Surf City Start

Hope you’ve got the right shirt on.

This past Sunday almost 20,000 runners tore it up along Pacific Coast Highway as they ran the Surf City Half & Full Marathon. And I couldn’t help but notice as I motored along with my running brothers and sisters that literally thousands of them were committing a huge fashion faux pas.

They were wearing the 2014 Surf City Marathon tech shirts given to them for the race.

That’s a no-no!

Now, the Surf City shirts were pretty sweet this year… yellow for the guys and pink for the ladies. That said, those are the only two shirts in the world that should NOT have been worn during the race.

You may think I’m crazy and wondering “Why shouldn’t someone wear the shirt given to them specifically for that race?”


Let me backtrack a little.

Surf City Men's Shirt

Don’t wear this one today!

Athletes can be a pretty superstitious bunch, especially when it comes to their performance.

In basketball, the last person to shoot a basket during warm-ups will supposedly have a good game.

In baseball, it’s bad luck to touch the baselines while running off and on the field in between innings.

In hockey, before a game players hit the goalie on his shin pads with their sticks for good luck.

Runners are a similarly superstitious lot. They have their own pre-race rites and rituals (I’ve got several of my own).

And this “forbidden shirt” rule is one that numerous veteran runners told me before my very first race.

It’s a commonly held belief amongst runners that wearing the shirt for a particular race when you actually run that race is bad luck.


Because you haven’t crossed the finish line yet. You haven’t earned it.

To do this is to risk offending the running gods and have them punish you with a bad finish time, runner’s trots or even the dreaded DNF.

Once you finish the race, that shirt is yours to wear without worry until the end of time, but until you do it should be strictly off-limits.

If you look at the runners on race day who are wearing that race’s shirt, they are almost always the newbies, the rookie runners who don’t know any better or haven’t been properly warned. And I do think this naiveté protects them from the wrath of the various running deities.

Surf City Women's Shirt

Avoid this one too ladies.

But those of us in the know tend to heed the advice, lest we jeopardize our running mojo.

Now if you feel compelled to wear a shirt for a particular race, you can wear shirts from prior years. Those shirts have already had their demons exorcised.

As for me, my rule of thumb is to wear the race shirt after I’ve arrived home following a race and had a much-needed shower. At that point the shirt is free from the dreaded Brady “tiki curse” and safe to wear.

Yeah, I know the whole thing is silly… but like the Bud Light commercial says “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”

And do you really want to tempt fate?

Run on!

(Please let me know if you disagree with the “forbidden shirt” rule or if you have any race superstitions that you follow.)

Posted on February 4, 2014, in Etiquette, General, Humor, Running Nuggets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Great topic, and I totally agree. We even have the same ritual . . . I normally wear my race shirt after I get cleaned up, or if I’ve run the race with the team from my workplace (as we did at Surf City) we wear the race shirt to work on Monday for the group picture. But during that race? Never! I’m not even a real big fan of wearing a race shirt in other races, I usually reserve mine for training runs or the gym. But that’s just me.

    • Glad you liked it… this is one funny topic I’ve been wanting to cover for a bit, but figure I’d wait until after a race. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a race shirt during a race either. They end up as gym and training run fodder. I plan to wear Surf City this Saturday. I’ll be curious if anyone refutes the article… I always like a good debate. Later.

  2. I follow the same rule. The one time that I wasn’t thinking and tried on the shirt for 3 minutes I ended up in the ER for 6 hours after the race that weekend. Now I tell others my story and tell them not to wear their shirts…but not all of them follow my recommendation. They’re taking their race/life into their own hands at that point! LOL!! 😀

    • Wow… I didn’t even consider warning people not to even put it on prior to the race (I do, just to make sure it fits… they do have some funky sizing sometimes). Talk about a cautionary tale. Thanks for reading.

  3. I have read a few other articles over time on this topic. I liked the professional sports analogies that you used, none of which I believe I have heard before. I participated in the same event Sunday (the marathon) at Surf City. I remember asking a female runner if her pink shirt was “race issue” or “after market vendor”. She wasn’t very clear. As to the wear of the race shirt on race day, the topic came up when I was talking to other participants at Surf City. Maybe it’s because there were such an inordinately large amount of runners wearing race day shirts. (Maybe because technical trail runs dont lend themselves to first time participants!) But I digress. In any case I normally do not wear a race day shirt during the event. In March 2006 I found myself in a quandary-an unseasonable and cold torrential down pour at the Napa Marathon start…I was wearing a singlet and had the race day poly-pro Napa Long Sleeve in my post race bag. I tempted the running gods, wore it, and ended up with a break out performance-my fastest marathon time in 5 years. One final note-often marathons consider “participant” shirts-you receive them before hand. For the Oklahoma marathon we received a cotton race shirt in the pre-event packet and a poly-pro shirt “if” we finished!

