Seven reasons many runners don't wear race tees in the actual race

Active runners love collecting and wearing tee shirts, hats, hoodies, jerseys, warmup jackets, and other official race wear from the events they run. On the other hand, what’s the story about dressing in same-day race gear for the actual event? At least seven reasons cause many runners to select alternative apparel for the big day.

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1. Savvy runners never wear anything brand-new in a race.

Can you say, “chafing”? Seasoned race participants know the merits of testing out all new apparel before wearing it in an actual competition. Even the softest tee shirts can cause problems, especially if they have never been laundered.

What’s more, lots of experienced runners prefer technical fabrics to stretchy jersey tops. Tech tees are designed to be breathable, lightweight, and moisture-wicking. Other runners love to run in singlets, tanks, or sports tops, rather than old-fashioned tees.

2. Lots of veteran runners see race tee wearers as newbies.

How can you spot a first-time race runner? That day’s brand-spanking-new event tee shirt may provide a clue. Certain long-time runners jeer that it’s simply not cool to put on the race tee for the race.

Repeat participants frequently choose to wear their race tees from previous years (of the same event), demonstrating their devotion to the cause (if it’s a charity race) or their own stick-to-it-iveness. Others select favorite shirts from any previous races they have done.

3. Some runners say it’s bad luck to wear the race day tee shirt for the run.

More than a few superstitious runners claim they are concerned about jinxing themselves by donning the official tee shirts for that day’s race. Plenty will slip them on after crossing the finish lines, however.

Hosts of runners consider specific running garments in their own wardrobes to be lucky race wear.

4. It can be difficult to pick oneself out in race photos, if wearing the race tee.

How many runners pore over online thumbnails or race photo proofs, peering to find themselves in the images? If everyone is wearing the same tee shirt design, this process proves extra challenging. This also makes it hard for family members or friends to find a specific runner in the crowd at a large-scale race.

Sure, professional race photographers generally sort pictures by runners’ bib numbers. But plenty of shots are difficult to identify, particularly action pictures (when runners may inadvertently shield their bibs from cameras, or wind may blow bibs up and out of sight).

5. The race tee is often seen as a reward for running the race.

Race tees are souvenirs, but they are also badges of honor. Some runners feel the race tees must be earned, much like finishers’ medals, even though the shirts are passed out ahead of time in race packets.

6. In some races (such as a few ultras), non-finishers return their race tees.

Sure, the race tee is usually part of the registration fee for a running race. However, in some hard-core events, participants forgo wearing their tees, in case they will turn them in (or write “DNF” on them), if they do not complete the course.

7. Plenty of runners save race tees for clean wearing after the event.

Lots of race participants appreciate having a clean, dry top to wear post-race. Some change on-site, while others put on the day’s shirt after a shower. Several others choose to rock their race tees the following day as a conversation starter.

When might race tees be the best option for race day?

Race tees are particularly popular in color races, in which runners are splashed with dye or paint. In such cases, participants generally want to sport the event tees, so they may be decorated along the course. Racers frequently opt to wear race tees in charity runs, as a means of promoting the cause benefitted by the event.

Team tees are usually exempt from race day tee taboos. These are not the tops that come with race packets, however. They are usually made up for the express purpose of identifying team members during the race and may even be used for multiple events.

For example, I frequently run with Team RWB. Members sport the official tees, showing support for the cause and helping us to find one another in the race crowd. And a portion of the proceeds from our purchases of Team RWB apparel are used to fund programs assisting our military veterans.

No actual rule prohibits the wearing of official race participant tees during running races. In a race, runners must wear their bibs/race numbers. The event tee is optional. It’s certainly a matter of personal choice. But runners (particularly newcomers to running races) may prevent potential confusion, discomfort, or embarrassment by being informed ahead of time.

What about wearing race tees for races one has never done?

This question pops up often. Running event organizers occasionally sell tees from past races. Shoppers may find old race tees online and in resale shops. Sportswear boutiques sell running race tee knock-offs (such as look-alike shirts for famous marathons). Recently, a major sports apparel designer offered warm-up jackets that matched those given to runners in a popular marathon. The actual event participants were not amused to see non-runners wearing sportswear that was identical to their own hard-earned versions.

The general consensus among experienced runners seems to be that wearing such items is sort of like wearing military camouflage or medals without serving, wearing a varsity letter jacket without lettering (unless one is dating a varsity athlete), placing a 26.2 magnet or sticker on one’s car without ever doing a full marathon, or claiming any other credentials one did not earn.

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