I am indebted to 220 reader Gary Peters for his brilliant letter in issue 305 in which he discussed the dilemma of which race t-shirts to wear while out mingling with the general public. I haven’t stared at a magazine so intently since I was on a turbulent flight, trying to pretend I wasn’t sh***ing myself.
Gary described how, while on holiday in Greece, his subtle V02 Max racewear was trumped by a fellow hotel guest’s full-blown European championship shirt. I can relate entirely to Gary’s frustration that he wasn’t able to visibly demonstrate his equal triathlon prowess because, as we all know, our athletic abilities are judged entirely on what race t-shirts we’re seen wearing.
I’ve raised the tricky topic of t-shirt etiquette before, including what to wear while strutting around transition areas pre-race or, in the case of Ironmans, for the entire week leading up to the race, culminating in your most impressive shirt on bike-racking day. But wearing tri t-shirts while out among the great unwashed is another matter entirely.
I may want the public at large to know that I’m a chiselled international sportsman, but I also want to retain the illusion that I’m modest about it. So canary-yellow shirts emblazoned with ‘IRONMAN LANZAROTE’ in 72 font are out, but a more understated ‘European Championships’ breast embroidery may pass unnoticed. And my ‘I entered the Beaver’ shirt risks being badly misunderstood.
It’s also true that context is everything. Not everyone is impressed by triathlon achievements, as I discovered at the National ASA Masters Swimming Championships last year. The event attracts the out-and-out swimmers, who can accelerate faster than that moment on a motorway when you realise the police car you’ve been following is actually a highway maintenance vehicle.
Among the shirts on show, though, there was one swimmer who chose to wear two different Ironman finisher shirts on poolside. Others took a dim view of this multisport chest-bragging and I heard various behind-the-back mutterings about the wearer being an ‘enthusiastic self-partner’. Needless to say, I kept schtum about my own triathlon leanings when I emerged flaccid and weird-smelling from my attempt at the 100m individual medley.
Frankly, it’s a minefield, so here’s some advice on the benefits and pitfalls of wearing tri t-shirts in some common public places:
Pros: You will look like an athletic GOD (at least if my local Tesco is anything to go by).
Cons: You can’t put anything remotely unhealthy in your basket or you will shatter your healthy image irrevocably.
Pros: It’s a conversation starter with attractive and potentially slightly drunk and friendly types, who may leap to conclusions about your body shape and endurance levels.
Cons: Your athletic achievements are not adequately understood by the attractive and slightly drunk and friendly type, leading to frustration on your part that they’re unimpressed by your run split at the end of an Ironman, and a growing suspicion on their part that you might be a weirdo.
Pros: There’s no better way to reap the rewards of all your training than to perch athletically amid a load of pale-yet-sunburned chain-smokers.
Cons: People you get talking to will say things like, ‘I’d struggle with the swim, but I could do the bike and the run easily enough’ and you have to smile politely while your brain is screaming ‘NO YOU COULDN’T, NO YOU COULDN’T, NO YOU COULDN’T’.
Any swimming, running or cycle race
Pros: If you do well, there’s the smug ‘and this is just one-third of what I do’ comments, which single-discipline athletes you’ve beaten love to be reminded of.
Cons: Other athletes start harping on to you about their own achievements, which you have to pretend to pay attention to out of politeness, but which are less pleasant to listen to than a Mike Read calypso.
Jogging through the park
Pros: You will look infinitely superior to other people running.
Cons: You become a target for everyone else to race against, and to which you have to respond in order to defend triathlon’s ‘most difficult sport’ reputation. Also, you may bump into David Cameron and get a kicking off Special Branch.
My advice to you, Gary, is to keep wearing the subtle racewear while out there in non-tri-land, but always carry your best race t-shirt with you in case you encounter another triathlete. In which case, unleash the big guns!
What’s your fave race t-shirt to wear while out and about?