Running Shirts: A Hierarchy
If I am going to endure pain, summon mental strength to override my bodyâ€™s honed instincts for leisure, or shell out 45 bucks for a typical half marathon, then I demand a quality race shirt.
Race organizers seem to think that my wardrobe lacks shirts of the â€œI was on the quadâ€ Fraternity event genre. How else could one explain their generally garish design? Where on earth, except at races, would I wear such attire? Heaven forbid I should want to run in a race shirt. Most are made of heavy cotton.
I’ve only been running a short time, yet still I have a cavalcade of race t-shirts. What does one do with this stockpile of fibrous gewgaw? Iâ€™ve observed runners, and I now know what they tend to do with these shirts. Each shirt a runner owns falls into a sophisticated hierarchy:
Revered Symbol – Never worn beyond race day or sullied by further human contact. Suitable for framing or homemade shrine.
Esteemed Trophy – Worn only when you need to impress the right people at the right race. Archetype: The Boston Marathon long sleeve.
Cool Running (long sleeve non-cotton) – Usually a marathon tech shirt worn proudly when running. Nice enough to be worn in some casual situations.
Best-Case Cotton (long sleeve cotton) – Usually a major race shirt worn when running in the cold, but not as a first resort. Only worn casually if the design is decent.
Standard Race Shirt (short-sleeve cotton) – The short sleeve is generally placed on lower status than the long sleeve, regardless of the design. Worn when nothing else clean is available.
The Eyesore (short-sleeve cotton) – Kept initially, but the urge to donate or throw away is strong.
The Smock – Given immediately to young children as over-sized sleepwear or weekend art project overwear.
Strictly Yard work – Also the fate of worn-out running shoes (a similar proliferation problem).
Oil Change Fodder – Nothing soaks up viscous fluids like cotton. Bonus if the intolerable design is obscured.
Have I missed anything? Exactly what do you do with the endless supply of shirts?
January 10th, 2007 at 3:37 pm
I HAVE said sorority tshirts and they sit absorbing the smell of cedar in a chest with no hope of ever returning to the rotation.
It’s a sad truth.
January 10th, 2007 at 4:04 pm
Sometimes I feel like a great tide of garish running shirts will rise up from my laundry pile and devour me whole.
January 10th, 2007 at 5:16 pm
That’s a pretty good hierarchy, but there are a few more additions that I might suggest:
1) The throw-away long sleeve.
The lowest rung on the long sleeve ladder. This shirt is saved only so it can be used to provide warmth before the start of a cold race & then discarded once the runner has warmed up.
2) Premium short sleeve
While long sleeves deserve higher respect than short sleeves, there are short sleeve shirts in my collection that fit more into the Best-Case Cotton category. These are good to pull out in the summer when wearing a long sleeve shirt would be too hot.
3) Below the Oil Change Fodder level are the shirts that are best left to the race directors to dispose of. These hideous designs are hazardous to touch with your bare hands.
As for what you do with all of these shirts? They move down the hierarchy as new shirts are collected and placed higher on the totem pole. Speaking of which, it’s time to sort through the collection and reclassify.
Now, you’ll just have to remember that your NipMuck shirt is an Esteemed Trophy and not Best-Case Cotton (Blue Ridge is very close to that status as well).
January 10th, 2007 at 5:35 pm
Very well said. I have many “Throw-away long-sleeves,” but have not yet encountered a “Premium short-sleeve.” I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.
I have visions of race directors in haz-mat suits and tongs tossing unwanted shirts into the fiery furnace.
And yes, the Nipmuck Trail Marathon Tie-Dye is “Esteemed trophy.” Really, it’s a classic. You should get one.
January 10th, 2007 at 7:05 pm
You forgot the other possible end to the life of a race T-Shirt, and that is the Race T-Shirt Quilt (drapes, bed skirt, car cover, the applications are endless) Nothing says ‘class’ quite as much as a dozen or so old T-Shirts chopped up and assembled as a hand made quilt.
And if you don’t have a grandmother around anymore(or your grandmother is still around but likes to drink instead of sew) you can even send off all of your old T-Shirts to some place that advertises in the back of Runners World and they will assemble the quilt for you. Most likely some front for a sweatshop in the 3rd world, or perhaps deep in the heart of Amish country in the case of quilts, but still a bargain for you & me !!
January 11th, 2007 at 10:28 am
Yes, yes, several folks have emailed me about the quilt. Great idea, really.
