Our Best Race Shirts

For many runners, the swag at the end of the race is just as important as the non-tangible reasons for running a race. If you don’t think this is true, check out all the angry comments on Facebook from upset participants in the Miami Marathon & Half Marathon who missed out on medals this past weekend. I’ve read quite a few articles on which races have the best medals, but I haven’t seen articles give the same type of attention to the best race shirts.

Most of the races I participate in hand out “free” race shirts (I know I’m absorbing a part of the cost of the shirt through my race fees). Most of the time I hand the shirts over to Ben because I don’t like the shirts. They’re ill-designed, ill-fitting, and/or covered in logos of the sponsors. Sponsors are very important in supporting races and thus, race directors promise brand exposure through plastering logos all over the shirts. But I’m not being paid to be a walking billboard, so I don’t wear the shirts. And I know I’m not the only one who feels way. Not wearing race shirts outside of race day is a pity because race shirts, more than medals, provide more exposure about the event to the running community. Aside from the day of the race and possibly the next day, people don’t wear their medals and walk around town (well, they might, but we’d give them a side-eye). People are more likely to wear the race shirts on another day. How likely though, depends upon how much they like the shirt. So many race shirts are so uninspired and boring. I’m here to celebrate good race shirts.

Between Ben and me, we have a rather large collection (most of it is his because Ben’s been racing longer and I bequeathed him most of mine) of race shirts. I decided to go through our collection and rank order our best race shirts. I’m basing the order on how well-designed I found the shirt.

1. 2013 Wineglass Half Marathon

2013 Wineglass Half MarathonThis is my favorite race shirt because I find everything about this shirt just about perfect. It’s a great women’s cut technical long sleeve shirt in a beautiful color and has a great design. I love the great Wineglass Marathon /Half Marathon symbol of a wineglass with the stem being in the form of a runner. Because this is a woman’s shirt, the runner is female. For the men’s shirt, the runner is male. I even really appreciate the small touches like depicting the wine in the glass to be sloshing a bit because of the running. Another great quality of this shirt – minimal sponsor logos. There’s a small discreet Asics logo on the side of the sleeve and another small one in the back near the neckline. I love this shirt and I even wear it as a casual shirt going about town, despite it being made with technical material.

2. 2010 ING New York City Marathon
20140205-140004.jpg

This shirt got 2nd place because I love how the design elements in the shirt truly reflect New York City and the marathon. From left to right, the words printed on the shirt are the neighborhoods and bridges that the racers go through in the marathon in the order that they encounter them. You start in Staten Island and end in Central Park. In addition, the words are printed to form the outline of the Manhattan skyline. There are just a few logos in the  back, but nothing too distracting. Overall it’s a great shirt that really fits the nature of the NYC Marathon.

3. 2012 Musselman Triathlon

20140205-140013.jpgThis is another lovely well fitting women’s cut shirt. Musselman Triathlon is fantastic example of an event that knows how to brand itself. They have an adorable mussel as a mascot. It’s place front and center on the shirt, but it’s not gaudy or obnoxious. The style is simple and clean. The only downside is the fair number of sponsor logos in the back, but the front is so well-designed that I can kinda forgive them for all the logos.

4. Lifetime Miami Marathon & Half Marathon

20140205-145227.jpgMostly I like it for the cool art deco-y design. Miami is famous for their art deco buildings and artwork, so again, the race logo fits the city. Ben is quite enamored with his new shirt because it fits him well. We both adore the striking hue of blue that the shirt is in. We’re so tired of white shirts. I also like the little touch of the words “Fame Runs” which run vertical to Miami on the shirt. Miami Marathon’s slogan is being “Miami famous” and fame runs sounds like famous. Cute. Like the previous Musselman shirt, there’s a fair number of sponsor logos in the back, which detracts a bit from the shirt.

5. 2013 Running Festival of Lights – Chanukkah Chalf Marathon

20140205-140028.jpgDespite having almost freeze to death in this race, I actually like the shirt. Honestly I wouldn’t blamed me if I was so traumatized from being out in the biting wind that I wasn’t able to appreciate the shirt. I think the design is quite clever with the theme of the race — a menorah made of various running shoes’ imprints with candle flames on top. The blue color of the sneaker menorah is another appropriate touch to the Hannukkah theme. The only logo on this shirt is the one for NYCRuns, which was the organization that puts on this event, is very prominently displayed on the back. I would prefer something smaller and more discreet. I also wish this shirt fit us better. It’s a rather shapeless shirt (even though we have the shirts in small) and a little too big.

