Let’s talk about race shirts.
Over the weekend, I ran a 4-miler and when I saw the t-shirt, it made me wonder why the race organizers had even bothered. It was a generic, white cotton t-shirt with the race name stamped on the front, in a font, size, and color that are really only readable up close. There was absolutely nothing appealing about it, and I won’t be wearing it beyond the confines of my own home if I wear it at all. I guess I could have declined to take it, but my race entry fee did pay for it, and given the number of shirts the organizers still had lying around a mere half hour before the race was set to begin, they really didn’t need one more to cart off when all was said and done.
I know I’m not the first person to wonder why we continue to get t-shirts at races. The Race Director’s Resource blog posted a question about them that’s probably representative of how many runners feel about shirts:
Please, for the love of all that is running, let’s get an alternative to the race T-shirt! Much as I love them, when you’re running multiple events a year, after a few years it gets ridiculous. And most of them you can’t even wear. There are so many alternatives available. I’d be stoked with some tech socks, a nice bottle, a hat, a pack of gels, even a sweatband. Why is it always a T-shirt? – Tracy
I don’t know who this Tracy is, but I wholeheartedly agree with her! The answer she gets makes sense: t-shirts are cheap and provide a lot of exposure for the races they come from. There’s no other piece of apparel or swag that gives you the same bang for your buck.
But I can’t help but wonder if that’s really true. Chances are that runners who are enthusiastic enough about their sport to participate in races are also pretty unlikely to wear cotton t-shirts for a training run–I mean, they’re just plain uncomfortable. As far as I know, many of these shirts end up getting turned into t-shirt quilts, pajama shirts, or donations to charity. In cases where tech shirts are given, they can be ill-fitting or made of a material that is sufficiently cheap that they’re not much better than cotton. So are these shirts really getting the kind of exposure that race organizers expect? I really can’t imagine that the race shirt I got this past Saturday is going to end up bringing more runners to that event.
Another blog post I came across brings up the question of the environmental impact of all these shirts. After years of donating her race shirts, Katherine discovered that charities are past the point of being able to make use of all the clothing donations they receive, which means that these shirts can easily end up as waste. Once she found this out, she decided to opt out of taking a race shirt. I’m beginning to think I’ll start doing the same. But will this make much of a difference? Chances are that races will still end up with a ton of extra shirts no matter what.
Personally, I wouldn’t be against race organizers no longer offering shirts, or allowing runners to opt out of getting one when registering. I’d be especially happy if this also meant I could save a couple dollars on my entry fee! Although the idea of getting a souvenir of some kind from a race is a nice one, I just don’t feel like I need to continue letting them accumulate in my dresser drawers.
What are your thoughts on race shirts? Would you be happy to do away with them, or are you a shirt collector?