I Don’t Need More Ultra Swag!

While hanging out after a pleasant trail run in DC last week, discussion turned to schwag given away at ultramarathons. The discussion focused on whether a club should have input into schwag when it sponsors a race or if the schwag should entirely be the RD’s call. The two strongest arguments made in favor of club input were:

  1. Providing a check/sounding board for an RD who’s taste might be a little, how do you say, “different”; and
  2. Coordinating swag between various races and over the years

The first point is valid to some degree. Certainly anyone who’s run many ultras has gotten at least one doozy of a shirt, sweatshirt, bag, etc. Maybe if the RD had run the item by a committee before ordering it, a different design would have been chosen. On the other hand, one of the great thing about ultras are it’s characters. If I were ever crazy enough to run the Barkley Marathon, I’d certainly want the tee shirt to reflect the race and its RD.

On the second point, David Horton’s race series was given as an example of great swag coordination. It’s my understanding that in a given year the main giveaways at his four races will consist of one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, one half-zip shirt, and a pair of shorts. That way if you run his Lynchburg Ultra Series and his Hellgate 100k, you end up getting one of each rather than four short sleeve shirts.

The topic of how best to coordinate the gear given out at races brought up what is, at least for me, a more important topic – how best to avoid getting gear at races. If I run ten ultras in a given year, I could end up with a dozen shirts, three or four hats (both caps and knit hats), a few pairs of shorts, a couple backpacks and/or dufflebags, and likely a jacket or two. You can see that aside from shoes one could accumulate all the running gear they need in a single ultra season. Having run ultras for half a decade, I have far more swag than I need. I would have an even greater over abundance if I was one of those not uncommon ultrarunners who runs 15, 20, or more events in a given year.

What’s worse is that I rarely end up using the swag I get at races. It’s not that RDs don’t do a great job of picking gear to give away; rather, over time I’ve found equipment that I like and I stick to it. For instance, of the four pairs of shorts I’ve gotten at races, I’ve probably not worn the lot of them more than half a dozen times put together … and those times were probably when I ran out of clean shorts. As for short sleeve tee shirts, does anyone need more than 5 or 6? Maybe 10 at most? I long ago met that mark.

Although, for the most part, I don’t need any more race gear, let’s take a look at which race swag I use while running:

  • HAT Run hats
    • Mesh style cap
    • Knit hat
  • Bull Run Run windbreaker vest
  • Bull Run Run bandannas (I often bring them to longer races or warm training runs)
  • Bull Run Run technical tee shirt (a plain white, barely decorated shirt that I love on hot sunny days)

That’s it as far as race gear that I use in my running. I use race swag a bit more away from running. Here’s what I use often enough not to get rid of:

  • Bull Run Run and Western States backpacks
  • Leadville 100 small duffelbag
  • Western States jackets
  • Western States long sleeve tee shirts
    • One for wearing in public
    • One for housework – I ruined it by running it through the dryer with shoe polish – doh!
  • Wasatch 100 long sleeve tee shirt (rarely)
  • Western States short sleeve tee shirt (both of mine are really tight, but the larger one occasionally makes it out of the drawer when it’s really hot)
  • Leadville sweatshirt
  • Buckles – yes, I do wear them…. even if the huge Leadville one gets worn a bit less often

Given all the races I’ve run – both ultra and non-ultra, what do I do with my other swag? I give it away. If I have a crew or pacer, I’ll sometimes offer them the swag from the race (though I tend to keep more swag from 100s, which is normally the only time I have a crew). Sometimes nice swag becomes a gift for family members or close friends. However, most of it gets donated to charity. For instance, I’ve donated most of my shirts, all of the shorts I’ve been given at races, and even a nice fleece jacket… and it’s not just run of the mill clothing of which I have more than I need. as proof, I’ve given away two Western States age group award jackets and a sweet North Face backpack I got at States, too.

So what do I suggest? Well, I can immediately think of three options.

One, give runners the option of opting out of swag on the entry form. While I’m sure its advantageous for established races that routinely fill to capacity to be able to order a set number of shirts based on the entrants limit well ahead of time, after a year an RD would be able to make an educated guess as to the number of folks who would decline the gear. If you give people the option to opt out, what do you do about the race fee for those folks who opt out? Well, you could either give them a slight price break or you can state that a sum equal to the cost of that person’s swag will go to a designated charity or club.

A second, closely related option would be an opt in option. If your goal is to reduce the number of people getting swag, this would likely be more effective that the opt out option.

The other obvious option would be to not give away anything to race entrants. Instead, RDs could lower entry fees, get some gear made, and sell it at the race or online.

In raising the issue of not wanting more race swag, I was told that others care much more about this stuff than I do. No doubt, but my suggestion is that races let those races who don’t want or need more gear the option not to get any. (I’m not going to argue against finishers medals even if I personally find them unnecessary, because I know that they are a motivator and source of pride for some – ain’t nothing wrong with that. However, I would prefer buckles or “finisher” labeled gear to the literally useless metal.)