6. 2013 Sleepy Hollow 10K

20140205-140050.jpgThis is just a fun shirt. The orange color of the shirt fits the Halloween theme of the race. I love headless horseman with the flaming pumpkin head (and yes, there’s a headless horseman at the race) and a runner running away! It perfectly captures the fun feel of the race. It’s a rather nice long-sleeved cotton shirt that fits well, so I wear it when I’m being very casual. There are many sponsor logos and names in the back, which I don’t care for.

7. 2012 Paine to Paine Trail Half Marathon

20140205-140102.jpgI wish I wanted to wear this race shirt more often. It was a fantastic event (well-executed, great atmosphere, and challenging trail half marathon). The accurate representation of the course route on the shirt (and it starts in the front, winds to the back, and goes back to the front) on the shirt is unique. The sponsor logos are placed discreetly on the bottom of the back of the shirt. The biggest drawback of this shirt and the reason why we don’t wear it much, is that it’s the biggest and baggiest race shirt we own. And yes, it’s the small size. We both swim inside the shirt and it’s so shapeless when we wear it, that it detracts from the cool design. Had it been a better fitting shirt, we would both wear it with pride.

8. 2013 Woodridge Run for Pizza

20140205-140110.jpgAnother good design that reflects the theme of the race. I love the yellow circle, which is ostensibly a pizza, but could also be interpreted to be like a sun. The outline of the runners and their path going across the pizza/sun adds another element of visual interest. The big negative for this shirt is (as you might have guessed) the grossly obnoxious sponsor logos placements on the back of the shirt. The logos are HUGE and take up a good portion of the back of the shirt. You want a walking billboard? You got it with this shirt.

So these are our favorite race shirt designs. I hope more race directors think about race shirt designs for their events. The design matters!

What are your favorite race shirt designs? Does it make a difference to you if a race shirt has several sponsor logos all over the shirt?

By the way, there’s a whole race etiquette involved with when you can and cannot wear a race shirt.

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9 thoughts on “Our Best Race Shirts

  1. I like most of my race shirts, though there are a couple I never wear. I agree that they need to have a subtle, smart logo and minimize the sponsors and busy-ness. Most importantly, they need to be comfortable. Unfortunately, the one from my first-ever 5K was a cheap, crappy cotton t-shirt with a terrible logo, so I cut the arms out and made a tank out of it. My first-ever 5-mile turkey trot shirt is rarely worn because the logo and color are awful. I guess I break some of bad ben’s rules, but I couldn’t care less. I wear my good race shirts all the time, running errands, around the house, to workout in, and even to work during casual weekend shifts. so what?

    • Great use of a bad race shirt to turn it into a tank!

      Yeah, I don’t follow all the etiquette rules either. I wore a shirt before I completed the race. It was cold and I needed more layers. I’ll do it again in a heart beat.

  2. Great post! Like you, most of my race shirts go to my husband because they just don’t fit. You know how I feel about women’s cut shirts–they’re a must! Sponsor logos don’t bother me if they’re on the back and discreet. I do have one I wear around the house with logos all over it because it’s soft. But it’s strictly an around the house shirt. My favorite race shirts are: 2012 Disney Princess Half (women’s cut, fits perfectly, nice design), 2012 Yonkers Marathon/Half (women’s cut, nice simple design and hot pink!), 2009 Chicago Marathon (women’s cut, cool design, nice blue color) , 2012 Philly Marathon (women’s cut and NO logos at all).

  3. Those are all great! I’m cool with sponsor logos.
    My favorite shirt is the one from the Baltimore half last year. It’s this eye-searing lime green color that I absolutely love. The turkey trot that I did had an awesome shirt that I didn’t even get because I wasn’t one of the first 600 people to sign up. But like, they had more than 600 people the year before. So why they wouldn’t order more than 600 shirts is beyond me. I was kind of mad.

  4. Hood to Coast is one of my favorites because it’s just a cool ass race. The best overall is from the 2012 Baltimore Marathon. Under Armor was the official sponsor and they made an awesome shirt in a great green hue! Women’s fit perfect. (I hate when the women’s shirts just hang on you in the most unflatteringly way possible)

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