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I’m not exactly sure when or even why the tradition of race T-shirts began, but my guess is it was probably in the mid-70s when a bunch of skinny guys (it was always guys back then) would be standing around after a race, shivering in their wet stuff. That skinny guy would have been me.
As road races grew in stature and number, so did the prestige of having a finishers’ shirt. It was a badge of honor and it meant something. Back then, you had to finish most races to get a shirt which was incentive enough for plenty of people to start racing. Again, that would have been me.
One of my first road races as a full-fledged adult was the Mission Bay Half Marathon in San Diego and my primary reason to finish the darned thing was to just get the shirt. The race was pretty awful and consisted of multiple, mind-numbing loops around an island in the middle of Mission Bay, but the shirt was sweet.
Maybe I’m looking at this through the haze of many years of racing, but it seems to me that race shirts used to be highly coveted and near works of art. Back then, so many race shirts were so distinctive and beautifully designed that you wanted to keep and parade around town in it. If the shirt was good enough, you wanted to run the race time and time again just to get another shirt.
If the race was important or memorable enough to you (a PR, first marathon, age group win), you tended to keep the shirt in perpetuity. But as the years piled up, so did my race T-shirt pile. Eventually, my T-shirt collection became unmanageable and eventually I became a little discriminating in what I kept and what got tossed.
I’m not a collector by nature, but some of my treasured running shirts have survived down through the years. My oldest is the race shirt from National Running Week in 1978 which—for some reason I keep—even though I haven’t worn it this century. Another golden oldie is from the Pig Roast and Race in La Jolla in 1979 as well as the Palo Alto Great Race from the same year. Other favorites I never wear are a commemorative Sub-4 Track Club shirt from the 1980 Olympic Track Trial, the Runners Den 10-K in Phoenix in 1983 and the World Cross Country Champs in Auckland, New Zealand in 1988. Toss in a bunch of Austin Marathon shirts (1999 and 2004 are favorites) and I have a pretty hefty collection of shirts that rarely see daylight.
Strangely enough, I do wear race shirts from now defunct Austin races such as the Motive Bison Half Marathon (beautiful shirt, great race), CSC Spot Run, Bagelfest, Toughest Race in Texas, Shoes for Austin, IBM, News 8, Pervasive 10-Miler, Congress Avenue Mile and, of course, Chuy’s. All those shirts are special and I like to think helps keep the spirit of those races alive.
Ironically, as the entry fees for races have climbed, the quality of the race shirt has plummeted. The demand for the race shirts is still there, but they are either the same design year after year or the shirts are so crammed with sponsor logos, they look like a billboard.
Something else: The bigger, the more expensive the race, the lousier the shirts usually are. The three biggest culprits are the three most prestigious marathons—Chicago, New York City and Boston. Every year, all three race shirts are generic nothingness that you wear for a week or two after the race and then toss.
Boston’s was always the simplest: A boring white long-sleeve with one small logo, commemorating the race. Boston’s more contemporary shirts aren’t bad, but Boston was the first to discover that a cruddy race shirt meant that runners would spend plenty of money at the race expo to get a much more attractive shirt or jacket which did an infinitely better job of commemorating the race. (Know anyone who has run Boston who hasn’t bought a race jacket? Didn’t think so.)
Other major races in the country quickly picked up on this disheartening trend and followed suit. The best/worst example is the Rock ‘n’ Roll series that owns and produces world wide marathons and half marathons, including San Antonio and Dallas.
I haven’t run every Rock ‘n’ Roll race, but I’ve run enough to know its generic shirts also suck—by design. That way after picking up your race packet and glancing at the boring race shirt, you are immediately herded into a race store in the expo where you can buy nicer Rock ‘n’ Roll race shirts, jackets, coffee cups and just about everything else under the sun. Then, immediately after finishing the race, you are given yet another opportunity to buy something special. Kinda like Disneyworld.
At least, here in the ATX we have some vestige of race shirt integrity. Just like most everybody else, my favorites always include 3M, Austin Marathon and Run for the Water. Some of the other perennials such as Decker, Thundercloud Turkey Trot and Cap 10,000 have lost a little creativity over the years, but are also still keepers.
So is Boston’s, even if it’s still pretty ugly. Oh well, nobody races Boston for the shirt.
