Shirt Tales

Sweaty and stale, worn and threadbare, or ironed and framed: race T-shirts of all shapes and sizes tell the stories of our running lives


Posted: 7 November 2005
by Rob Spedding

They may not be fashionable or practical, but greying and fading race Ts possess a quality that no other item in our wardrobes, other than lucky pants, can boast – memories of past glories or long-gone disappointments. They can remind us of the time that all of our hard work came together and we flew to a personal best. Likewise, they can take us back to the race in which too many late nights and too few speed sessions lead to early retirement.

That's why we keep greying and fading race T-shirts. As we pull them on to clean the oven or wash the car, we're inspired to dig out the training diary that records our best ever marathon performance, or gives us clues as to why we dropped out of a 10K, and use the valuable racing lessons our old tops provide us with.

We've gathered together a collection of race T-shirts, the stories they tell, and the racing truths they represent. You've probably run some of these events and you might have kept hold of the same T-shirts, so pull them out and see what they tell you.

Send us a pic of your favourite race T-shirt, along with the story behind it, your name, town and finishing time, and we'll publish them all here on the website

Lisa Jackson

THE SHIRT New York City Marathon, 2004
Two years before the 2004 NYCM, my mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer. While she'd been undergoing chemotherapy, I suggested that she needed a goal to focus on that would motivate her to recover. As a fairly recent running convert myself, I couldn't think of anything more inspiring than doing one of the biggest, brashest marathons of them all – The New York City Marathon – with my mum and sister. We're from South Africa so we each wore a headdress made from an African-animal stuffed toy and a colourful feather duster (we wanted our giraffe, leopard and zebra to look like glamorous Las Vegas showgirls). The spectators simply loved our outfits and we were greeted with wild cheers of, “Go crazy, hat ladies!” when we came off the Queensboro Bridge. My mum had a ball and was so busy waving to all her fans that she never once complained. We finished in just over six hours in the dark but the sense of elation was amazing. A hip injury means that my mum's marathon days are probably over, but my race T-shirt will always remind me of the day my mum showed her two daughters how to do a moan-free marathon – in style.
Racing lesson Goals are vitally important. Picking a specific event to aim for, rather than racing simply when the fancy takes you, is a fantastic way of motivating yourself to run.

Mike Gratton

THE SHIRT England Vest, Commonwealth Games Marathon, 1982
My England vest, with the cloth number sewn on to it, will never be thrown away as it reminds me of my first major success at international level. As an 18-year-old I'd won the English Schools' 5,000m championships on the track, and held high hopes of representing my country. Sadly I broke my foot, and had to give up track racing. Instead, I took to the roads and discovered I had a talent for marathon running, so I started to specialise at that event. It took a while, but 10 years later I came third in the 1982 London Marathon and was selected to run for England in the Commonwealth Games Marathon in Brisbane, Australia. It was a really tough race, very hilly and extremely hot, but I came third behind two of the world's best runners, Rob de Castella of Australia and Tanzania's Juma Ikangaa, and set a personal best. The following year, I won the London Marathon, so the vest reminds me of a rather good period in my running career, but also of how finding an event that suited me reaped huge rewards.
Racing lesson Experiment with different race distances, then focus on one that suits your ambition, training routine and physical capabilities.

Andy Richardson

THE SHIRT Snowdonia Marathon, 1999
Emblazoned on my navy blue Snowdon Marathon T-shirt is the slogan: 26 miles 365 yards of agony and ecstasy. Those words perfectly encapsulate the transcendental experience of my ultimate race. Snowdon '99 was my second marathon and I prepared assiduously, running the Wolverhampton Marathon two months earlier and making frequent trips to Wales to recce the route. The race passed in the blink of an eye. I ran at a perfect pace, cruising comfortably through the wall and passing other runners right to the line. I've never run as well since. The T-shirt is a hymn to potential, reminding me what I'm capable of if I put my mind to it.
Racing lesson From following the correct training schedule to running sections of the route in advance, you can never be too prepared for a race.

Neil Tillott

THE SHIRT New York City Marathon, 2000
I ran my first marathon at London in April 1999, and so for 2000 I decided to tackle two 26.2-milers in a year. (I was 19, so it seemed like a really good idea!) I opted to run the Flora London Marathon in April and then the New York race in November, with the goal of running my best time in the States. I stupidly only took three days off after London and kept training up to New York. The result was that I ran exactly the same time for both marathons – my personal best of 3:26 – when I was hoping for my faster time to be around 3:15. Obviously, I was chuffed to have trained solidly for a year, and run two marathons seriously in the same amount of time, but it would have been nice to have run the second faster than the first.
Racing lesson Never underestimate the value of recovery. A good rule of thumb is to take one day of rest – that can include easy exercise – for every mile raced, so for a marathon your recovery period can be up to a month.

