starting line in some other state!

  15. What about a shirt from a race you didn’t even finish? Someone tell me the rules for that.

    What about when I wear around a Hansons Brooks Distance Projects shirt? I

  16. I don’t have a problem with people wearing the shirts. I am superstitious of wearing a race shirt before or during the race. Thanks