Why do I care about this at all when I can simply give my unwanted swag away? In a word – resources. Or perhaps better put, scant resources. Without going into a lengthy explanation, diatribe, or digression, it takes materials and energy to produce and ship the swag. It might not be much in some cases, but I firmly believe in embracing change on the individual level, even if through a series of small changes. I want to have the option to opt out of having another “thing” created on my behalf. That’s not to say that I never indulge myself with new gear, but there is a much higher chance that I will like and use the gear I choose for myself.

Am I over thinking this? Does anyone else feel this way? Us ultrarunners enjoy our nature surroundings more than just about any other group I know, so why hasn’t minimalism or at least environmental consciousness become a bigger aspect of our sport? Thoughts?

There are 12 comments

  1. Chris

    I agree! I can't tell you how many race t-shirts I've donated to charity. (Most of them are simply too hideous to wear in public). I, too, have never used any of the schwagg from races. I like my brands of shirts, shorts, socks, etc. I have piles with the tags still on, waiting to take to Goodwill. Maybe we, as runners, can start leading by example. We obviously (or damn well should) care about the environment! I'll get people on board and we can perhaps get some local RD's to talk about it. Great post! There is never 'overthinking' when it comes to helping the environment, in my humble opinion!

  2. Trail Goat

    Chris,Glad to hear you're on board re the schwag. I hope to post some more about the environmental impact of racing. Us trail runners need to be a bit more proactive in thinking about the impact of our activities. Surely, we don't need to take things to the extreme and never run off the roads in our neighborhoods, but we should be conscious of the impacts our actions have and try to mitigate those impacts. There is so much low hanging fruit associated with the environmental impact of trail running it's not even funny. At this point in the movement (that is it not yet existing), priorities still need to be set. While its great to think about whether the company they buy their shirt from will recycle it, it's probably more important to think about the impact of flying 2000 miles to a race and the dozen never used shirts in the dresser.BTW, I'm not meaning to sound preachy. I don't know what the best balance is or which of two choices may have a lesser impact. At this point, I know much less on this subject than I'd like, so all I can do is keep questioning what I am doing.

  3. Trail Goat

    ..And with Olga, that makes three! Hmmm… maybe I can trade a pair of shorts for an extra beer at Stone Cat this weekend. Mmmm… beer.

  4. saschasdad

    I can speak for both a runner with waaaaaaaay too much stuff, and as an r.d. who keeps his race price low and doesn't give out too much. Last week, I finally went to Goodwill and was embarrassed by how much stuff I gave them: about 100 race shirts of all kinds (l.s., s.s., cotton, tech), probably 35 pairs of shoes, and various other running clothing. The lame part here – I still have 75ish tech t's (l.s., s.s., sleevless). The shirt thing at races is my biggest pet peeve. Why don't more/most r.d.'s offer a no-shirt (or whatever it is we get) option for $10 less?Because of my over-abundance of shirts, I decided when I started a race, Peterson Ridge Rumble 60k/30k, that I wouldn't offer shirts. Period. But I did want to give something. So what clothing item do runners go through faster than anything else? Socks. So I give really cool finisher's socks. They're good DeFeet running socks with the Rumble logo. People wear them for a year, or less, then they're ready for a new pair next year. It's great for the runners, and I love seeing Rumble socks at races all over the country!Regarding buckles: I have one from WS. The race committee says a big reason for the price being $295 next year is to cover the buckle cost. I want to run WS next year, but I don't really need another buckle. I proudly wear the one I have, and that one is plenty. I would love to pay $200 less for WS for the no-buckle option.

  5. Trail Goat

    Sean,That's very thoughtful of you not to include a race shirt. For the longest time, I couldn't get ride of any… now they quickly come and go. If I don't love it and it doesn't have special meaning it will soon end up in someone else's hands. Socks are a good idea. We all need socks for sure. I've definitely used hte socks I got at the Bull Run Run 50 mile. I need to add it to my entry, but I also use mugs and cutting board from ultras. I also still bring to races two towels I have from races over a decade ago. So I guess I find I actauly use some of the more nono-traditional and non-race related schwag as much as I use the running gear. As for Western States, what about a compromise? Everyone pays the same fee, which would cover one's first finisher buckle, one's first sub-24 (means might not get fnish if hit 24 hour first), and the cost of 10 year, 20 year, etc. That way you disperse the cross across everyone. Those who want their second, third, and fourth identical buckles could have the right to buy the appropriate buckle after the race. What about a twist on the $10 less option – have a box next to it allowing donation to the chairty. I sure wouldn't mind giving $10 to the Sisters high XC team. Man, hs xc is sweet. Tomorrow, I'm going to see a guy I raced against in one of my very first high school cross country races back in 1993! (We were later college teammates.) He's runnign his first ultra and I wouldn't miss it.Thanks for stopping by – I look forward to meeting you in person in a week!

