My Life in Race Shorts (yes, shorts!)

Race shorts from the Nordstrom International Road Race.

Joe Dudman started running road races as a sophomore in high school, circa 1980. Since that time he has accumulated only two race shorts (Yes, he finally got around to counting them!)

As any runner can tell you, T-shirts are the standard souvenir for almost every race. They’re a functional garment that provides a large “canvas” for the race logo, along with any beneficiaries or sponsors. They are simultaneously a way for the runner to show off his participation and accomplishment and for the race director to promote her event. But, as any runner can also tell you, it doesn’t take long before your dresser drawers (or plastic bins) are overflowing with race shirts, and it’s time to look up quilt makers on Craig’s List.

Once in awhile, however, a race will offer an alternative to shirts. The Oregon Road Runners Club has recently begun handing out finisher’s socks at their events, with the race name on them. The Steep Hill Chase in Eugene included very nice running hats with the race name embroidered on them. And last month Überthons provided running shorts for runners in their Summer Half Marathon.

Which brings us to the subject of race shorts, an extremely rare kind of race souvenir. In over three decades of road races, I’ve received only two pairs of event-specific running shorts (that is, shorts with the race name printed on them, offered in place of the traditional T-shirt). There are lots of large races that sell shorts with the race logo on them at the expo (I have a pair I bought at the Boston Marathon), but they aren’t the official “race garment”. No, I’m talking about shorts that you choose a size for when you sign up, and which appear in your goody bag at packet pickup.

My two pairs of race shorts include the Nordstrom International Road Race in Clackamas and the No Excuses Run For Cystic Fibrosis. The former are a nice pair of Asics/Tiger shorts with a unique asymmetrical design. The latter are a little more generic. The nice things about race shorts are they are a change from race shirts (a bit of a welcome novelty), and shorts are often slightly more expensive than shirts so most runners have an abundance of shirts but a much smaller rotation of shorts. So a new pair of shorts included in a race fee is a nice perk.

Race shorts can be a nice souvenir, but the graphics by necessity are very small!

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to race shorts, and it’s no surprise that this particular garment isn’t a more common sight in race packets. For one thing, shorts are smaller than shirts and have a less obvious place to put a logo or race name. Shirts can have the graphics emblazoned front and center (literally) in a large format, while shorts require smaller images or text placed off center on the thigh. A T-shirt can be read from a reasonable distance in many social contexts, but it can be awkward to try to read someone’s shorts (“Did you run Nordstrom, or are you just happy to see me?”)

Race shorts from the No Excuses Run For Cystic Fibrosis.

Also, T-shirts are a simple and standard shape, and most runners have a pretty good idea about their sizes. Running shorts, on the other hand, come in a wide variety of styles, each with their own sizing quirks. It’s hard to tell from a photo on a website or entry form how a particular style of shorts will fit, so runners take their chances when they sign up (my No Excuses Run shorts turned out to be too small).

Detail from No Excuses Run race shorts.

And maybe it’s just me, but running shorts don’t evoke memories of the race itself the way a T-shirt can. You may have noticed I haven’t said anything about these two races. That’s because I don’t really remember much at all about them! Somehow a good T-shirt will imprint something about the race in my mind, while these shorts just didn’t have the same effect on me.

Finally, a shirt is an easy way to show off your participation in a race. You can wear it to work the next day, to the supermarket, or in any relatively informal context. But wearing skimpy, lightweight running shorts anywhere but to your next race or group run is problematic. And running shorts don’t make very good quilts!

So while a change of pace from the typical race shirt is nice once in awhile, I’d have to say two pairs of race shorts in 30+ years of running seems about right.

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