    • Hey Eddie! Like all superstitions, the whole shirt thing does seem a little silly, but like the “rally cap” in baseball or the “lucky jersey” I think these things are fun to discuss and debate. I did come close once to wearing a race shirt on race day SD R ‘n’ R half in ’10, but caught myself as I was pinning the bib on going “what am I thinking.” I do like how the Peachtree Road Race does it where you get handed the shirt at the end of the race (in lieu of a medal) and the design is kept secret until race day. Catch you at an upcoming race!

  4. Wearing a shirt from a race you haven’t completed is just as lame as wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt from a place you didn’t actually ride your motorcycle to.

  5. I live in Wisconsin. I have always said this. My friend makes fun of me but I WILL NOT wear “the forbidden shirt” before I earned it. She even tells runners who are wearing “the race shirt” during the race, as we run by that I don’t like it! It is kinda funny! Because they have no clue.

    • Thanks for the comment… and the uninformed are protected from the wrath of the running gods. But once in the know: beware!

      I’m a Cheesehead myself. Lived outside of Milwaukee, graduated high school in Mequon and went to Madtown for undergrad. Planning to head back in August to run the Madison Mini Marathon.

  6. I never wear race shirts on races because I only wear one of my tried and true tanks. However a LOT of people here wear the race shirt of the race they are running and I actually kind of like it.. all matching.

    • There are some cool race shirts out there… Surf City’s was a good one. But it’s engrained in my brain at this point… I may utilize the “past race” rule at some point, but haven’t caved yet.

  7. what I am really even more baffled by (and I don’t wear the shirt, bad mojo) is how are there still men who don’t know to tape their nipples for Marathons? Chafing is real!!

    • It’s not something I even remotely considered until I heard about chafed nipples. But trust me, after it happens once you never forget… ouch! I do have a post on here about that very subject (check the older articles for “Nip it in the Bud.” Thanks for reading.

  8. It’s the same as wearing the T-shirt of the band who’s concert you are at. Unacceptable.

    • True ‘dat! I’m trying to think of the last concert shirt I bought…either Peter Gabriel or Van Halen (way way way back). How’s about you?

  9. So true! I ran my first race in 2011 and was really surprised to see so many people in the race shirt. I hadn’t even been told it wasn’t something you do…I just sort of sensed that it was wrong…

    My husband has a similar rule about “band shirts.” He chucks at people who go to shows wearing shirts with the band’s name… it just seems like they’re trying too hard.

  10. I generally agree with you and would normally never wear the race shirt, but I have made 2 exceptions. 1) Santa race where the race shirt was basically a costume and literally almost 100% of the people were wearing it, and it’s pretty much not a shirt I would wear after the race. 2) the only other time I did it was when I did a race on St Patty’s Day. I didn’t even think about packing something green and I didn’t have anything except the shirt. I figured it was worse luck to be greenless. 🙂 Great post!

    • Hey Michael,

      Those sound like reasonable exceptions and I think even the running gods are fans of Christmas and St. Patty’s Day. I think charity runs for good causes also get a free pass. Thanks for reading!

  11. Not superstitious at all. I was one of the offenders. It was my 23rd marathon, and qualified me for the Marathon Maniacs. It was also my 5th fastest marathon (which isn’t saying much for this slow poke.) I usually I won’t wear the shirt for a race, often because it I like to wash them once before wearing them. I was going to wear a short sleeve shirt (same color) from a previous race, but wanted the longer sleeves for the race start.
    I think I also offended the Running Gods at the Holiday Half. The race shirt was a better holiday theme, and matched my Santa hat better than the shirt I had brought. I ran with friends that race, and maybe we were having too much fun to realize we were slow.
    Maybe only the hard core, fast runners risk offending the Race Gods.

    • Hey Lance… thanks for the note. The “wash before wear” policy is a good one (I do that with all my clothing) and I should include that in an update. I also ran the Holiday Half (which had a very cool shirt) but brought my own red shirt (my favorite running color) and it complimented my reindeer antlers. It was my PR until Surf City on Sunday. Congrats on joining the Maniacs (I’ll be a double agent come June). But if we run together a may give you a one-step cushion just in case Zeus decides to smite you. Thanks for reading.

%d bloggers like this: