Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2010 Race Shirts Reviewed

I’ll never forget my first race shirt. It was from the Orange County Cross Country Invitational in 1987. I wore that shirt until it had holes in it. Then I kept wearing it. A white, cotton, ringer-T with multi-colored, neon palm trees on the front - it might actually be fashionable again. (Why do we insist on revisiting such a frightening fashion era as the 80’s?) But even if it met general fashion standards, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t meet modern ultra-runners' race shirt standards. A somewhat surprising fact I've noticed int he last couple years: We're pretty picky about our shirts.

As ultra-runners we don’t put up much with cotton, but our love (or hate) of a shirt goes way beyond performance. From fit (like the baggie-but-short-waisted women’s shirts at AR50 last year) to color (like the pink-on-black of those Quad Dipsea shirts) we seem to be highly critical. And with so many running shirts in our closets, why not? I have too many shirts that I love to bother with shirts that are just “okay.”

It was with these thoughts in mind that I realized what great shirts I received from the four ultras I ran this year. What makes a great shirt? Well, I suppose it’s a matter of opinion. Here’s what I think …

Leona Divide 50 – April 2010

This shirt kicked off the season with what I find to be the most important feature of any shirt: a women’s specific style. I’m not talking colors here; I mean the cut, fit, and drape. I want it to be flattering. I did mention I was picky, didn't I? This shirt was fitted (maybe just a bit too fitted – I could have gone with the medium instead of the small), a non-dirt-showing gray, and with a decent logo. My only complaint is that the fabric is just a bit thick, which means it stays in the closet on warm days.

Silver State 50 – May 2010

This was definitely the girliest of all the shirts. The cut was perfect, but the pink color was just a bit too pink for my taste. Still, I loved this shirt except for one major flaw: It had a scratchy tag. This tag was on a seam that comes across the abs, and it bugged me, so I cut it out. Big mistake. Now there is an even scratchier piece of “fringe.” Dangit! But I’m hoping after a million washings it will soften up.

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 – July 2010

This shirt scored big points for being a Patagonia silkweight capilene. Best fabric ever! (Well, except for Icebreaker, but we can’t hold our standards that high, really.) It also has a cute logo. Nice job, TRT! Unfortunately, this one doesn’t get a lot of use because it’s not a women’s shirt. Boxy and big—it’s simply not cute on me. Guess what? Women don’t really like to wear men’s shirts. Funny, huh? Still, I wear it running sometimes under my hydration pack. It will likely get a lot of use in the backcountry and as a layering piece in the winter.

Where’s Waldo 100K – August 2010

I consider this shirt the big winner of the year. I have zero negative things to say about it. If you have seen me out on the trails in the past month, there is a 90% likelihood that I was wearing this shirt. Yes, this means I have to do laundry frequently. Or else it means I’m kind of smelly. I won’t say which. But regardless, this shirt has it all: A comfortable, flattering fit (women’s styling, of course); light, airy, Sporthill fabric; that "doesn’t-show-the-dirt" gray; and a cool logo depicting the major climbs of the race. Beauty and performance! What more could a girl want?

The races out there just seem to get better and better. As do the shirts. I do, however, feel strongly that a good shirt is of secondary importance to the overall quality of the race. I was one of the few people that did not complain about receiving no shirt at TRT in 2009. Hey, give me a Buff and a coffee mug! That’s cool! But when a race shirt scores big, like these did for me this year, it’s pretty fun. They may not get as much use as that OC Cross Country shirt did, but they also have a lot more company in my closet.

What’s important to you in a race shirt? Does it matter what kind of shirt you get at your race? Do you have any particularly loved or despised shirts from recent years? I’d love to hear about them!


  1. Oh you are just so adorable with your race t-shirt review! I can't even stand it. And, hey, I know where you're posing in some of those photos, your backyard! ;)

  2. Meghan- "Adorable"? Really?? Now I feel like a complete dork. Oh wait, I am one, so I guess I won't worry about it. ;) And what on earth makes you think those pictures are posed? Okay, you can stop laughing now ...

  3. I'm not so picky about short sleeved shirts, but I am about long-sleeved ones, for some reason. The one that I reach for first, ALWAYS, is a white Brooks from the 2006 Kokanee trail runs. Haven't found one that's anywhere near as comfortable as that...

  4. While I am all about "no goodies in a bag, just drop the price", and majority of my shirts go to Goodwill right away, if the shirt IS good (with color, fabric, fit, no bulky logos), it scores, indeed. This year I can name one - Tejas Trail Hells Hills one.
    You do look cute in your photos:)

  5. Turi - You're probably picky about the L/S shirts for the same reason that I am: you're tall. When the sleeves aren't long enough it's incredibly annoying!

