Divisive as it, running without a shirt feels so good. Of course, we can’t always do whatever feels good, ignoring the feelings of others. Plus, as runners, what one of us does effects how the world sees us all. Are we selfish entitled jerks or do we raise millions of dollars every year for charities? Do we help one another across finish lines or do we pee in the bushes in neighbourhoods near the start lines of where we race?
Can we be and do all those things? Are runners more than one thing?
Running without a shirt, or in a sports bra for women—or shirtless, though that comes up (or off) in women less often—divides our community.
“I think you should put a shirt on. You just look creepy,” wrote one reader on Facebook when I posted a photo of my bare running torso on Facebook.
“Even if someone is in phenomenal shape, keep stuff on. It draws attention and is distracting whether the view is nice or not good,” someone else said.
“In the summer I used to run with just a sports bra, but since discovering shirts that actually cool you while you run (sweat-activated), I now wear those types of shirts when running. They work!” wrote someone with experience in hot-weather running.
We asked John Stanton, founder of the Running Room and the face of the sport since the 1980s, what he thinks. “If you’re at the beach and want to run without a shirt, go ahead, just be respectful of your distance from others,” he said. “In the cities and parks keep the shirt on, while you may enjoy the performance of your sweaty body, others may not.”
I thought Stanton, 74, may have had an old-fashion view, so then I asked the team at Ciele, which might just be the coolest Canadian running brand on the market. Plenty of people you see running without their shirts are also wearing a Ciele cap. Martin St. Pierre, Ciele’s marketing specialist, agreed with Stanton, practically word for word. This is what he said.
That does make sense, painful as it is to hear. Because I love how it feels to run with my shirt off. I actually think it improves my performance. In the wintertime, you always know who’s feeling the most tired by who’s most bundled up. There’s ways in which you dress to perform and when you’re wearing a dozen layers, it says something. (Sometimes I joke about arriving for my workout in pyjamas. On those days, I’m not ready to compete). The opposite, however, when you arrive for a workout, is also true. It means, at least to me, that when I arrive shirtless, I’m ready to work.
Many of our readers said to do whatever feels most comfortable.
“I don’t like seeing shirtless people on the street, but that’s only my opinion, if you think it’s good for you, go for it,” wrote one reader, echoing the group.
“When extra hot and humid, I will finish my run in my sport bra,” someone said. “I am not a fashion model and I don’t care.”
One reader advised: “Start with a shirt, finish without!”
I like this comment a lot: “To each their own,” wrote a reader. “I have nothing but respect and awe for those that do run shirtless. I WISH I had the chutzpah to not give a shit about being judged—sadly the likelihood of having vile insults hurled at me by passing cars is 1000x higher than those without boobs, muffin tops or an ample caboose—but I don’t, so I don’t. I remain happily, sweatily covered instead of self-conscious and distracted. (guess that’s why I prefer fall/winter/spring running).”
In the end, as we like to do at iRun, we give the last word to Reid Coolsaet, run coach, two-time Olympian, dad, race director, and student-professor of the sport. Coolsaet says he likes running shirtless, just like he likes to run with music; however, he rarely does either thing.
“When it’s really hot I’ll run without a shirt. But here’s why I rarely do it: I like the feeling and I don’t ever want to get to the point where wearing a singlet feels like too much. Better to be used to running in a t-shirt and then when you race you feel cooler and light.”
As ever in running, each decision is made towards the finish line.