By Jon Adams
On a steamy June morning, I put on a pair of running shorts, shoes, and my fitness tracker watch, locked the door, and left my apartment for my morning run. You might have noticed I didn’t include “shirt” on that list — a nerve-wracking decision. Even though I wasn’t new to shirtless running, it was my first time doing it in this new neighborhood. I felt myself gravitating back towards my door as the elevator opened up to take me to the lobby. But I took a few deep breaths, saw nobody was coming (still skittish about my neighbors), and went down the elevator and to the park.
I had a great run. It was a lot better than my run the day before, where I wore a “moisture-wicking” singlet that was stiflingly hot and uncomfortable. But stripped to the waist, my run wasn’t just tolerable—it was fun and exciting. And go figure, as I rounded the corner, I saw another runner who had taken off his shirt in an effort to combat the humidity. Solidarity!
It took me a while to get here. Growing up, I was reluctant to take off my shirt. I didn’t like my family seeing me shirtless, and I surely didn’t want anyone else to either. I know a lot of women are jealous of men’s ability to be completely bare to the waist, but when I was a kid, I was actually jealous of women for not having to bare so much skin at the pool. So if you had told me at age 11 that one day I’d willingly run shirtless, I think I would have freaked out.
Seven years later, I attended a university that was right across the street from one of my city’s most popular running trails. Like I said, my city is hot and humid, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see guys running without shirts. While it looked cool—both in the sense that these guys looked comfortable against the beaming sun and in the sense that these guys emanated confidence and a devil-may-care attitude— I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t have six-pack abs or a chiseled body. I wasn’t even a good runner. But man, those guys were inspiring.
Recently, a series of life events led me to start taking my health and fitness much more seriously. Though diet and exercise, I lost 30 pounds last year. Six-pack abs? Not quite, but I decided it was time. I’d drive back to that trail and run without a shirt.
Of course, you can guess exactly what happened: I got out of my car, freaked out, and keep my shirt on. Three times. But the fourth time, something changed: I passed a guy running shirtless. I saw that as a divine sign of permission, took a deep breath, and peeled my t-shirt off. I ran a grand total of 900 feet. (I remember exactly because I have a fitness tracker.) I put my shirt back on, but I had the sense of accomplishment because, at least temporarily, I was a shirtless runner.
Then one day, as I arrived at the track, I noticed three guys running together, all shirtless. No safety shirts. Full converts. I knew the time had come for me to do the same. So I took my shirt off, left it in the car, and took off running. That morning, I ran twice as far and had twice the fun. I was hooked.
I’ve had quite a few stories since fully converting to shirtless running. I’ll share my favorites. One was when I arrived at the trail and saw a shirtless runner in the distance waiting for his friend. Once his friend arrived and stepped out of the car, he nodded his head and took off his shirt too. Another happened when I was walking back to my car after I’d finished a run. As I rounded the corner to the parking lot, I made eye contact with a guy wearing a t-shirt from his local running club, getting ready to start his jog. I was toweling, and not paying much attention until when I saw him again thirty seconds later. His shirt was gone. I can’t help but wonder if I was the reason he decided to go shirtless.
But my favorite has to be when I met another shirtless runner. Around the 1.5-mile mark of my local running trail, there’s a bridge that serves as a rest stop for runners to take a breather. And there was this runner, who, like me, had decided to bare his chest on his evening run.
“How you doing?” he asked me between breaths.
“I’m good,” I said. “Catching my breath, like you are.”
“Nice shirt,” he grinned.
“All the cool kids are doing it,” I quipped back.
In closing, I hope you know this blog does more than inspire people to run shirtless—it inspires people, period. Running shirtless teaches you that you can make a difference, When that fellow runner I mentioned above took his shirt off after seeing me, it was probably because of my decision to run shirtless. My actions impacted others and made a difference.
I know you advertise the three C’s for shirtless running as comfort, camaraderie, and convenience, but I’d like to propose a fourth: confidence. Consistently running shirtless reassures you that those fears of everyone judging you are unfounded. In contrast to my anxieties, nobody has ever given me flack for running shirtless. In fact, by this point, if someone ever did, I’d probably just ignore them because I like doing it. And doing what you want regardless of what others might think—now that’s confidence.
Anyhow, it’s getting late. I’m getting up at 5:30 a.m. to go running tomorrow. Shirtless, of course.