Top Ten Running Shirts

My wardrobe has changed over the course of this COVID-19 Quarantine. I’m not wearing nearly as many button-up shirts as I usually do. I never find an occasion that needs khakis or dress pants. And my nicer dress shoes haven’t even touched my feet for a month.

When I don’t have to go out in public, I default to comfort and convenience. And for me, that usually means running shirts, hiking pants, and old sneakers. I was thinking about my collection of running shirts even before this pandemic hit — because the Cowtown Half-Marathon left me with two new running shirts to cram into an already-overstuffed drawer. But I’ve been thinking more about my running shirts as I’ve been cycling through them this month. My favorites have become more clear as time has passed, and I can now say with conviction:

Not all running shirts are created equal.

So I thought it might be fun to narrow things down to my Top Ten Running Shirts, drawing from all the different 5Ks, 10Ks, Half-Marathons, 25Ks, and Marathons I’ve run over the last seven years (since I first picked up the running habit). It’s a fairly subjective exercise, but I’m going to grade each one on a ten-point scale, factoring in the following points of consideration:

  • Fit
  • Fabric
  • Color
  • Graphic Design
  • Memory of the Race Itself

And based on those results (which are, admittedly, rigged to make sure that my rankings correspond to my actual favorites), I’m going to rank order them, from #10 to #1. Here are the results:

#10: Canton Frosty Frolic 5K (December 8, 2018)

  • Fit: 5.0
  • Fabric: 5.5
  • Color: 8.5
  • Graphic Design: 7.5
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 9.5

TOTAL: 36.0

REMARKS: The Frosty Frolic is a beloved family tradition. We’ve done it for six years in a row, so I have a collection of six shirts to correspond with each of these races. Unfortunately, they’re all cheaply made and vastly over-sized (which isn’t bad for race-day itself, when we’re all layered up against the December chill, but it isn’t as nice for everyday wearing). Of all the Frosty Frolic shirts, though, this one is the best because of its simplicity, its color, and the fact that it includes a hood.

#9: Cincinnati Flying Pig Half-Marathon (May 3, 2015)

  • Fit: 6.5
  • Fabric: 8.5
  • Color: 6.0
  • Graphic Design: 7.5
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 10.0

TOTAL: 38.5

REMARKS: Such a great race; just not a great shirt. The fit is tight. The color is not bright enough to stand out on its own, but the wan color is also not particularly useful as an undershirt. The concept for a shirt reminiscent of an old-school softball league was cool — but it seems like they did it with some kind of weird iron-on sheet that left a residue in the negative space that’s still visible. And even though it’s got the number “26.2,” it doesn’t actually say, “Marathon” on the shirt, which was kind of a bummer. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get rid of the shirt, though, because it was such a lovely race experience.

#8: Columbus Half-Marathon (October 16, 2016)

  • Fit: 7.0
  • Fabric: 8.5
  • Color: 9.5
  • Graphic Design: 6.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 8.0

TOTAL: 39.0

REMARKS: I like Nike running gear, and the color of this shirt is classic (a lot of my favorite shirts of all time have been this kind of heather gray). It’s just a touch on the small side. The race was a positive experience in my memory, but not in a particularly dramatic way. The biggest downside to this shirt, though, is its graphic design. The skyline is cool, and I don’t mind the colors. But why is the main word on the shirt “Motivated” instead of “Columbus” or “Half-Marathon?” The outline of the state of Ohio standing in for the “O” is a little bit of a saving grace, but having a shirt that boasts about my motivation seems a bit silly to me.

#7: The Estes Park Half-Marathon (June 19, 2016)

  • Fit: 8.5
  • Fabric: 6.5
  • Color: 9.0
  • Graphic Design: 7.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 8.0

TOTAL: 39.0

REMARKS: I’m a big fan of the black shirt (except on hot, sunny days). I also appreciate the fact that it clearly says “Estes Park” (one of my favorite places on earth) and “Marathon” (even though I only ran the half-marathon). You’d think these things would be pretty standard, but they are not (as you’ll see). The fabric just feels kind of cheap, and the cartoonish design of the mountains and runners is just not the way I would have gone if I was designing the shirt.

