Most races give away some sort of "schwag" to attract runners. Usually it's a t-shirt, and hence my closet is overflowing with shirts with the names of various 5Ks on them. More recently, it seems, race directors have upped the ante and are offering technical shirts, shirts made from supposedly moisture-wicking material designed for running, which can be pretty expensive. At a bigger race, you can also purchase souvenir items at the expo. I've bought a Shamrock Marathon t-shirt; a Broad Street Run hoodie and tech shirt; a Baltimore Running Festival Hat; and plenty of stuff at the last two Philadelphia Marathon expos including 2 half marathon hats, a long-sleeve half marathon shirt, a mug, and the unfortunate Cursed Shirt referred to in the title of this post.
Race T-shirt Etiquette and Superstition
Whether from tradition or actual superstition, there's a couple of unwritten "rules" of race etiquette about wearing your race shirts. The first is "Don't wear the race shirt to the race," meaning, for example, that if you're running the 2011 Higgy and Pooka Race for the Cat Food 5K, don't wear your 2011 Higgy and Pooka Race for the Cat Food 5K t-shirt during the race. I've always felt that the main reason behind this is the perception that doing so labeled someone as a noob, rather than the savvy, veteran road warrior we all want to pretend we are.
Personally, I don't care what people wear to the race. I was very strongly advised by a friend, who is a savvy veteran road warrior, not to wear the race shirt to my first 5K, but I see this "rule" broken all the time. Many people ran the Shamrock Marathon in the very nice long-sleeve tech shirts we got in our schwag bags, and when I watched the Disney Princess Half Marathon, the race shirt was a very popular choice among runners on race day. I've got my two favorite sleeveless shirts that are my usual race attire, but I wouldn't look down on
Another commonly-held superstition or point of race ettiquette is "don't wear the shirt of a race you haven't run." (Or, "don't wear the shirt of a race you didn't finish.")
If you ran in a race but didn't finish, in my opinion it's ok to wear the shirt. You signed up, you gave your best effort, and you were in the race. If the shirt was clearly intended as a "finisher's shirt", you probably wouldn't have gotten it unless you crossed the finish line, just like you wouldn't have gotten a medal if that race had them. But if it's a race you weren't in, it becomes a bit more questionable. By wearing it, aren't you bragging about something you didn't do?
The Part Where I get to the Point
Here's where my Cursed Shirt comes in. The 2009 Philly Half Marathon was my first of two half marathons (I also ran it in 2010). It remains one of my all-time favorite races and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a cool-weather 13.1 with interesting scenery and a fun location. I was pretty confident that I could complete the race, and in addition to the shirt I got at packet pickup, I bought a ton of crap at the expo. I have, as mentioned above, a 2009 half marathon hat that I wear all the time and a long-sleeve t-shirt that I really like, too.
The problem is that the event is really branded like it's "The Philadelphia Marathon and oh, yeah, also there's maybe also a Half Marathon". There's much more "marathon" stuff than "half", and that's one of my pet peeves. Finishing a half marathon is a great accomplishment and it's a more popular and faster-growing distance than the full, so don't make half marathoners feel like second-class citizens.
The Philly Marathon attempts to get around this by emblazoning most of the merchandise with "Philadelphia Marathon 26.2 13.1 and 8K". Alternately, the Baltimore Marathon (ack! now I'm doing it!) is branded as the "Baltimore Running Festival" (but also has "Baltimore Marathon" stuff), and most Shamrock Marathon merchandise says "Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, Anthem Half Marathon, and Townebank 8K Run" or at least "Shamrock Marathon, Half Marathon, and 8K Run".
So, anyway, back to Philadelphia. I ran the 2009 half marathon and have great memories of it. I don't feel bad at all drinking from this mug.
Yeah, kick asphalt! Note the prominently displayed 13.1. As proud finisher of the Philly half, I would have zero compunction at all about using or wearing something with that design. But how can I ever wear this shirt?
It doesn't say "13.1" on it anywhere. I wasn't signed up for that marathon and I had never run any marathon. I bought it because I thought it was cool, and there wasn't nearly as much stuff that said "half marathon" on it. It's a nice shirt, but I feel bad about wearing it. If I'd previously run a marathon, I don't think I'd be quite so conflicted. I've run many a 5K. I know I can run a 5K. If I somehow got a 5K shirt from a race I hadn't run, I wouldn't feel so bad, but this was a distance I'd never even attempted, and at the time had no intention of ever attempting.
Can the Cursed Shirt Ever be Redeemed?
I've now run a marathon, or at least most of a marathon. I've finished a marathon, and let's just leave it at that. Can I this shirt without shame now, even though it wasn't the Philly Marathon?
I am signed up for the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. If I finish that, then can wear the cursed shirt in public? Or, should must it languish out of the public eye forever, or at least until I steal a TARDIS and travel back to 2009.
Like most things on this blog, this post shouldn't be taken too seriously. I'm not really superstitious, although I have pre-race traditions (Hooray for the night-before-the-race beer!), I don't think wearing or not wearing the Cursed Shirt will actually have any impact on how much or little my knees hurt, etc. I know, "It's just a shirt, Brian." But, I thought it made for an interesting question, since race shirt etiquette/superstition is pretty commonly held in the running community.
I also don't think any runner should look down what any other runner chooses to wear to a race, even though we've probably all seen and hopefully laughed a little (on the inside) at people that we thought were trying to show off a little too much.
1. *I stole the idea for this post from "The Running Moron", who recently picked up his packet, including a technical shirt, from a race he didn't run due to an injury. In his case, I thought he should wear the shirt without any hesitation, since it was from a race he'd run several times before, a distance that he he'd run many times before, and the shirt didn't have the year on.
2. This is an entry from a blog called "f my injury" that I found when searching for race shirt etiquette. I thought it was interesting and had some good links in it.