Rob Spedding

THE SHIRT Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, 2004
Finishing this event gave me one of the biggest buzzes I've ever received from running. Sure, the Himalayan 100 is a fantastic event – magnificent scenery, an immense challenge, and an awesome achievement – but for me the elation came simply from the fact that the bloody thing was over. I have never experienced moments of running-induced agony quite like those felt as I dragged myself up – and flung myself down – the Himalayan foothills. I completely underestimated the event, didn't bother with the long runs and hill sessions required and ran out of talent rather too soon into the five-day race. This shirt reminds me that I need to train, no matter what the event.
Racing lesson Whether your next event is a local 5K or a multi-day ultra run through a desert, to achieve your best result – or just keep the suffering to a minimum – you have to do the appropriate training.
Rachel Harland

THE SHIRT Flora London Marathon, 2003
I've been running since I was at school, so entering the 2001 Flora London Marathon seemed an obvious thing to do. I thought I'd be able to call on my years of running to help me finish in a good time. I didn't follow a schedule and, basically, undertrained and had a terrible run. So, when I secured a place in the 2003 event I made sure I did everything right. I trained incredibly hard for three months with the goal of a sub-3:30 finish as my motivation. It obviously worked, because on the day I finished in just under 3:15.
Racing lesson Most racing mistakes happen before the race itself. If you have a bad race, look back over your training diary and pinpoint the obvious training errors – and don't make them again.

Pauline Carter

THE SHIRT Marine Corps Marathon, Washington, USA, 1984
The 1984 New York City Marathon was going to be my best race ever. I'd trained hard and was sure I'd hit my goal time of 3:10. On the day, though, it was incredibly hot and horrifically humid and I had a complete nightmare, finishing almost an hour outside my target. Devastated, I headed to Washington for a holiday. When I arrived, I saw that the Marine Corps Marathon was on just a week after New York. I figured that as I had the training for a good marathon in my legs I might as well give it a go. I had a fantastic run – the weather was perfect and the atmosphere electric – and although I didn't quite hit 3:10 – I finished in 3:38 – it more than made up for my awful New York experience.
Racing lesson We all have our off days, and while you can learn from bad races, dwelling on them rarely helps. So, the sooner you can move on the easier it will be to cope with the disappointment, although we wouldn't recommend two marathons in a week.

Roger Bilsand

THE SHIRT Guide Dogs for the Blind vest, London Marathon, 2003
I was really looking forward to my first marathon, and started training just before Christmas 2002. Everything was going fantastically well, I was in really good shape and looking forward to running in my Guide Dogs vest… and four weeks before the race I badly injured my ankle ligaments. Despite lots of expensive physiotherapy, I soon realised I simply couldn't take part. I was massively disappointed, but know I made the right decision – the training didn't go to waste as I completed the New York City Marathon later that year.
Racing lesson No matter how desperate you are to race, listen to your body. Racing with an injury will simply lead to that injury becoming more serious. Skip the race, receive treatment and pick another goal.

Heidi Wilson

THE SHIRT Marathon of Britain, 2005
My map reading is appalling so when I ran my first Marathon of Britain in 2004, which involves a lot of navigating, I did it with a partner as I was terrified that I'd get lost. This year, I started with someone else, but from halfway I found myself on my own – I had to fend for myself. Happily, I had surprisingly little trouble finding my way. In fact, I was so engrossed in my maps, I managed to run for 70 miles with a sprained ankle. I grew in confidence as the event went on, and eventually finished as first lady – seven hours ahead of my nearest rival.
Racing lesson Believe in yourself. Much of the art of successful racing is in the mind. Physically you are capable of far more than you realise but you have to believe you can do it first.

Kate Scotter

THE SHIRT Newark Half-Marathon, 2003
The race started off badly. I'd press-ganged my brother into joining me, but just before the start he dropped his new watch and smashed the face. Things didn't improve once we started running. It was a boiling hot day, I soon started to feel dreadful and at four miles I just thought “I can't do this,” and psychologically gave up. I kept running, but relaxed a little and stopped worrying about the time and distance as I just wanted to finish. As I crossed the line I looked at the clock and was pleasantly surprised to see that, despite everything, I'd recorded a personal best!
Racing lesson Pressure can be a serious impediment to your racing potential. Try to find a pre-race routine that helps you relax or simply try racing without your watch – you might surprise yourself.

