Kalmer’s Corner — Trials and Tribulations of the T-Shirt

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I know Comrades is already long gone, but this month I want to write about something I spotted when I was in Durban to support my Murray & Roberts teammates and the other runners. Two days prior to the Comrades, I did my two-hour long run on the famous beach promenade, and what kept me entertained throughout my run was spotting all the different race T-shirts from races all over the world, and from at least the past three decades. That got me thinking…

By Modern Athlete Brand Ambassador René Kalmer

I know Comrades is already long gone, but this month I want to write about something I spotted when I was in Durban to support my Murray & Roberts teammates and the other runners. Two days prior to the Comrades, I did my two-hour long run on the famous beach promenade, and what kept me entertained throughout my run was spotting all the different race T-shirts from races all over the world, and from at least the past three decades. That got me thinking…

We all have that one friend that is still wearing his Comrades T-shirt from the 90s. It has lost its colour, it’s grey, faded, torn, tired… (Yes, I am talking about the T-shirt, not the friend.) But wearing this shirt makes your friend feel bulletproof. He/she worked so hard to earn that shirt, and still wears it with pride!

What you will never know, though, is whether it was his first Comrades, or perhaps his last Comrades? Did he have a good run on the day, or did he crawl in just before cut-off. The fact of the matter is that however his race went, that shirt has sentimental value to him, and that’s why he is still wearing it.

Getting Shirty

Over the years race shirts have also evolved massively, going from classic, largely white cotton shirts, to featuring brighter colours, catchy slogans, with slim-fit, easy-dry, moisture-wicking materials, etc. Some races even give long sleeve shirts, whilst others have the route profile or distance on them, which you can use to brag a bit afterwards. But what is the etiquette when it comes to wearing race T-shirts? I suppose everyone has their own sentiments regarding this, but let us touch on a few.

  1. For how many years after the race should you be allowed to still wear the T-shirt?

My feeling is that as long as it makes you feel special, you can walk the walk (and talk the talk) wearing it. Sure, some people will ask questions, or look a bit surprised at the date, while your partner might feel that it is more fitting to wear it as a sleeping shirt than at races, but go ahead… You went there and got the T-shirt!

  1. Should you run the race in the race T-shirt?

They say you shouldn’t try anything new on race day, but if the shirt fits, go for it! I have very fond memories of the SPAR Women’s races, where literally thousands of runners rock up in their race shirts to paint the town pink, red or orange, depending on the year’s shirt colour.

  1. What should you do with race T-shirts?

Do you train in them? Do you sleep in them? Do you wear them to your club’s social functions or prize giving? Do you hang them in your bar? Or do you just keep them in the bottom drawer of your cupboard to take a trip down memory lane every now and again? My sister, Christine, surprised me a few years ago with a unique quilt she made me using all my special race T-shirts. (Still not sure how I feel about the fact that she cut up most of my race shirts, but it is a treasured gift…)

  1. Should I wear the shirt if I didn’t start the race?

This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer. Perhaps you did all the preparation and entered, but due to unforeseen circumstances couldn’t run the race. Do you ‘earn’ the right to wear the shirt only if you actually run the race? I will leave this one open for debate…

  1. Should I wear the shirt if I didn’t finish the race?

It could be that a non-finisher is wearing the shirt to motivate himself in order to finish it next time. Also, keep in mind that wearing the shirt often leads to people asking you how the race went, and needing to tell them that you didn’t finish might just be that extra motivation to push harder next time. And let’s be honest, it’s not as if you stole a medal on the finish line…

  1. Are you allowed to wear someone else’s race shirt?

Again the same question pops up… Do you need to ‘earn’ the right to wear it?

  1. Which T-shirts do you keep, and which ones do you throw out eventually?

Some prefer to only keep the ‘impressive ones,’ like Comrades, Two Oceans, marathons and international races. Others keep the shirts from the first time they ran a distance, such as their first 10km. Over the years I have kept a lot of my race T-shirts, all for different reasons. Although I might not wear them anymore, they all have a special place in my heart. Or my quilt!

René Kalmer is a two-time Olympian, having represented SA in the 1500m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in the marathon at the 2012 London Games. She has also won more than 40 SA titles in track, road and cross country at youth, junior and senior level, in distances from 800m to the half marathon.

 

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