Monday, January 14, 2013

The Race Shirt

 Race-shirt from the Rev3 Quassy Triathlon last year

Have we given away enough free shirts?

According to the Running USA Stats page, in 2011, roughly 13 Million runners completed a running race of some kind in the Untied States that year. If you add in Canada, as well as all the triathlons in North America you might get to 15 million total participants in running and triathlon events in 2011.

There is a good chance that many of those 15 million race participants got a fee shirt of some kind for entering each of those races. This has become the standard or default, give-away for almost all running and triathlon races. That's 15 million free shirts given away. I am trying to imagine what the pile . .  err . . mountain, of 15 million t-shirts looks like!

Many of these shirts in terms of their look, follow a similar pattern - some form of of design or art on the front that's in keeping with a given events logo and look and feel, and then often some array of sponsor logos on the back.

At one time, these were cotton shirts. Now many of these are the so called,"technical shirts" or "tech-T's". I recall a meeting that I convened, when I was the Marketing and Communications Manager at Sugoi back in the late 90's. Polyester technical t-shirts for running were new then. Hard to believe that prior to about '97, most runners ran in good old cotton t-shirts. Anyway, the meeting at the old Sugoi office in Vancouver was between the key people at the Vancouver Sun Run, and the marketing team at Sugoi. We were trying to come up with formula even then, to get a Sugoi technical T-shirt on the backs of the then roughly 35,000+ Sun Run, participants. We couldn't crunch the numbers to make it work. then - the wholesale cost of the fabrics at the time was prohibitive. However, now, the costs of have been reduced to a point, that giving away a polyester technical shirt has become the standard.

When anything becomes this big a default action, it's a wise course of action to at some point start to look into the reasoning behind the action. So - why do races give away so many t-shirts? There is a cost to this, somewhere along the line - either a hard cost for the event or for one of the events sponsors. Someone is paying for all these t-shirts.

The most common answer amongst race directors as to "why", is typically twofold:

1. Adding value and differentiation to the event.

2. A place for sponsors logos to be displayed, with  the assumption when that the t-shirts are worn,  there's ongoing exposure for those sponsors and those brands. Race participants become human bill-boards when they wear the shirts after the event.

However, if every race is giving away a t-shirt, that getting a t-shirt is the default thing, how is that adding value and differentiating the event? To some races credit, they will try and differentiate here and there, by offering some difference, with long sleeve shirts, or a better quality garment, or different style and design etc . .

As for point #2 - this is obviously dependent on if, and how often the race shirts are actually worn in public. Some casual sampling that I did, on the Slowtwitch Forum, via my Facebook page, and at some public speaking engagements that I recently have worked at, race shirts were actually seldom worn in public by the recipients! In many cases, the shirts were dumped, passed on to Goodwill or some other clothes donation organization, or used as cleaning rags for bikes( popular with triathletes). Whatever the end-point or use, I am not sure this is what the event organizers or the sponsors had in mind - that the shirts would end up in the trash, on the back of some unfortunate, poor homeless person, or used as a bike rag!

In my sampling of specifically veteran endurance sports athletes - who compete in multiple and many races in a calendar-year, an overwhelming majority of these athletes, saw no use or value in getting a race shirt - many already had closets full of them or gave them all away, as noted. Typically this crowd, would say, "Give me something else, or give me a reduced price on my event entry".

However, I also know that for many first time participants or very occasional participants in many events, the race-shirt is a prized memento, and is possibly worn with a great deal of pride, many times after the event.

With the costs to put on running and triathlon races starting to mount, many race directors and race management organizations are starting to look at all costs associated with their events and looking where they can cut back. More than a few events are having a hard look at the the "free" race-shirt that they have given away for years, and are looking at ways to somehow get around that line-item cost. Some are asking a specific sponsor to pick up the whole cost of the shirt, while others, possibly with some progressive thinking, are making the race-shirt an option - giving race entrants, the choice at the time of online registration, to buy the shirt, or take a pass completely on the shirt.

The very popular and successful ( it's one of the largest in North America) Recharge with Milk Triathlon Series, produced by Multisport Canada, is considering making the race shirt for their events this year, something that participants can purchase at the time of  pre-event online registration

Other events are eschewing, the race-shirt completely and going with different lower cost give-aways - socks, hats, pint-glasses, coffee-mugs all seem to be popular stand-ins for the race-shirt, and hopefully at a lower cost.

