Posted by: Joe English | June 22, 2011

Racing — To Shirt or Not To Shirt, That is the Question

running-advice-bugIt was Father’s Day this past weekend, so this is aimed at the guys and dads out there. Here’s a male-oriented question this time: should you wear a shirt when running in a race? There’s both a serious question here and a less serious one, so we’ll start with the serious answer and then move on to consider whether it is really a good idea to go topless in races.

Coach Joe Running Topless in an 85 degree race

First, the question came in response to me posted a picture of myself shirtless from a race. One reader suggested that we might want to do an episode on the topic of “shirtless racing” and we just may do that. There are sometimes strong opinions on the topic. Some people love it and some people hate. I remember the first time I really noticed someone that was habitually shirtless. He was a guy that I ran on a Hood To Coast Relay team with and what I recall was the he was ALWAYS shirtless, no matter the temperature, the hour or the setting. He just liked running with his shirt off, even if he was freezing. In his case, it was a personal choice and he went with it. Back to him later.

Let’s answer the serious question now: do you have to wear a shirt in running races? (There are a number of you smarty-pants out there thinking “of course not” right not, but you are not all correct.) The answer answer is it depends on the competition, the sport and your sex. You see in many official competitions there are both “torso covering” rules and the requirement to be in the official uniform of a team. This would be the case in most track and field competitions and world championship events in which you are required to wear your country’s team uniform. In most sports women are also required to wear their tops in public. No further comment. The sport of triathlon here in the USA is possibly considering adopting a “torso covering” rule to make the playing field more fair between men and women in this space (meaning requiring men to be covered rather than allowing women to go uncovered.)

So the bottom line is that there are times when a shirt is required to play the game. This is mostly the case in officially sanctioned competitions, team competitions and track meets, but it means that you do need to be aware of the rules and come equipped with the proper clothing.

Now, on to the more esoteric question of should you were a shirt in a running race. Well, there are some practical matters here as well. The most important is the temperature. My sense is that men like to pull the shirts off when the weather gets hot and this makes some sense. By taking off the shirt, more skin is directly exposed to the air and this should promote better cooling of the body. The other issue that men sometimes face is the dreaded “bloody nipple” syndrome, in which a wet shirt chaffs their nipples to the extent that they bleed. This stinks. One choice here is to use a kind of a blister pad like “Nips” that cover the nipples. Another option would be the big star-shaped pasties that strippers use, although they may not stay on under intense conditions and might look a little funny (just kidding) and the third alternative is to go shirtless.

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