#6: Bowman Cup 5K (October 5, 2013)

  • Fit: 9.5
  • Fabric: 9.0
  • Color: 9.0
  • Graphic Design: 5.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 7.5

TOTAL: 40.0

REMARKS: I appreciate the simplicity of this shirt. Its color and lack of ink make it very nice as an undershirt (especially when I’m traveling). And Brooks makes some of my all-time favorite running gear. All in all, it’s a great running run. The only downside to the shirt is the race with which it’s associated. The race was fine (I think), but most 5Ks don’t make enough of an emotional imprint to lend many points in that category.

#5: Canton City 10K (September 7, 2014)

  • Fit: 9.0
  • Fabric: 9.5
  • Color: 7.0
  • Graphic Design: 7.5
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 9.5

TOTAL: 42.5

REMARKS: I wear this sleeveless shirt for a lot of races in warm-weather conditions. It’s just a quarter-size too tight (as if that were such a thing), but for races that can be kind of nice for minimizing chafing. The great irony of this shirt is that it includes the word, “Marathon,” on it — even though I only ran the 10K — but neither of the two shirts that I got for running in full-length marathons don’t include the word, “Marathon.” When I ran my first marathon in Canton, it was a miserable experience. So when I took second place overall in this race, as I was training for my second marathon, it felt like a bit of redemption.

#4: Ironman 70.3 Ohio (July 28, 2019)

  • Fit: 9.0
  • Fabric: 9.0
  • Color: 9.0
  • Graphic Design: 7.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 9.0

TOTAL: 43.0

REMARKS: The black shirt is nice for everyday use, though it’s not so nice for running in the sun. I don’t know who manufactured the shirt (the tag is now obscured after a few washings), but it just feels nice against my skin. The design is fine (not amazing), but at least it’s clear that I finished an Ironman event (albeit the 70.3 instead of the 140.6). I suffered during the actual event, so there is some pain associated with this shirt. But it was really special to run this race with my friend John Drage, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer but before his health was too seriously affected to keep him from whooping me in this triathlon.

#3: Akron Half-Marathon (September 27, 2014)

  • Fit: 8.0
  • Fabric: 10.0
  • Color: 7.0
  • Graphic Design: 10.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 8.5

TOTAL: 43.5

REMARKS: I love the design on this shirt. And Asics knows how to make a really nice running shirt (two of my top three running shirts are Asics shirts). The fit could actually be a 10 out of 10, except for the fact that it’s a long-sleeved running shirt — and a long-sleeved running shirt just doesn’t fit my life as well as a short-sleeved running shirt (either by itself or paired with my full-zip running jacket). I actually like the color, too, but it came during a two year period when almost all of the races I ran were issuing royal blue race shirts.

#2: Cleveland Half-Marathon (May 19, 2013)

  • Fit: 9.5
  • Fabric: 9.5
  • Color: 8.0
  • Graphic Design: 8.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 9.5

TOTAL: 44.5

REMARKS: This was the first major road race that I ever ran. I’d done a couple of small-town 5Ks before this, but this one was a half-marathon in a major downtown area with tens of thousands of other runners. So I’m pretty sentimental about this shirt. But grading it on all the other points of consideration made me realize that this running shirt ranks very high in almost every category. It’s an Asics medium that apparently fits my frame perfectly, with a really nice, breathable fabric. The white color is versatile for wearing as an undershirt or as a running shirt (even in the sun). And the design is pretty cool, too.

#1: The Cowtown (Fort Worth) Half-Marathon (March 1, 2020)

  • Fit: 9.5
  • Fabric: 9.5
  • Color: 10.0
  • Graphic Design: 10.0
  • Memory of the Race Itself: 9.5

TOTAL: 48.5

REMARKS: I want to be careful about recency bias, but the shirts for this race were about as good as they come. The fit and feel are great (though I haven’t gotten to run many miles in these threads yet). The graphic design is unique, and it makes it abundantly clear that the race was in Texas (which I like). The heather gray shirt is good for everyday (undershirt) usage, and the yellow shirt is cool because it’s the only yellow race shirt I’ve ever received. And yes, you read that right: there were actually two race shirts for this one race. So that makes the Cowtown shirts extra-special.

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