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home > community > viewpoint > the stinky shirt intervention.

The stinky shirt intervention.
It lurks in your closet waiting to get you

The stinky shirt intervention.

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By Chris Russell
Posted Saturday, 10 February, 2007

It’s early Sunday morning and I’m perusing my running closet for what to wear. Actually it’s more like a rack above the washer and dryer – banished to the recesses of the laundry room. It’s decorated by the flotsam and jetsam of the sport. There are many pairs of dirty shoes and miscellaneous articles of clothing.

I’ve got to go run 16 miles up hill and dale, over mount and vale on the infamous Derry course. It’s January and the forecast is cold. I fish through my stuff to find another layer. I need something technical and tightly woven to cut the wind under my fleece.

It’s always a challenge trying to figure out what to wear on these winter days. It might warm up by race time and you don’t want to be hot or get all wet from too many coverings. A couple degrees either way can buy a boatload of misery.

Most of us try to under-dress and then balance the difference with our hats, gloves and zippers. These can be removed for venting if things heat up. We pack our bags like inexperienced travelers, throwing in two of everything just in case. We spend the minutes before the gun like nervous hens trying to decide the right combination.

Pushing through the hangers I discover, among the loosely woven give-away technical race T’s, an old Reebok training shirt. It’s nice and thick and wicks very well. I remember the hundreds of miles I’ve run in it fondly. Somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice warns me that this is one of those shirts with a pernicious odor problem. I don’t dwell on it. It’s a 16 mile road race in the freezing cold for goodness sakes! Who’s going to notice a little residual stench? Especially under a couple layers of fleece? I’m sure there will be plenty of muskiness to go around.

I dress without further thought. I drink my coffee. I eat my oatmeal. I stretch and rub spicy sauce on my old muscles. I jump in the truck for the ride up 93. I begin to notice the familiar vapors creeping up through the fleece. I tell myself it will be fine.

It’s not like the shirt is dirty. It’s not. I’ve washed it. I’ve soaked it. I’ve pre-treated and double-washed it. The musk prevails. I’ve bleached it. I’ve recited medieval exorcism spells over it. I think I even left it floating in a hotel pool once. I’ve bundled it with ‘freshening’ dryer sheets.

It comes out of the dryer not-stinky. Not ‘fresh’ but not evil. I don’t know what it is about that shirt. Maybe it’s the tight weave and the thickness, but even after all the domestic cleaning product assaults as soon as I put it on it begins to live. It has burned in ‘stench memory’.

I’m not a particularly odiferous person. I’m quite conscientious about hygiene. Heck, if I’m in training I sometimes take three showers a day! Somehow this shirt has a snapshot of me on my worse day burned into it. It smells in Technicolor once it gets going. It’s like having a long distance event at the garlic convention.

I’m in the gymnasium greasing up my pointy bits in defense of the cold and engaging in some pre-race banter when inevitably the topic turns to “What are you planning to wear?” I lift my fleece to reveal the evil-stinky shirt. At this point I have Frank to thank for an impromptu ‘stinky-shirt’ intervention. Friends don’t let friends run stinky.

“I like this shirt, but it stinks a little…”
“You’re not wearing that shirt.”
“I like this shirt; it’s nice and thick…”
“It stinks, throw it away right now!”
“I paid a lot for this…”
“But I…”

In this way my old Reebok shirt ended up on the heap with the empty Gu packets and paper cups. I donned the race T they were handing out, which was pretty nice and did not smell bad. Thank you Frank, for the guidance. Sometimes I’m weak.

What is it about certain garments that manifest in a proclivity for exaggerated rankness? I have other shirts that I’ve had just as long as that one and they don’t have the same problem. It must be some sort of evil possession. The spirit of an ogre trapped in the shirt. Why that shirt and not another?

How do you get that stink out? I don’t mean cover it with another sweeter fragrance or replace it with something antiseptic. How do you return one of these haunted shirts to its previous unobtrusiveness? Beats me, but I’m sure you, dear reader, must have some whacky home-baked solutions to share with me…
Bury it in the front yard?
Soak it in mare’s urine (like the Romans)?
Burn candles?
Sink it in the pond for a couple days?
Prayers to St. Garlicus?
What works?

Revenge of the stinky shirt!
I was getting dressed this morning and it was quite cold out - single digits with a gusty wind. Digging through my drawers for something warm I chanced upon an old Nike Running shirt. I thought to myself, “This will make an excellent under-garment for such a cold day!” When it’s cold, you dress in layers.

I remember the shirt fondly. It was the second shirt I bought when I started training for marathons. I had gotten to the point where those cotton T’s were alternately rubbing all the skin of my chest and giving me chills. I remember buying that shirt off the rack in the Super-Sporting-Goods Store because it said “Nike Running” on the front. I figured, at the time, this made it a running shirt. This shirt turned out not to be exactly ‘technical’. I would kindly call it “mostly synthetic”. But it gave service for a few long campaigns and here it was once again to keep me nostalgically warm on this blustery day.

I thought nothing more of it as I worked the morning and made my way inevitably to the airport for a flight to Houston. Then the long walk from Central Parking in my overcoat brought my heart rate up a little and turned the furnace on, so to speak. I noticed a wee bit of a goat-like fragrance emanating from the layers. Hmmm…

Through security it was getting worse. Finally as I was uncomfortably ensconced in the back of the plane it was reaching China syndrome levels of toxicity. That’s when it hit me. This was another one of those stinky shirts. Even after languishing unworn in the bottom of a laundry pile for 2 years all it needed was a little body heat and it had come to life like some evil undead in a George E. Romero movie.

I tried to keep a low profile as the plane nosed up. Something had to be done. Then I heard Frank’s voice like a cinematic flash back; “Throw it away right now!”

As soon as it was appropriate I made my way to the lavatory. Once securely locked in I removed all my layers and stuffed the evil stinky shirt down into the little waste canister.

Fade to black.

Scene opens:

Somewhere in the USA there is a 737 cleaning crew puzzling over why there would be a perfectly good Nike Running shirt in the trash. She takes it from the trash. She’ll wash it and give it to her son. Cue the creepy, ominous music and evil laughter. The End?

I’ll see you out there, but don’t get to close.




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