    Olga - You know, for the most part I'm with you on the "forget the shirt and drop the price" option. But then if the shirt turned out to be really awesome, I might be bummed. I do give quite a few to goodwill myself. Because, um, I'm picky.

  6. Great post, and a nice twist on the gear review :-)

    I consider myself pretty picky with these matters as well. It's amazing when you score a good race shirt (rare for me) and annoying when it blows. I really only have two that I like: Vermont 100 (2009) gave awesome long sleeve (with sleeves that are long enough!) cap 1 Patagonia shirts (score!), and then a North Face shirt from the endurance challenge 50M last year. Rocky Raccoon 100 does give great fleeces out.

    A good race shirt is hard to come by, but it appears if I choose more west coast races I'll get way better shirts!

  7. I have 600 race shirts; I've only thrown away a few (during races). I went to the Hopkins (MN) Rasberry Festival 5 Mile wearing my 1977 shirt and saw a guy there wearing his from 1971 - neither fit and both had holes. My favorite shirts come from races like the Great Lake Sakatah Bullhead Run, Sand Burr Days 10K and other tiny towns with weird festivals. Now I lean toward the technical T's like everyone else, but the old one-color cotton ones have their own charm.

  8. I like the option to buy the shirt for a higher price. This was the case with the SOB 50k. I'd never done the race so I decided to pay extra for the shirt. I"m so so so glad I did. It's my favorite running shirt of all time. North face, women's cut, soft silky fabric, perfect fit for me. I've worn it all summer! (And I'm wearing it in my profile pic.) Like you, I don't like the men's cuts.

    Worst shirt of the year was the Tacoma City Marathon. Womans cut but sizing is way off so even my normal medium is super small. And too many logos on it. It went to Goodwill.

  9. I picked up a LD shirt form InB without the date...hey I ran the two years prior but the quality of the shirt is really good...and the prior years shirts were less than par!

    I don't mind paying if I get something worth paying for!

  10. PS I might totally steal this idea...just sayin' ;-)

  11. Paige - Wow, that Vermont shirt does sound sweeeet! Yeah, more west coast races!!

    Steve - Absolutely, those old cotton ones from local 5Ks have their own special place in my heart! I don't usually wear them running anymore, but I'll wear them on just about any other occasion. I have a favorite from the Fisherman's Picnic 5K in Grand Marais, MN. (Maybe it's a Minnesota thing? More quirky, ocal festivals than other states perhaps?) Thanks for reminding me! Also, I can't imagine 600 shirts, but I did make a quilt with a bunch of mine back in college. Good use for ones I love but probably won't wear.

    Sarah - I hate it when the sizing is way off! Even worse - when you register and have to select your size, but they don't tell you if it's a men's shirt (aka "unisex") or women's, so you have no idea how to pick your size!

    Stuart - Great quote: "I don't mind paying if I get something worth paying for." Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, but it's true. And please, steal this idea! Imitation and flattery and all that ...

  12. This is a very nice post, so informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing such a great post.

  13. Actually, as far as the sleeve length on long sleeve t's, I end up pushing them up my arm anyway. For me it's more through the shoulders and armpits. The last few l/s race shirts I've picked up have been weirdly constricting there...

  14. Turi - Hmm, weird. Personally though, I hate long sleeved shirts that leave that little gap between the end of the sleeve and the top of my glove. It makes me cold!! I'd say maybe it's not that cold in Reno, but I know better!

  15. I destroyed my San Diego 100 tech shirt - wore it into the ground. How I did love it so, but eventually, even *I* could smell myself in it.

  16. Russ - Wasn't that race only two years ago? Wow, you must have worn it a lot! Out of curiosity, how were the P2P shirts?

    Turi - So then, what did you think of the Tahoe Marathon shirts? They had potential, but I thought the logo was too big, and of course, since they were long sleeved I had to get a large for the sleeves to be long enough. Not sure this one will be sticking around, but we'll see.

  17. I'm with you on the TRT shirt-- I was very excited to see a Patagonia shirt in the race bag. But men's? Come on, spring for the ladies version RD's. It was so slim fitting I decided to shorten it...without measuring. Oops, straight to the Goodwill bag. And in my opinion this year's worst shirt award goes to the AR50. A quick fall from grace-- but the best jacket design yet!

  18. Diane - I didn't see the AR swag this year, but from the 2009 race I can say that I gave away my shirt immediately - very ill-fitting in spite of the ladies cut - but I LOVE my finishers jacket. That thing is practically glued to me.