Meanwhile, many other events still believe quite strongly, often based on surveying of event participants that, the race shirt, is a key to the "success" of their event.

The whole endurance sports event business is growing at a healthy pace right now. This year, that 15 million figure sited earlier, will more than likely be over 10% more, and that means more and more race-shirts given away.

What do you think about race-shirts? Have we given away enough free shirts or is this something that is here to stay?

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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Train With Better People

Group ride in Kona, Hawaii heading to the Kaloko climb. Picture - Tim Carlson/Slowtwitch

I've been lucky. All the way along, whether I was a runner, a triathlete, a cross-country skier or a cyclist, I have always had the opportunity to regularly train with people better than me. . . in some cases a lot better than me! I believe that to a large degree, this has been an important part of the, "success" that I experienced along the way, no matter what I was doing in endurance sports.

It's not all absolutely worked out that way. It took me a number of years to figure out the dosing on this. For example, when I was a runner, of some note back in my teens and early 20's, I ran with these better people almost every day. Every workout, particularly hard intervals sessions and tempo runs was like a race! In fact, I probably had some of my best "races" in workouts! Even easy days, were hard!

I recall one session of 7 x 800m intervals on the track that was a 5000m race simulation workout that, was run at a pace way over my head, with a rest session much too short for me to recover. This was a group of  eight or nine strong runners that included, Provincial and National team champions, and team members. Never-the-less, I grimly hung in there, and when my turn to lead, in the lead rotation, came up on the 2nd last interval, I was able to hold the lead all the way, and nail the pace and the 800m split to the second . . . nearly killing myself in doing so. I some how managed to survive the absolute last 800m, but was well off-the-back of  the group in the final 100m. I never duplicated that, "performance" in an actual 5000m race!

As I moved onto triathlon, the situation was the same - regularly training with the absolute best people around in my area and nationally. Ditto with nordic skiing - which became my winter "off-season", from triathlon, but also involved some mammoth ski training, again, often with really good skiers. However, now I was starting to understand better my own needs for periodization - when to load it up and when to back off. When to go hard and long with the group, or when to go easy and do my own thing.

However, it was not just the red-line on the rivet training that, is impactful when you train with really good people, often it's the little things you notice about a world class athlete: How they move? What they wear? What they look at? What's important to them . . and so on.

I have mentioned here before about riding with former Pro Cyclist Alex Steida back in the early 90's in Vancouver. Sure, the riding with Steida was fast, but when you sat on his wheel or road beside him in the group, it was, how at ease he looked no matter what we were doing, that I always noticed. The reach back to grab an energy bar out of the rear pocket of his cycling jersey. Having a drink of water from a water bottle - it all had this extraordinary economy to it all. Grace and calm under pressure!

I recall a run at Christmas time one year in Victioria, BC, with Peter Reid who had just won the first of his three Ironman World Championships two months before, and a young Simon Whitfield, who was just over a year away from winning the first ever Olympic Gold Medal in Triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. The pace for the 16 K run was decent, but not overly fast - in fact Reid had advised us that we had to run "slow". The conversation, was non-stop, and, almost never about training or triathlon! Light and easy. I learned a lot from that run.

Today, my best days as an endurance athlete are far behind me. I don't race much, if at all. Cycling is my thing now. Again, I am lucky in that when I do go out for a group ride, with our local cycling club, the group is peppered with some impressive talent with some of the best Master's cyclists in the province, and in all of Canada! Just hanging in with these guys, and not getting dropped is an achievement and an honor!

Some seek the solitude of solo training. I do too. This quiet time away from everything, I have always found helpful - in many different ways. The trick as I mentioned, is balance. When I was a teenager, running, it was unbalanced towards the side of too much, group training at too high a level. Later on, I realized, how to better balance it all, to get full advantage of the opportunities that training with other better athletes would give me.

The higher level message and take away here is that there is a lot to be gained and learned from training with people who are better than you. I know that I have benefited from it, greatly over the years. Probably did a bit too much of it when I was runner, and had a more balanced approach with it as I got older. But, perhaps I would not have run as well as I did, or developed the massive base of fitness that all that running did for me had I not run like that for 5 - 6 years. Hard to know.

Used properly, group training with better athletes can be highly effective in bringing out the best in you. Don't shy away from it.

Do you train with better people?

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