Race Shirt Etiquette

Posted by Filed Under: Races & Racing

bolderbouldershirt.jpgWhat is the proper etiquette for wearing your race shirt? Can you wear it to race in, or should you wait until after the race is over to don the shirt?

These are questions that have been on my mind as I have been fondly gazing at my 2008 Bolder Boulder 10K race shirt. The race isn’t until Memorial Day, but I’ve had the shirt for a couple of weeks now and it’s the nicest race shirt that they’ve given out in the 4 years that I’ve run the event. I’m very tempted to wear it, but I know better than that. It has never been scientifically proven that wearing your race shirt before you compete in the race has damaging effects on your performance but why take the chance? Race shirts are for finishers like Trix are for kids and wearing your race shirt before the race takes place is just begging for trouble.

As I was pondering the protocol for appropriate race shirt attire, I came across an interesting blog post at Frayed Laces, one of the CRN member blogs. Frayed Laces was enticed by the lure of a ìfree giftî to pre-register for the Honolulu Marathon, a race that she completed the previous year despite suffering a fractured pelvis early in the race. The free gift that was being given to all the runners turned out to be last year’s race shirt, available in Large, Large or Large. Am I the only one that disapproves of the previous year’s race shirts being given out as a free gift? A race shirt is not a gift that you’re given, it’s an honor that you earn by finishing the race. The idea of a race giving away finisher’s shirts to nonparticipants is akin to the golf pro at your local course handing you a scorecard, a pencil and an air horn before directing you to the first tee box. They are encouraging something that they shouldn’t.

When I first started running I had no idea that there were unspoken rules within the running community pertaining to race shirts. If a race allowed me to pick up my race shirt prior to the event, I obliviously paraded around in the shirt regardless of whether or not I’d previously completed that event or even that distance. I look back on those days now and shake my head at my own folly. I wish that someone would have been there to point out the error of my ways and clue me in on proper race shirt etiquette. With that in mind I wanted to bring to light some of these unspoken rules of the race shirt, and what better place to start than at another CRN member blog. Bad Ben’s Ramblings posted an insightful and comprehensive guide to Proper T-Shirt Etiquette last year that should be required reading for all runners.

Essentially what it comes down to is that wearing a race shirt represents that you have completed that race. If you haven’t completed the event, or volunteered at it, then you should not be wearing the shirt. You should know that if you are ever exposed wearing a race shirt you didn’t earn you will be viewed by those that completed the event in much the same way a tourist with a Property of Alcatraz shirt is viewed by the ex-cons who did hard time there. Even though I wouldn’t do it, I think it’s OK to wear the race shirt for the race you are about to run in but you are probably tempting fate, not to mention that most race shirts are cotton and that’s just another rookie mistake. If you DNF in that event, then you should not ever wear the shirt in public again. You can shamefully wear it in the privacy of your own home (think pajama shirt) or to mow the lawn in your back yard as long as your neighbor can’t see you, lest he wrongfully think too highly of you. The best idea is probably just to sacrifice the shirt to the running gods by using it to wipe the mud and dirt from your Asics.

Be sure to speak up in the comments if you have any other rules to add or if you disagree with any that you’ve read.

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About Ian

Hello, my name is Ian and I'm a runner. After several years of promising to train for and run the Bolder Boulder 10K I finally signed up for it in 2005 with zero training under my belt. Shocked that I was slower than I thought I should be, I made it my goal to be faster the following year. I'm still not as fast as I should be, but I have been a runner ever since. I believe in quality miles over quantity of miles. I believe that you have to run faster in order to run faster, and I believe that I can. I believe in the Garmin. I believe in motion control and that I have an unhealthy addiction to running shoes. I believe in carb loading and tapering, even before a 5K. I believe I’ll never need to buy another t-shirt ever again. I live to run and I run for the post race spread, where the free food and drink flows like milk and honey, and sometimes even includes milk and honey.

  1. Kaeti on May 13th at 6:11 am
  2. sarah on May 13th at 6:34 am

    The organizers of the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon sent me a race shirt back in November shortly after I registered for the race. The race is on Sunday. So they sent me a race shirt for a race that was 6 months in the future. I thought that was kind of odd. What was I supposed to do with it for the next 6 months? I decided to wear it occasionally. It felt weird. Then I decided I would only wear it to my gym when I did treadmill runs. That way everyone on the machines behind me would see the word “DETERMINATION” on the back of the shirt as I pounded along on the treadmill. And they would know they were looking at someone who was seriously…determined.

    sarah’s last blog post..One More Week

  3. Mike Antonucci on May 13th at 7:18 am


    I would have worn the shirt and told people “I’m so fast I can travel through time.”

  4. KFJ on May 13th at 7:49 am

    I agree….I have never wore my race shirt until after the race……I get much to hot anyway!!!!!

    KFJ’s last blog post..OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Jon (was) in Michigan on May 13th at 9:21 am

    Love the article, Ian. 🙂

    I used to think it was not correct to wear a race shirt if you didn’t run the race or if you DNF’d. But you know? Its not a medal. Its a shirt.

    I have since given up the old ways of being banned from shirt wearing.

    Jon (was) in Michigan’s last blog post..The Story – part 6

  6. Candis on May 13th at 9:40 am

    Good for you Jon. You did pay money for it like all your other clothes.

    Don’t think I’m brave enough….

