Bib me!

Bib me!

When you think of a “bib,” what image comes to mind? Most likely something you put on a shirt in order to protect it from drool and other messes.

Oh, I’ve also heard people put them on babies when they eat.

(Cue rim shot)

As runners, we have a fascination with the race bib.

Why is that?

When you get down to it, a bib is really just a piece of paper (okay, these days it’s typically made out of a material called Tyvek, but you get the idea) with an identification number on it.

But once you put a bib on, it becomes something much more. It’s your “official” passport to the race and says one thing very very loudly: “Let’s run.”

Yup, we love our bibs.

When you go to the race expo and are finally given your bib, how many of you stare at it longingly like you just discovered one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets? Be honest.

And everyone is a critic when it comes to bibs:

Am I pretty?

Am I pretty?

  • Is it too big to possibly fit on my shirt?
  • Is it too small to properly convey the magnitude of this race?
  • Is the design too busy or not flashy enough?
  • Who the hell picked that font?
  • Will the color coordinate properly with my planned race shirt or do I need to switch tops?
  • Is the timing tag on the back too big? Will it slow me down and ruin my chances at a PR?

Admit it, you think about these.

And what about your race number? You could write a doctoral thesis on the psychology of race numbers.

I can’t tell you how many people I know (myself included) who hope that they get one of those cool numbers when they register:

  • 69 (Keep it clean, y’all)
  • 911 (Now they know who to call)
  • 999 (1,000 adjacent and makes me a rebel)
  • 1,000 (Rounded numbers rock, apparently)
  • 1,001 (Update: “The Arabian Nights” palindrome)
  • 1,111 (Hey we get excited when we see it on our odometers… ever more so on our chests)
  • 1,999 (so you can party like it is 1999)
  • 2,001 (A running odyssey)
  • 9,999 (like 999 but 10x better)

And there are so many more numbers we could add to the list, right?

What's in a number?

What’s in a number?

Heck number obsession is so crazy there was a news story about a high school runner who forfeited a race because she refused to wear “666.” Personally, I’d love to run like hell… but that’s me.

We also like getting the low numbers, even if we won’t admit it out loud. If you had a choice between 285 and 10,714 which would you take?

Me too.

Lower numbers seem to carry with them that notion of being “more serious” because elite runners have the small numbers. Yup, wouldn’t you give up a body part to be sporting #1 on your bib?

Or maybe because it might signify that they registered early (clearly committed or perhaps they should be committed). I ran the Peachtree Road Race once where my number was 98,711. I waffled between feeling like an outcast and being proud because I bet no one had a number higher than mine (I only found one person… bastard).

And while walking along before a race don’t you scan the crowd looking for your “bookends” (the people with numbers right before and after yours). If you do find ’em, I guarantee you go up and say “Hi” because apparently you’re racing kin (and you have the perfect ice breaker… “I couldn’t help but look at your number”). And what about when you see a man and woman standing next to each other with consecutive numbers… a running couple, right? I bet they have matching Halloween costumes too.

Then there’s the latest trend in “bibbage” (if it isn’t a word, it damn well should be) which is “personalized bibs.”

"Simply Devine." Get it?

“Simply Devine.” Get it?

Yup, now when you enter certain races you get the chance to have your name or perhaps even a personalized message sprawled on your bib. Well, bibs are kind of like a runner’s license plate, so it only makes sense that we can get vanity plates now.

Great, another thing to obsess over. What message can I cram into 15 characters that defines me, will change the world or will sound great when yelled by thousands of strangers?

I typically go with “Scott” (makes sense; it’s who I am) or if I’m feeling formal “Devine.” I did one time put down “Simply Devine” but that joke pretty much falls flat to everyone but me. I’ve also gone with “Run Scott run” or my LA Marathon default, “ROADKILL,” to match my Team Roadkill running mates. I also used “Team Scott” one time to honor my late running coach and friend (I still miss him).

I’ve seen plenty of other people jot meaningful or silly messages varying from: “Don’t trip” to “Running fool” to “Slowpoke.” My favorite to this day I caught at the 2013 Long Beach Half Marathon where a girl walked by with a bib that simply read “Suck it.”

And then there is the conundrum of attaching the bib to your shirt. The standard tool is the “safety pin.” And let’s be honest, we’ve all proven at least once that those things aren’t as “safe” as their name promises. Anyone got a band-aid?

Pinned and ready to dance... or run.

Pinned and ready to dance… or run.

Some people place their bibs high up on their shirts like it’s a superhero insignia, while others prefer to have them down much lower. Some runners attach them to their fuel belts with clips or hang them off of their shorts. Some people get tricky and strap it to one leg or fold the bib so only a strip with the number is showing (going all minimalist). And every race you get a few newbie runners who attach their bibs to their backs, like it’s the number on a football jersey. These are also the same people who wonder why they never see any race photos of them posted. Please feel free to enlighten these poor souls as to proper bib placement.

One of my favorite night-before pre-race rituals is the “pinning of the bib,” where I spend way too much time attaching a race bib to my shirt making sure it’s not too high nor too low and definitely not tilted (heavens no). I can spend upward of 10-15 minutes “Goldilocking” my bib, making sure it’s “just right.”

So, a week from Sunday I’ll be sporting bib #1151 at the OC Marathon and hopefully it’ll be a perfectly-sized, color-coordinated piece of Tyvek sporting my name in a fun font big enough for fans to read and shout out proud.

“Suck it” works too.

Run on!












Posted on April 24, 2014, in General, Humor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Not to be a math jerk, but 999 x 10 = 9990.

    I’m also a bib freak. I hate boring ones, and personalization is cool. The RnR ones are always great, as are the ones in the Beach Cities Challenge. Good luck at the OC!

    • Look at you getting all mathy… and you’re right, although I figured x10 was more powerful than saying “1-digit greater.” Looking forward to OC (and hopefully a good bib too).

  2. 1001 is more properly called the “Arabian Nights” palindrome.

  3. I’ll admit that, when I was given bib #1766 at the Ann Arbor (half) Marathon last month, my eyes lit up and my first thought was “Queen’s College!” (the original part of Rutgers University, which was founded in 1766, and which I haven’t attended since 1996 and am not even technically an alumna of, since I left after three years).
    Then I felt like a big dork.

    • Very cool… and now I learned something today. And my brother went to Rutgers for one year (I bet he doesn’t remember that fact). And we’re all big dorks at one point or another.

  4. For some races, I think the bib number is assigned by last name, I’ve had several number 1 bibs, and yes, it is awesome. At my last race a little girl looked at me and said “She’s number 1”! YES!! Doesn’t have anything to do with my finish place unfortunately!!

    • There are definitely races that employ numbering strategy. Some races use the first few digits to show what corral you’re in (like Peachtree Roadrace). Some races like the Hollywood Half give low numbers to legacy runners. I think the default numbering is by order in which they sign up. I’d love to hear from a few more race directors. Thanks for reading and for commenting.

  5. FWIW, as race director, I obsess over personally assigning the actual bib number for each early entrant based on birthdays, birth months, birth years, and ages. We call them ultra-personalized bibs, complete with athlete’s name and emergency contact info.

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