The race shirt. The mythical piece of swag. The unofficial rules dictate that you do not wear it until you finish the race. That in most cases you do not wear it while you are running said race. It is perfectly kosher to wear it afterward.
I have my share of favourite race shirts. Marine Corps Marathon gives out these gaudy but neat false turtlenecks. The Sporting Life 10K tends to give loud bright coloured ones. My favourites include ones from a local 8K run on the first day of summer (cool iconography).
Certain shirts are, in some minds, better than others. Which leads me to The Shirt, as I will call it.
I first saw The Shirt during a hard-fought 10K race years back. I was running hard on the heels of a runner and my oxygen deprived mind appreciated the little puzzle on the back of the shirt staring at me.
Older than Boston, the Shirt said tauntingly.
Huh, I wondered. He is older than Boston? He's getting older so he has a better chance to get to Boston? Oh, I get it, he doesn't care about Boston so much so that he OWNS Boston, therefore he's older than Boston.
Don't get it. Sorry.
A few years later, I finally found out what that meant. The thing that's older than Boston is the Around the Bay 30K, the oldest road race in North America. Its claim to fame is more than just its age relative to Boston, though.
ATB is typically run three weeks to Boston, which makes it part of many a Boston Qualifier's final long run before the taper.
It was featured as that road race the main character in Saint Ralph ran before he raced Boston.
It is really one of the biggest races in my home province.
It has an awesome distance that's worth training for -- more than a half, just enough distance before your body hits the wall. Just perfect for hard long distance running.
It can be raced on a perfect spring day, or in miserable rainy or snowy conditions, a victim or beneficiary of Mother Nature.
It has a wicked course, flat for the first 13 miles, then big-ass rolling hills, including a deadly one in the last three miles, followed by a nice downhill. Makes for great tactical racing.
It's run literally "Around the Bay" starting in industrial Hamilton, over a bridge days before the shipping season begins, and into a more tony lakeshore of Burlington before ending INSIDE a stadium.
It has different type of medals (gold, silver, bronze) depending on how fast you finish. I will gun for a silver one day soon.
And, of course, it has The Shirt.
Today, I did part of a 10 miler with Lee. As I rushed home, I felt it was cool, but warm enough for shorts. I dug around for a top, thinking maybe a long sleeve I could roll up would be good to wear. Then I saw The Shirt and thought, "Hey, it's the Around the Bay shirt, time to put it on an represent." Turns out, that was not a very original thought.
As Lee and I were running along and chatting (he's also running ATB and Boston) it started.
Little groups of runners were coming toward us and I saw The Shirt. Orange ones (like mine) from 2008. A red one from last year. Blue ones from god knows what year.
That's me above in The Shirt during the Toronto Marathon last year. Appropriately, I guess, I BQed while wearing it. As I crossed the finish line, a women who finished right behind me told me, "I like your shirt." I got the sense that she didn't know what it was from like I didn't all those years ago, but it was just mysterious enough to cause comment.
Tonight, Lee and I laughed after we saw the sixth orange Shirt. We talked about how great they were, the slogan on the back, and about the mythical race.
I noted that wearing The Shirt on the first days of spring says a few things about you. It says that yes, you ran through a winter to earn that shirt. It says you are a long distance runner, training up to 30K.
But it also means you know why I call it The Shirt.
Sunday, will be proud to earn my next colour. Wonder what it'll be.