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When a shirt is more than a shirt

Baltimore half-marathon T-shirt

The 2013 Baltimore Half-Marathon long-sleeved T-shirt

Will I still get my T-shirt?

That was my first thought when I heard Under Armour was bowing out as a sponsor of the Baltimore Marathon. Every October, a few days before the marathon, I eagerly pick up my half-marathon T-shirt and text my parents what color we can add to our collection. (Last year’s purple and 2011’s orange were big hits in the Jacobs households.)

I have shirts that go back to 2006, when I ran the anchor leg of the marathon relay, my first race. The following year, after months of training, I got my first half-marathon T-shirt. I’ve continued collecting shirts to the point where my workout gear some weeks is exclusively from the Baltimore race.

In many ways, the shirts have transformed and evolved much like the company that makes them. The roughness and heaviness of those first few shirts have given way to sleek, shiny garments that are soft to the touch. It’s like running while being swaddled in your baby blanket.

I’ve run a few other half-marathons and the other swag shirts pale in comparison. Plus, the Baltimore shirts are a badge of honor. I like to nod to all runners I see when I’m out, but the nod for someone wearing a Baltimore race shirt is, in a way, a secret handshake of sorts.

Because the course sucks. In a good way. The elevation chart looks like the EKG of the Parents Television Council members watching Miley Cyrus on the VMAs. I know the course pretty well by now and know what’s around each turn. Yet, I still dread every last hill, particularly the final push up the Howard Street bridge. You don’t win the race; you survive it.

There is a pride in reaching the finish line, much like there is a pride in running through your city. I’ve learned Lake Montebello is wider than it looks, that the party is on Guilford Avenue, that the people in East Baltimore view us with curiosity but still cheer us on.

Lee Corrigan, whose Corrigan Sports runs (ha!) the marathon, said he is still looking for a title sponsor for this year’s race and, while the race may be down financially now, it has been “profitable since day one.”

I hope the Baltimore Running Festival remains profitable and that Under Armour’s decision is not the beginning of the end of what is a great day for Baltimore and its running community.

Under Armour, it should be noted, will continue to provide the official race shirts. I just hope this year’s green T-shirt isn’t the last one I add to my collection.