  6. saschasdad

    Bryon,Your WS compromise is a good one; I'll go with it.As for the twist on the $10 off, yes and no. When the race is a fundraiser for "x" charity, that's a great idea! In fact, I have declined shirts at races. I tell them to just keep the shirt, or money if they haven't bought the shirts yet. The volunteers look at me funny, with that "but you paid for it" look.However, not all races are fundraisers for charities. Some are fundraisers for the r.d. (i.e., their salary). I am totally fine with this. I'm glad that there are people who can make a living putting on running events. However, I would rather keep my $10 in these situations.Sound fair?Yeah, hs xc is awesome! Last weekend was the state meet in OR, and both Sisters teams brought home trophies – girls were 2nd and boys were 4th. The kids were super excited, as were the other coaches and me.

  7. Trail Goat

    Sean,I think we're on the same page. Give the option for $10 extra dollars for charities… not when there are no charities involved. As for RDs who can make a living of direction races, I'm not only glad they can make a living, but also that they put on races! So long as the races are put on well enough to have people coming back each year at a given price, then in my mind both the runner and RD are coming out ahead. As such, I'm all for more RDs making a living from it as it's a sign that there are more high quality events being put on. (I'm not suggesting in the slightest than professional RDs do a better job, just that the survival of any race means the RD is doing a good job.) While I could certainly hypothesize some minor drawbacks to the growing number of ultras around the county, I say the more the merrier.In not giving the extra $10 to the RD when you opt out of the shirt, all you are asking is that you contribute the same amount to the RDs salary as the runners who get the shirt. That's completely understandable. Good thinking… if that's what you were thinking.To all RDs who put on a quality race, a sincere thank you!

  8. Mark Tanaka (Ultrail

    Great questions. Just a couple of years ago, I still didn't have enough tech shirts, and would wear them more than once to prevent an earlier laundry load. Now I'm at the cusp of not needing any more short sleeve shirts, but not about to dump any of them yet. However, at the current rate of 12-15 races a year, I'm going to join the ranks of you all drowning in shirts…I got 2 pairs of Moeben sleeves last year– Miwok and Rio. These are very useful. I can always use mugs and coasters. Ohlone give you trail post awards that make good bookends. At Stevens Creek 50k (which had no entry fee, just a suggested donation to charity) Steve Patt gave us bandanas with a map of the course, useful, low impact. I have 9 finisher and age group award statuettes from running Rio del Lago 100 4 years straight. My wife always hated them, we have no room in our house for them and this year's came with a tag mentioning they contain carcinogenic chemicals. I had thought of asking RD Norm Klein to replace them with something flatter, but didn't want to hurt his feelings or piss him off; I doubt he would've been persuaded. But I've always felt a little guilty not voicing on this. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thought similarly. So now I'm left with the dilemma of tossing these symbols of my 400 tough miles into land fill, or shlepping them around the rest of my life (after which they go into smaller available landfill). Apparently the race won't be held unless someone else takes over. My disappointment is mitigated by the toxic schwag relief.I think all races should make bottles mandatory, and not offer disposable cups at stations.

  9. Trail Goat

    Mark,Thanks for the great comment. For shirts, I really don't wear more than 6 and often find myself wearing the same 3 or 4. I almost always wear shirts more than once, unless it's a particularly demanding run or it's the shirt up for re-wear and I'm doing the laundry anyway.I'd be happy if I never won another trophy ever again. Ok, I'd take a cougar or an Angeles Crest trophy or something else on that level, but I have no need for a mounted cup or statuette for 2d place in my age group at the local 50k. With the exception of my first Boston, I haven't received a meaning full finisher's medal since 9th grade or so.

  10. Tony Mollica

    I am an Elementary Physical education teacher so I love to have more T-shirts! I wear them to work, and the kids ask me about them and I get a chance to talk about running races with them. I wear T-shirts every day.

    I also am relatively new at running ultra races, so I haven't accumulated as much gear as you have Byron. I have room for more shorts, bags etc. I also like the socks option mentioned above; as long as they are quality socks suitable for running in. I say bring on the schwag! However I wouldn't mind if there was an option to sign up with schwag or without. If the fee was different, of course I'd want to know ahead of time what the schwag was going to be.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Tony, Thats a pretty good reason to want more teeshirts. Keep inspiring the kids to be active!

      I definitely used more of the race schwag when I first started out, but have still never used most of it. I suppose trying new shorts or whatever is good, but if I already like a certain kind I tend to stick with them even if it means paying for them even today. That said, I could use a nice race backpack with laptop sleeve. I'm still using my 2004 Western States bag… and it's pretty long in the tooth after five and a half years of near daily use!

      As for going to races and not getting schwag. I don't even mind not paying less if the difference was going to be an additional donation to charity, club or even race organization. That would help motivate people to not get stuff they don't need.

Post Your Thoughts