O Allison Macsas spends a lot of time on the road leading and organizing the Rogue Expeditions. Last weekend, Allison was up in Redmond, Washington and jumped into the Overlake Medical Center Half Marathon for a little workout and lo and behold, won the darned race in 1:16:13. Must be nice to have that kind of talent.
O Up in Georgetown, Francie Larrieu Smith’s Southwestern University men’s and women’s teams opened up their season last Friday with dual wins in their own meet. The Pirates’ Alex Medrano, who is a junior from Humble, opened his junior season with the victory in 17:54 as did Emily Boujemaa, who is from Bastrop, in 21:13. Next up is the Texas Lutheran Invitational this weekend in Seguin.
O Good to hear that Austin College in Sherman has added men’s cross-country for this fall. Last year, Austin College added women’s cross-country as a varsity sport. Matt Buchhorn is the coach for both teams.
O The University of Houston announced this week that Carl Lewis will join its track staff as a full-time coach this year. The nine-time Olympic gold medalist (and UH alumni) will follow his parents, both legendary coaches, into the same profession. Lewis had served as a volunteer coach last year to his former Olympic teammate Leroy Burrell who heads the program. (Burrell also added former Olympic sprinter and NCAA champ Floyd Heard to the staff which also includes three-time Olympic medalist Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie.) Lewis, who began his collegiate career at Houston in 1979, will coach the UH men’s sprinters and jumpers.
O Congrats to Andrea Fisher who won the Olympic Division of last Monday’s TriRock Triathlon in downtown. Fisher won in 2:15:09, while Nick Sterghos of Harker Heights won the men’s division in 2:01:07.
O This is a little late (sorry), but former Austinite Patrick Evoe (who now lives in Boulder) finished third in the Louisville Ironman in 8:49. The heat index topped 100 degrees in Louisville and Evoe gutted out a 3:16 marathon to hold onto third. Also in the race was Nancy Dasso who finished sixth in her division with a time of 12:07, just off her goal of a sub-12 hour clocking.
O Several Texans traveled to Connecticut last weekend for the New Haven 20-K which also served as the national championship for that distance. First Texan was Jeff Sadler of Austin who placed 36th overall in 1:10:31. Allison Mendez was the 13th woman in 1:16:47. Rebecca Wade of Houston was the seventh woman in 1:12:41.
O So sad to report that Jane Welzel died on Sunday after a mercifully short battle with pancreatic cancer. Welzel, who ran in five Olympic Marathon Trials, was 59. She had lived for the past 25 years in Fort Collins, Colorado, but briefly lived in Austin in the mid-80s (I think). One of the nicest runners to walk on this planet, Jane was a therapist who specialized in treating women with eating disorders.
O The 3M Half Marathon on January 25th announced this week that it has a new beneficiary: Girlstart. The race has pledged $50,000 toward Girlstart programs such as science, tech, engineering and math for K-12 girls.
O Had a chance to blow the froth off a few (well, one) with some ARC members at Hops & Grain last night and H&G owner Josh Hare told us about his upcoming epic bike trip (“the Bike Affair”) he has planned in a couple of weeks. Josh and some buddies will ride 1400 miles from Austin to Denver to raise money for prostate cancer research and awareness. They’ll be stopping at brew pubs along the way and organize talks about prostate cancer. Once in Denver, they’ll put their bikes down for the Great American Beer Festival (shocker). Josh and his bride Meg are off this weekend to the Lehigh Valley Marathon (my old stomping grounds) as Meg’s birthday tradition is to run a marathon on this weekend.
O Leo (the Lion) Manzano is in Brussels for the Diamond League final on Friday night. Leo will have his hands full in the 1500 with all the top guns: Silas Kiplagat, Asbel Kiprop, Ayanieh Souleiman and Galen Rupp (who is dropping way down in distance). Manzano and Rupp have raced each other six times in the mile/1500 and Leo holds a 4-2 edge. For the record, Manzano’s mile PR is 3:50.64 to Rupp’s 3:50.92. but Rupp, who hasn’t raced a 1500 since May, 2013, clearly focuses more on the 5000/10,000 than the mile. Leo will be shooting to mix it up with the big dogs and lower his 1500 PR (3:30.98).
O What I’m listening to this morning: “John Barleycorn Must Die,” by Traffic. Saw this great (but short-lived) Steve Winwood-centric band play this album one night at the Fillmore East in New York City.
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