Most races these days offer free swag to all particpants. This can include items such as technical tees (aka race shirts), hats, socks, etc. Some races offer finisher premiums, which is a fancy way of saying, “if you finish this race, we’ll give you something cool.” In these races, you usually won’t receive a shirt when you check in; only after you cross the finish line. I have accumulated quite the collection of race shirts, and I periodically have to go through the dresser drawer and retire some of the older or less comfortable ones. Here’s a current snapshot of what my drawer looks like:
After 8 years of running, I’ve become very picky with the type of shirts that I’ll run in. Usually, I’ll give a new race shirt a try, but if I don’t like it, it ends up on the bottom of the drawer and doesn’t see the light of day. And when it’s time to retire shirts, these are the ones I start with. I’ve narrowed down the requirements for a good shirt into several areas:
Fit: I prefer a shirt that is slightly tapered and somewhat tight against my chest, stomach, and arms. I don’t like too much loose fabric because that can result in unnecessary chafing. The sleeves should be short and tight for similar reasons.
Material: My experience is that most new shirts seem to be 100% polyester (some have a little spandex), but it seems that some polyester is better than other polyester. I really like the soft feel of Nike’s 100% recycled polyester. In the summer, I look for material that breathes and that doesn’t look like I just took a shower in it. The winter is a different story, a topic for a later post.
Graphics: You can go out and buy any shirt based on fit and material. The difference with race shirts is the design or logo of the race that is usually printed somewhere on the shirt. The location of the graphic is important. There are sensitive areas (particularly on your chest) that don’t appreciate persistent rubbing from something other than the soft shirt material. Some shirts with graphics in the chest area don’t bother me. Others (they’re typically the lower quality shirts) do bother me. I think the material quality plays into this a lot.
Color: Color doesn’t really matter to me, though Kathleen will think it’s strange when I decide to wear a Nike Women’s Half Marathon finisher shirt in Tiffany Blue that I picked up for volunteering (after 6 hours of crowd control, I earned it).
Based on the above criteria, the photo below depicts my favorite current race shirt (Run with Dad 5k Nike tech tee) and my least favorite (Four Courts 4 Miler A4 tech tee). I prefer the slim, tapered fit of the Nike shirt, as well as the softer feel of the 100% recycled polyester. There isn’t a tag with the material type on the A4 shirt (though it’s proabbly 100% polyester), and the shirt is pretty boxy. However, the big positive for the Nike shirt is that the graphic on the front of the shirt doesn’t chafe during a long run, even when sweaty.
Typically, the organization that puts on the race as well as the cost of the race influences the quality of the race shirt. An interesting point from the photo above is that the Run with Dad 5k was put on by the Potomac River Running store, while the Four Courts 4 Miler was put on by the Pacers Running store. Both are local DC running stores, but the Potomac River Running shirt was much better than the Pacers shirt. The Four Courts race was also more expensive than the Run with Dad race, but did include some extra benefits (free beer, road closures, free beer koozie). However, the race shirt is one of the more important parts of a race for me.
Bottom line: The Run with Dad shirt will stay in my rotation for a long time, probably until it begins falling apart. The Four Courts shirt will probably be retired the next time I can’t shut the dresser drawer.