DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, for Runner's World
Please, for the love of all that is running, let's get an alternative to the race T-shirt! Much as I love them, when you're running multiple events a year, after a few years it gets ridiculous. And most of them you can't even wear. There are so many alternatives available. I'd be stoked with some tech socks, a nice bottle, a hat, a pack of gels, even a sweatband. Why is it always a T-shirt? - Tracy
Tracy, I've asked numerous running audiences this very question many times over. First, let's briefly analyze what a conventional race T-shirt can do for the race:
- Given that the shirt usually includes the race logo, name, date, place, and sponsors, it is considered one of the best promotions for the future of the event. If the "shelf life" of a shirt is, say, two to five years and it is a popular shirt worn over and over again by participants, it certainlygives the event some great "free" exposure year after year, which is obviously good for the health of the event, which is good for everyone.
- Sponsors: For most events, without the sponsors, you don't have an event. Or at least not as good an event. The sponsors require and deserve a return on investment, and the exposure they get by being on a T-shirt that may be worn for years in invaluable.
- Cost: Depending on such variables as style, brand, screening, long or short sleeve, and quantity ordered, a shirt can cost anywhere from $3 to $6, give or take. An alternative that is less expensive than this could be considered "cheap" (in a bad way!); an item costing more could break the bank for a race director.
To sum up, a race needs to consider thefollowing:
- Promotion of the race.
- Giving sponsors, supporters, and beneficiaries widespread exposure.
There are probably other considerations I am not thinking of at the moment.
The toughest and most frustrating aspect of giving out T-shirts is determining exactly how many of each size to order. Most races have to "guess" on the order, as their total field is not full before the deadline for ordering shirts, so it becomes an educated guessing game that is both frustrating to the race director and even more so to the runner when they don't get the proper size. What good is a shirt to a cash-paying customer if it doesn't fit him? Not a good thing to have to deal with.
So, what do runners think?
Even though perhaps you and I have a zillion shirts in our closet and might feel enough is enough, the overriding consensus, when I ask an audience of runners, is that they still want a shirt -- especially with tech shirts becoming sopopular (although more expensive).
If not a T-shirt, then what are good alternatives that will satisfy the event, the sponsors, and the runners? You mention tech socks, bottles, hats, packs of gels, or sweatbands. These items may interest you; however, they may not fit all the criteria a race needs to be sensitive to, as described above. And even if they did, no matter what a race director chose, we are of course not going to satisfy everyone. Additionally, there are races that doprovide very attractive "goodie bags" to each runner, which in fact do contain many of the items you suggest.
Another significant purpose of a T-shirt to the participant has to do with "bragging rights"; that is, if you walk around with your Ironman shirt or your Boston Marathon shirt, you are telling the world, "Hey, look at me, I did this event." Nothing wrong with that. A shirt like this is usually a conversation opener -- "Hey, did you run in that race?" At races like Boston and New York, millions of dollars of merchandise is sold (and mostly in the form of additional t-shirts), proving that many participants still want the shirts.
In short: As a runner myself, I understand your frustration. However, as a race director, I am also sensitive about many of the other concerns I have listed above.
It would be good to hear from others on this subject. Perhaps collectively we can come up with some reasonable alternative that works for everyone and which we can suggest to other race directors to consider for their events.