In Jamie's post, featured separately, we encounter a shirtless-runner-in-the-making: There is that familiar hankering-after of unconstricted freedom, counterbalanced by the fear of being judged. The example offered by already bare-chested or jogbraed trail runners, plus accumulated drippy-sweat discomfort, works its gradual magic in breaking down Jamie's inhibitions, and eventually there is that ur-moment of stripping aside of the upper garment, and that rush of sweet coolness.
What I find especially instructive is what happens after this happy moment: Jamie moves with dazzling speed to reinforce the breakthrough. For most of us, however delicious our first oh-my-god-I'm-doing-it experience of going bare, the safety shirt remains a necessary prop for quite a while. It certainly was in my own case. But Jamie busts through that barrier in his very next run, and even adds a special twist: He turns shirtless driver en route! He calls this "ripping the bandage off", and the metaphor is apt. He does not allow the inevitable gathering-together of fresh nerves and doubt to 'scab up' and slow his conversion. Instead, he decisively cuts off any prospect of such a regression.
Jamie says some interesting things about the 'psychic shock' (my term) he gives himself by taking his radical step. "I had major butterflies... Stomach was turning, but it was exciting too", he recounts. But soon, his confidence is surging dramatically: "I am passing people and not caring if they see me shirtless... Running shirtless is feeling great and I am getting more confident every step of the way." Something has happened, the gamble has paid off! He closes his account very positively, saying that "Hopefully soon, I will be converted completely".
Now, some might say that it would be surely best to spare oneself such psychic shock and take things more gradually. But having mulled over Jamie's testimony, I am now inclined to say that some such shock is inevitable if we mean to convert in earnest to shirtlessness. Something must rock us, to test our faith, so to speak: There must be a point of crossing the Rubicon, of some discernible and undeniable changing-over, that begins to cement our new identities as shirtless (or jogbraed) runners.
Jamie, I want to say, was wise to force the issue early - rather than endure a spell of to-and-froing, of the incessant self-doubt that many of us know, before we assay a safety-shirt-free run.
Exactly what form this critical psychic shock might take may differ from person to person. What is central is a voluntary step taken to fully embrace one's shirtlessness-in-running. In Jamie's case, it was his courage in leaving his home bare-chested and with no safety shirt, to drive to his trail. As I review my own experience, I realise that my shock happened when I first encountered neighbours while stripped down to socks and shoes. I now recognise this moment - rather my first stripping off of my vest while loping along - as in some ways a more significant conversion nexus.
Why do I say this? Now as it happens, because I have moved house a time or two since, I have had to endure the experience time and again - which has allows me now to clearly capture it. It begins as supreme awkwardness: For an extended second, I almost see my neighbour rearranging his or her impressions of me; once the neighbour actually blurts out, "Oh goodness". I feel an internal sucking gasp of involuntary embarrassment that squeezes at the pit of one's stomach (echoes of Jamie's "my stomach is turning"). But then I move beyond the crisis. I make normal normal conversation about exercise, or the weather, or some such. The neighbour inevitably responds - and suddenly, my exercise attire is no longer some sort of impediment or gap. And at that moment, a little bell sounds. It is like one has affirmed one's faith, and the paradigm shifts. It is now for others to acknowledge me for who I am - still the same chap they always knew, just shirt-free in an appropriate context - and not for me to somehow explain or excuse myself.
I don't know what sort of other 'psychic shocks' might have made a difference to other converts out there. Do share your stories, as many have in these virtual pages, to help others now at the crossroads. For those who have found themselves stuck for long with safety shirts in their waistbands, perhaps it is time you forced the issue and gave yourself a psychic shock. Let Jamie be an inspiration!
May 2015: First up, though I still try to put up blog content whenever I can, it has been easier to more regularly visit the the Twitterverse. Follow me at @barethomas10 and let's keep the shirtless running flag flying. Of course, the blog still attracts very interesting comments, and good discussion. Keep it up.
Second, in the years since this venture launched, and as shirtless running among women has gone increasingly mainstream, the term "jogbra" has clearly declined in use. I will thus prefer "sportsbra" henceforth - as has already been the case on Twitter, and in recent posts here.
I continue to welcome guest posts (sent to email@example.com) on any related topic, including from those who would discourage stripping to the waist. I am myself of course a fervent convert to the joys of running bare. But let all voices be heard!