I can see it now. I’m 80, and my grandson surveys the quilt keeping me warm. “Grandpa, 20 of these shirts are the same!” I’ll reply, “My boy, those are the Irmo Dam Run t-shirts. They used the same design my whole life… just changed the year. I have two whole Dam Run exclusive quilts in the closet.”
January 12th, 2007 at 9:27 pm
Almost every morning I roll out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and grab the top shirt off the stack in my bottom drawer. Sometimes I get it on right side out and front forward. My eyes can’t even focus for the first half mile, so who care’s what I have on.
You forgot the last category – soggy lump at the bottom of the laundrey basket. Most of my shirts pass through this category.
January 13th, 2007 at 10:40 pm
That is quite humorous. I should warn you to stay away from cafepress.com. They have have over 7700 designs within the running culture. I’m sure more than a few would qualify for top-shelf status. Enter at your own risk
January 15th, 2007 at 1:19 pm
This probably deserves its own full blown topic, but what the heck do you do with Finisher’s Medals? At least race T-shirts have the good graces to deteriorate and either get thrown out or eventually turn to dust (or oil changing rags in Dean’s hierarchy). But Finisher’s Medals, those things are forever.
Oh sure, all of us occasionally dig out our shiny bling and do that pose in the mirror like Mark Spitz with all his gold from the Munich Olympics, complete with the Evel Knieval looking star-spangled speedo. Really, I’m sure everyone else does that. There’s no way I’m the only one…
So don’t finisher’s medals all just end up hanging off of a closet door knob somewhere on their long march to a garage sale bin? What is the alternative, to one day be buried wearing them? Maybe we could all mail them to someone and they could be smelted into one massive statue to adorn the national mall in D.C. A salute to all of the running past presidents who ran, Carter, both Bushes, & Clinton (did I miss any), and future ones to come.
January 15th, 2007 at 1:34 pm
Yeah, the medals are piling up. Beyond the obligatory “you finished” marathon medals, I’ve placed in some races locally. Hint: Find races where you are the only one in your age group. The top drawer of my dresser is beginning to look like a reliquary. I think I have a splinter of the true cross in there.
The Disney Marathon and Nipmuck trail marathon medals are the best I have. Disney is a high quality, big ole Mickey Mouse head medal. Very nice (Half marathoners get Donald Duck. If you do the half and full back to back, you get each plus a “Goofy” medal). The Nipmuck Trail marathon just gives you a birch log with some trail marker paint on it. Classic.
I always imagined that my children would find my old medals in some attic bin someday. They’d reminisce about their dad, perhaps tell stroies… then judiciously toss/recycle/sell them.
January 15th, 2007 at 6:03 pm
Ah I can see it now. The Schuster children rummaging in the attic taking stock of the running career of dear departed Dean, the patriarch of the Schuster clan, when they stumble across the secret treasure trove of finishers & a few age-group medals. They’ll start… Remember when Dad ran that race through the woods up in Connecticut ? Boy he was sure proud of this old log they gave him. How about this one, 2nd place in the Agoraphobic 5 km, 2003. Hmm, here is a 1st place from the same race, and a 3rd place? And does anyone have an idea why there is a star-spangled speedo in her with all these old medals?
January 19th, 2007 at 1:03 am
Besides a gradual “fall from grace”, on rare occasions a shirt will be redeemed back to a very high level…
That happens when a shirt has fallen down to “yard work” or even “oil change fodder” – but never quite gets completely destroyed.
It may have some light stains, and even some small holes, but one day you look at it (often when the anniversary of the race is coming up) and realize the shirt is from 10, or even 15+ years in the past.
So you pull it out of the balled up wad in the corner of the drawer and try it on to see if it still fits… and it does!
Obviously now you have to wear it to the race. It’s recognized by a few of the older runners in the crowd, who give it knowing nods of acknowledgement as you pass by them in your pre-race warmup and at the postrace party.
Even though the shirt by no means looks new and can’t be a “revered symbol”, it will often now be classified as an “esteemed trophy”.
I call this a “reincarnated shirt”
P.S. – This also applies to concert shirts! 🙂
January 19th, 2007 at 9:01 am
See, I missed this possibility because I’ve only been running for about 2.5 years. Not enough time yet to reincarnate race shirts.
September 12th, 2008 at 1:22 pm
RE: the medals…Runner’s World just had a short article about donating them to charity. In the case of the article, a man (doctor I think) was giving his to patients in honor of their battle against cancer.
September 12th, 2008 at 1:25 pm
oops…so I just commented on a blog that is almost 2 years old. how funny.