    Candis’s last blog post..It’s A Nice Day For A Black Wedding

  7. Race Shirt Etiquette | on May 13th at 11:15 am

    […] at it. The post also points out a comprehensive guide to proper t-shirt etiquette. Read more at Written by Ian If you liked this, you may want to subscribe to the RSS feed and get daily […]

  8. jd on May 13th at 12:32 pm

    nice points but I have to disagree with part of your thoughts and here’s why– I think that saying DNF-ers should not wear it is great; if you didn’t finish, you don’t “rate”. but what if you physically broke yourself? My htought ids that if a person trained their tails off and then HAD to quite during the run, not that they CHOSE to, then they rate to wear it as much as I do. i personally wouldn’t wear it unless I finished though. And I also have very little problem with a spouse wearing it; my wife has worn my race shirts as well as different unit shirts I have gotten in the Corps. I asked her about this becasue it sorta irritated me since I felt as if she did not “earn” it. Her response was that she wears it because of her immense pride in my accomplishment; when asked she quickly sets the record straight that it was her studly husband that earned it and not her. Just my thoughts….

  9. chia on May 13th at 1:03 pm

    See, I’m torn by this subject…

    If you are planning on participating, and the word “finisher” is not present on the actual garment, I don’t see the harm in wearing it prior to the race.

    I do, however, have a resentment towards the jerkfaces dealing out the freebie ones from last year. It’s discrediting those of us that actually did train to perform at the race.

    chia’s last blog post..Official Race Report: 10K on the 10th

  10. P.O.M. on May 13th at 1:55 pm

    I hardly wear those ugly things even AFTER the race. Let’s just say I have LOTS of pajama tops.

    P.O.M.’s last blog post..My “No Plan” Plan

  11. Laura on May 13th at 3:44 pm

    I’m with Jess… the bottom drawer of my dresser is filled with them. I really should look into one of those runner’s quilty things but… I also kind of don’t want to cut up my t-shirts!

    Laura’s last blog post..22 years old and already heart attack bound

  12. Audrey on May 13th at 5:16 pm

    Good topic! I personally choose to wait to run the race before wearing the shirt. And I would never wear a race shirt from a race I didn’t run. Same thing with the Nike Marathon’s Tiffany necklaces – I think you should only wear them if you ran the half or full marathon. But that’s just me!

    And I agree with P.O.M. and Laura – most of the cotton T’s I get, I wouldn’t wear period. But I have gotten some cute technical Ts! (On a sorta related but not really topic – what’s up with the Chicago Marathon T’s being just a plain old long sleeve cotton T??? Wouldn’t you think one of the “World Major” marathons would give you a technical shirt?)

    Audrey’s last blog post..Race Report: 10K on the 10th / Human Race

  13. Dawn - Pink Chick on May 14th at 7:38 pm

    Funny, years ago when I first started racing I thought you were supposed to wear the shirt on race day. Then at the race I saw people with other shirts and thought boy are they silly. Little did I know I was the silly one…lol.

    I’m a firm believer you only wear shirts from races you’ve done. I do however volunteer year after year for a local marathon and have a whole collection of shirts from each year. However, I have done the marathon once and the half for the event three times so I’m fine with wearing the shirts from other years. It’s my way of advertising the event to recruit runners and volunteers if asked about it.

    Like a few others most of my cotton ones sit in the drawer. I wear them with jeans or shorts but very rarely to run in. The tech shirts however, I wear over and over and over. Good thing I have lots.

    I teach “Learn to Run” and even my newbie runners don’t wear their shirt until after they’ve run their race. Training them how to run and also instilling all the superstitions as well…lol.

    Dawn – Pink Chick’s last blog post..Extra! Extra! Read All About it!

  14. Anne on May 15th at 6:10 pm

    The freebies from the previous year were to get rid of the abundance, so if the race organizers shouldn’t ‘donate’ them to entrants — and they apparently shouldn’t sell them for a steep discount to the general running public — what should they do with them? If no one besides finishers are entitled, I guess donating them to a homeless shelter is out too?????

    Anne’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

  15. Ian on May 16th at 8:11 am

    Well, I suppose we could send them to a homeless shelter or to needy people in 3rd World Countries, but only if we first brand the shirts with a scarlet DNF. Although I usually try not to let charitable causes get in the way of my adherence to pretentious race shirt rules.

    Ian’s last blog post..To Slip ‘n Slide or to not to?

  16. Karen on May 18th at 10:11 am

    I agree with the etiquette issues you mention regarding the wearing of the shirt. But one point you sort of touched on but didn’t fully explore is that most serious runners wouldn’t run in the race t-shirts anyways – before or after a race. Even the wicking shirts I’ve been getting at triathlon races are still too hot for me to wear when running. My point? I think most of us relegate the shirts to household wear, gym wear or pajama wear regardless.

    Now if I could only figure out the pretentious, unsaid rules of cyclists….

  17. D. A. Shaver on January 25th at 4:37 pm

    I love races and things I get from races and sometimes I might put a shirt on after a race but I never wear a shirt in a race unless if from an old race. I usually decide what to wear before leaving home.
    A better question my wife first asked is, would it be ok to wear a shirt if you only helped out and didn’t actually run that race? This is would be much less of an issue if it were just a 5k. What you helped with the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii and came home. If you wore that shirt you would have tell all of your friends no I did not run this I just helped out. Non–runners would never ask they don’t know what running t-shirts are.
    At a restaurant onetime we actually had a waitress laughing at us because we drove 50 miles to run a race. This is from a person who would not drive across town to run a race. Maybe she was just jealous because my wife and I always go to races together and then wear matching t-shirts or sweatshirts out to eat after the race.

    D. A. Shavers last blog post..Running Journal January 25, 2009

  18. Jean on October 7th at 11:51 am

    I don’t wear race shirts before the race. However I think that runners who DNF deserve a break. They entered the race with the best of intentions to finish the course. Things happen, they get injured, or physically sick and need to drop out. They can and should wear their race shirt, with PRIDE. To suggest that runners who DNF should be embarrassed to wear their race shirt is a bit harsh.