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About Your Race Shirt…

I like to volunteer for local races as a way to pay back the community, but since I’m usually running the ones I want to support, I’m often working something called “Packet Pickup” which is when a runner comes to pick up their goods – usually at least a race number and a t-shirt. I’ve worked packet pick-up at our biggest local races and I have seen more people complaining about the race t-shirts than I’d like. But, that’s just part of it, right? But then I saw a thread on our local running Facebook page where people were very vocally expressing their hatred about certain race shirts. I only read a few comments because I don’t have 30 years (it was a long thread) but it was enough to tell me: It’s time for a public service announcement.

Here are some things you should know about your race shirt. Now, all of these things aren’t true for every race, but at least in Huntsville, AL they are true for most races.

  • The Race Director has a lot more they’re worried about on race day then whether or not you like your shirt. The t-shirt decision in planning a race may actually be the least important of all. There’s volunteers needed to call split times, there’s public safety concerns at intersections, there medical support needed both to be mobile along a course and to be at the finish line. There’s timing setups, whether it’s chip time or not, there’s still a lot to setting up timing in a race. There are a lot of decisions that relate to safety of racers and you should be glad they spend more time on those decisions than whether or not to offer gender-specific shirts at a race.
  • Shirts often have to be a last-minute decision. Shirts cost less depending on how many you order. Most of our races locally offer money from the profits to a charity, so the more they spend on shirts, the less that goes to charity. They want to save as much money as possible. So they wait until the last minute so they can see how many people have registered and they try to order as close to that amount as necessary. And then they shop the best deal. This is also why most races don’t know when registration opens, what kind of shirt they’ll be getting. It depends! And also why they don’t always offer you choice between men/women cuts – because they don’t always know if they’re getting gender-specific cuts when registration opens. (Turns out if given a choice, many women choose a men’s cut.) Your preferences are fine, but know that t-shirt decisions are not made early enough in most cases for your preferences to be factored in.
  • For every person who HATES one race shirt, there is another person who LOVES it but would have totally HATED the other decision. You – quite honestly – can not please everyone. If you like the shirt? Great. But know someone hates it. If you hate it? Sorry. But know someone else loves it.
  • Race Directors treat these races like their babies. They think about their well-being year round and have many sleepless nights worrying about the logistics leading up to race day. I was on site for a race this weekend for a whole day and I can not, for the life of me, figure out how they got it all done. There were so many logistics and everything seemed so smooth. And this was only a 2-year old race! There were LAMINATED SIGNS marking a bridge that was slippery! There is so much effort and blood and sweat and tears put into these races, that when you publicly complain, “I hate my shirt!” you are basically publicly complaining about someone’s kid. So, have your opinions, share your opinions, but maybe be productive about it? Email a race director and balance out your hatred of the shirt with something you loved. Or express it in a way that is something other than, “I HATED THAT SHIRT! DON’T DO THAT AGAIN!” on a random running group website. If you want a better shirt next year? Or want your concerns heard? Be respectful and maybe…JUST MAYBE…volunteer to be part of the race. That’s a good start.
  • A lot of people want tech shirts, and before I had too many, I did too. But, I went to a meeting once and saw budget reports showing the earnings of some local races. One of my favorite t-shirts – which was an expensive brand tech shirt and printed with a lot of colors – came from a race that ended up in the hole. They were not able to offer hardly anything to help with the charity donations that organization makes. The year the race went with a 1-color cotton t-shirt? They made TONS of money to contribute. I learned to like a cotton t-shirt just as much, simply because of that. Tech shirts are great, but man, now I tend to wear them with a little bit of guilt.

Here are my tips: If you are racing a race solely for the shirt? Then you need to find a race that knows when you register what the shirt looks like and what brand and what sizes they offer. Those races do exist, and they’re often the big-name or for-profit type of races. If you’re not racing for the shirt, then go into packet pickup expecting the worst shirt in the world. Then you might be pleasantly surprised. And if the size doesn’t work, don’t panic if they can’t let you trade it out. Leftover race shirts are a nightmare and a total waste, so no one wants to order “extras”. Find a local running group and post in there to see if anyone wants to trade sizes. If yours is too big, someone’s might be too small.

Celebrate your accomplishment and thank the race director and their army of volunteers. The t-shirt is a bonus to all of that. It sucks if you hate it (I do have some I don’t like) but remember there’s more to the picture than whether you like your shirt.

5 thoughts on “About Your Race Shirt…”

  1. My sole complaint would be when RD’s don’t specify whether they are offering tech shirts or T-shirts (shouldn’t they at least know that ahead of time??). I am a funky size where I wear one size in a cotton shirt, but a different size in a tech shirt. So if I end up getting a tech shirt that is too big, and I have, I typically won’t wear it. A good friend (ahem…KB Pierson) passed on the best tip to me last year. Now after signing up for races, if you can’t pick whether you want men’s or women’s cut shirt on the registration form, I email the RD directly and request a men’s cut shirt. So far, all RD’s have been very gracious and honored my requests.

  2. I find this vastly entertaining. Who knew people got so upset about a free shirt? I guess race shirts are sort of a bragging right? I can see that, since you definitely earned it.

    I spent my professional life in the nonprofit world, so I participated in lots of events that required I wear the official, sponsor emblazoned shirt. (Important aside here – I am a very small-framed woman. ) They were always men’s cut, and usually very basic. I literally have no idea how many of these shirts have cycled through my wardrobe, but I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the number that didn’t fit very loosely. And I wouldn’t use up all my fingers, either. (At least one of those was when I had the option to request a youth large, too.) They are great for working in the yard, going to the gym and sleep shirts. Honestly, I’m not sure what else I’d wear them for anyway.

  3. Largely unrelated, but I wanted to leave you a comment. I rather unexpectedly participated in my first 5K today. My daughter’s school had an event and I thought I was supposed to cheer, not participate! Long story short, after all the entries of yours about races and running, it felt good to be able to recognize that the school had made a huge mistake and I could help to correct it. They sent ~400 K-5th graders off on a path that was well marked, but not well supervised. I realized very quickly that someone needed to “sweep” the course and keep some kiddos on track. It took 1:03:30 to complete the course, but I kept two little boys from “hiding in the cemetery until the zombies come tonight”. Next year, there will be official sweepers…not just the grumpy fat lady in the purple shirt with no authority to yell at kids but doing it anyway. Thank you so much.

  4. Oh, man. Anyone with a son like mine, race experience or no, would have known that was a bad idea! So glad you were there and – let me tell you – a 1:03 5K wrangling a bunch of elementary school kids without any plan or training to run a 5K? Is AMAZING. KUDOS! 🙂

  5. I have gotten a few 5K shirts that I know I’ll never wear but I don’t ever complain. They were for good causes so I’m okay with the money going to them instead. Most bigger races (my hubby is a big fan of the Rock and Roll series) will usually have tech shirts that you can buy at the expo before or after the finish on race day so he’s picked up a few really nice tech shirts that way. It’s an extra cost but we just factor that into total event expense.

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