My five vanmates and I arrived at the starting line for Ragnar Napa around 4:30 a.m. We picked up our race tees at 5 a.m.--and even in the dark, even with sleep crud still in the corner of my eyes, even though I couldn't see the whole shirt through the beam of my headlamp, I knew immediately that I really, really liked it.
Which for me means that I would wear it again—and not end up in my Goodwill pile wiith weeks.
Which is the the exception, not the rule, for me these days.
I should state up front that I do not emotionally attach to race shirts. I saved my 2007 Nike Women's Marathon until it pitted out—it was light pink— and I'll probably hang onto my 2013 Ironman Couer d'Alene one for a few more years. A new race tee isn't the reason I sign up for a race, and I already own plenty of running gear I can't seem to let go of.
So I'm not coming at this from that of a beginning runner (when every race tee should definitely be worn with pride); or from somebody who wants to make a tee-shirt quilt (great idea, but not for me); or from a 50-states, 50-marathons or similar runner who wants to mark her racing journey with momentos. I'm simply coming at it from a runner of 20+ years who doesn't have more space in her drawers—and who lives on a planet that doesn't need more tees being made just because they're expected to be.
So in case any race directors are listening, here's my manifesto for race tees:
1. If you have women in your race, you must have a women's-specific shirt. Sound too demanding? Flip it the other way: can you imagine, male race directors, going to a race where the only shirts they offer are ones that flatter people who need a sports bra and have curvy hips? How would you feel about running around town in that? Not so much, right?
Females make up more than half of the racers in every distance but the marathon—and we're gaining serious ground there—so there is no excuse not to address your whole race field.
Just in case you need reminding, we have boobs. We have curvy hips. We have collarbones, often with necklaces around them, that we'd like to display. I don't care if you're size 2 or 20, a unisex, crew-neck tee does nothing to fit or flatter the bodies we've honed through many miles.
Plus, we're all paying the same entry fee. I realize life fundamentally isn't fair, but if I pay $90 for a half-marathon, I deserve a shirt that makes me feel like the male racers when they wear it: accomplished and proud.
I shouldn't be standing in the tee pick-up line, and wondering if I should get a extra-small so I could give it to Ben for pjs, or a small, so Amelia can wear it to bed. I should be picturing myself in it. When it's a unisex tee, I never do.
2. You must have a range of sizes: XS to at least 2XL, and women's only races should consider going up to 3 or 4XL. These days, runners come in all sizes, and not respecting that is just not cool. (Again, we're all paying the same thing, and every runner deserves the same treatment.)
3. What makes a good women's shirt? A minor V-neck is nice. So is a slight scoop neck. It should have a torso that doesn't just fit petite frames. Err on the longer side, since some of us have bellies that have a little roundness, and would prefer not to display them with a cropped top. Flattering seams will get you everywhere.
3. Tech is best; cotton is acceptable if—say it with me—it's a flattering shape and cute design.
About that design: runners who have participated in your race are some of the best advertisements for it. I don't think it's shocking to say that women notice what other women wear. If a former runner is wearing a cool race tee at school pick-up, that might just be the entry another runner, considering the race, needs to enter.
4. Finally, if you don't want to put thought into the design and respect the female racers who are paying the for the same race course and tee, offer a reduced fee option for runners to not get a tee. The world doesn't need more ugly, unisexed tees.
Is all this possible? I don't know. I realize we women are still fighting for equal pay, so improving race tees is understandably low on the totem pole.
Still, as SBS always says, if you don't ask for it, how do you expect you'll get it?
What's your take on race tees? Do you keep them all? Which are your favorites? What suggestions for improvements do you have--if you think the situation needs improving?