Ros Tabor

THE SHIRT England vest, Home Countries Veteran Cross-Country, 2003
I started running in my mid-30s, and didn't give any thought to international call-ups, so being able represent my country in the Home Countries Veteran Cross-Country event at Cardiff was a fantastic honour. A masters call-up is a little different to how senior runners gain selection. There's no trial race as you have to provide the selectors with a record of your race performances and show that you've been supporting Masters events. So it pays to race regularly. I found that running for England really boosted my motivation and actually made me really excited about moving into the next age group and doing it again. In fact, I'm taking part in this year's event in the W55 category.
Racing lesson Running is one of the few sports that can offer greater rewards as you age. Seek out opportunities that Masters racing offers. Those childhood dreams of wearing your country's colours might just come true.

Berenice Baker

THE SHIRT Race For Life, 2003
I've kept every Cancer Research Race for Life T-shirt I've ever received.
Unlike some race T-shirts they're stylish, well-fitting and different every year, and not made of poor-quality cotton that's better suited for washing the car than running. That's not the main reason I keep them, though. I'm very fond of my Race for Life T-shirts as they mark my annual test of how running has improved my fitness over the years. I staggered around my very first Race For Life eight years ago, but since then every one I've done has felt far easier, I've enjoyed them much, much more and, best of all, my times have become faster, and in 2003 I cracked 35 minutes.
Racing lesson Consistency and repetition are two of the secrets of long-term running success. Racing the same event year after year is a great marker of progress.


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Discuss this article

Can't believe that I'm starting this thread - maybe I'm the only sentimental one or nobody else has noticed "T-shirt Tales".
Posted: 16/11/2005 at 23:00

My favourite piece of gear is a tatty Melbourne Marathon jacket that my father wore after running in the Melbourne Marathon ( ofcourse ! ) many years ago. It has a big iron mark in the back where it was accidently ironed for too long...but I love it and still wear it.My Dad can't believe that I still have it.
Sentimental value = off the richter scale.
Posted: 16/11/2005 at 23:28

One of my favourite tops that I couldn't possibly wear anymore looks like it came out of the ark. It is white and home-sewn and made of cotton with Auckland embroidered on it - early '60s before screenprinting etc had come to light it was my first provincial x-country running top.
It brings back great memories.

Posted: 17/11/2005 at 00:12

okay sounds stupid but there's this little plain black marks and spencer singlet, think Grease style!, very nice side vents and really comfortable material. This was my racing top until I joined a club!, Still fits me today, use it for the odd track session and any race I fancy running and seeming to be unattached :). Was there for me at the beginning, and it's still here now. Might in future race when it's really cold use it as an under vest as it's so clingy :)
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 00:34

My Sachsenman 2000 finisher shirt, not because it looks nice or anything, I happen to think the design is pretty ugly. It's just because it's the first Ironman finisher shirt I got, and I feel I really earned that with almost 16 hours of blood sweat and tears.
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 05:56

I still have the t-shirt from the first race I ever did - Hatfield Broad Oak 10k, 1999.

It's got very thin and faded and small holes are starting to appear, but I can't throw it away.
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 09:34

2 tops, bith of which are too small now.

My first AAW vest
My yellow Kodak sponsored school T Shirt
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 09:35

A Singapore Marathon 2004 shirt which I haven't worn yet, it says "The Courage to run, the spirit to triumph" on the back. I bought it as a spectator last December when Scotty ran the marathon there, partially in honour of my late brother, whose family still live there.
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 10:50

My Springfield Striders 10 mile race T Shirt incorpoarating the Essex Champs - circa 1991 they only gave them to the first 50 finishers - I ran just under 58 minutes and was the only one from our club to get one - and although my old training partner Terry Knightley went on to win nearly 40 Essex medals, I beat him that day and he didn't get the T Shirt! and has never forgotten it!
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 10:51

i like my 2004 london marathon t-shirt - crap quality but as it was my first marathon that's the reason

on an (almost) related topic i received a bath half marathon t-shirt yesterday for next years race!
Posted: 17/11/2005 at 11:30

This year's favourite T/shirt was my 34k "Legend" one. The race was an inaugral event over the famed Waiatarua course where Arthur Lydiard had his runners train.
You can imagine my dismay when I came back from a training run and found my car broken into and my running bag with this shirt in it stolen.
Posted: 20/11/2005 at 07:29

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