Free T-Shirt! A Runner’s Story


   I’m in Afghanistan doin’  the ‘War Thang’ and I get an e-mail announcing a 5k in Kabul with FREE T-SHIRTS for the first 200 finishers!

 I fancy myself as a bit of a runner, so I sign up for this 5k, extra motivated by the free t-shirt!

 It’s a Las Fallas run, sponsored by the Spanish contingent, celebrating St. Joseph’s Day which is March 19th.  Apparently this week-long festival is huge in Valencia,  Spain. (Of note, it’s my namesake day and my birthday – so it’s a little bit special).

Runners will pay just about anything to add another t-shirt to their collection by signing up for a race.  Had the Spanish exploited this, they could have made a small fortune!  Thank goodness for all that NATO good cheer!

I sign up a few days before the race and the Spanish guy tells me there are 92 names on the list.  (He actually didn’t speak very good English, so he pointed to the computer screen).  That leaves me plenty of slack, so I shouldn’t have any trouble landing a shirt.

But just to make sure I’ll qualify for the free t-shirt, I start tearing down flyers I see announcing the race.  I’m actually just trying it keep the place tidy.  There are lots of old flyers stuck on doors and walls around here, and I’m just doing my part.

Then, the day before the race, there is this mass e-mail with the flyer attached!

I quickly hit delete hoping no one saw it over my shoulder.  Somehow I believed that if I hit delete, maybe everybody else will do the same.  (There’s man logic in there somewhere.)

The next day I show up for the race, and there are well over 200 people!

Who are all these people and when did they sign up!?  A closer examination of one of the flyers (apparently one I overlooked) states – Sign-up available the day of the race – What kinda nonsense is that!?

With my t-shirt in jeopardy I start looking for the slackers that I know I can out run.  To my dismay I’m seeing young, athletic looking guys and gals from nearly 20 different nations, well equipped to run and wearing Spandex!  (what’s with the European guys and their need to parade around in skin-tight clothing?)

In broken English, the host announces it’s time to race.  I position myself on the outside, about middle of the pack.  It’s always total chaos at the start of the race with a lot of non-runners thinking it would be exciting to be first in line.  They’ll cause no less 15% of the racers to have a near collision within the first quarter-mile.

Adrenalin and the need to demonstrate your running mettle sometimes causes you to start way too fast.  If you don’t temper the start, you’ll be seeking an oxygen tank after the first quarter-mile.

At the start, I take to the outside to pass a few slackers and joy runners, trying to find an opening in the middle of the road to settle in.

A half mile down the road, I’m breathing way too hard as I try to assess the traffic in front of me.

Are there more than 200 people up there!?  I’m not sure! They turned a corner and I’m too busy trying to find my pace and catch my breath!

Then it happens!  Someone passes me!

I think I’m gonna hyperventilate!

It’s a fat guy (‘heavy set’, my mother would say) who’s sweating way too much for a 5k, but he’s not slowing down and I can’t keep up.

Then another guy, runner type, long stride, good apparel, barely breathing, passes me like it’s an Olympic trial.

Then a couple more guys, older, but definitely seasoned in the running arena.  They float past, seemingly without effort.

Of course, I don’t dare look back.  It’s a total sign of weakness and sure to reveal that they’re all either right on my tail or ahead of me!

Then a guy in a black and lime green pair of shorts (with matching t-shirt) goes past me like I’m running the other way!  Obviously, he’s doping.  I make a mental note to include it in my complaint to the Spanish Racing Commission (or the starter guy with bad English).

The runners that passed me may have put me beyond the 200th spot, so now I’m slightly annoyed and realize I’ll have to pick-up the pace. I didn’t plan on working this hard for a T-shirt!

Ahead I see a couple non-running types. It’s now the second lap of three and I’m wondering how they’ve held out so long.  They’re obviously not runners.  Baggy sweat pants and a baseball cap on one guy from Mongolia; and another short, chunky guy with basketball shorts possibly from Croatia.

I can’t catch either one. I suspect they are cheating some how, but it may require an investigation.

Just ahead, on the left side of the road, there’s a young, skinny Belgian in Spandex (of course!) who has to stop to tie his shoe.  Thank goodness the Belgians are not familiar with the double knot.  I blow past him.

There’s another guy limping – looks like an ankle.  ‘Sorry ‘bout your luck pal, but there’s a t-shirt with my name on it!’

Next, I pass a couple of Jack Rabbit starters who just discovered how thin the air is in North Kabul – From the greenish tint on their faces, I can tell they haven’t been in country too long.  Acclimation and Elevation (over 5,000 ft. in Kabul) are a…female dog!

A half a lap to go and I get passed by two young European guys in tight little shorts and French cut t-shirts.  I choke back a dry heave following that visual.  That’ll cost me 10 seconds!

Then I get passed by an old guy who’s running like it’s his first lap.  In fact, I think it his first lap!!  I have no proof, mind you, but he’s way too smooth and un-fatigued to be on the final lap.  If he puts me at the 201st spot, I’m definitely filing a formal protest.

I cross the finish line without fanfare and realize there is no timer nor did I time the run.  My lungs are bleeding and my legs are aching and I feel like I ran pretty good. I’m gonna call it my best 5k ever based on that assessment!

All I really want to know is what’s my number!?  Did I finish in the top 200!?  Where’s the FREE T-SHIRT guy!?

I quickly scan the area and see a long, single file line of runners moving toward a table – the FREE T-SHIRT TABLE!

I refuse a bottle of water knowing that opening and then drinking could allow a runner THAT FINISHED AFTER ME to get ahead of me in line.

As I get closer, I see bags of t-shirts on the table!  The t-shirt is literally ‘in the bag!’  Unless of course, there’s some natural disaster or war event that stops me from getting to the front of line to claim my prize!  I utter a quick prayer, asking the Lord to delay the inevitable disaster, at least ‘til I get my FREE T-SHIRT. (So wrong, I know).

As I reach the front of the line I realize I failed to assess proper size!!  AHH!   If I make the wrong call here, I could never get back in line to swap it out – I mean it’s free!! You can’t haggle when it’s free!!

Quick assessment – If it’s moisture wicking, no problem – medium.  If it’s cotton, I have a problem.  If it’s 50/50, I might get away with medium but I’ll need to check.  If it’s 100% cotton, then Large is definitely it.

If it’s too big, I might wear it, If it’s too small – I definitely won’t!

Hurry!! Assess the situation!!  All that lung bleeding, hard breathing, heart pounding, muscle aching, flyer tearing and protest filing could be for naught if I make the wrong call here!!

I see it’s cotton!  Can I look at the tag!?

Oh no, they asked me what size (in Spanglish) and there’s a huge line behind me….

The quality looks good, I’m thinking 100% cotton.

“How ‘bout a large,” I say in a non-anxious, non-caring, casual, ‘oh, you get a t-shirt for this,’ conversational kinda way.

They flip me a large.  I double fist clench it and I move away from the crowd hoping that Afghan T-Shirt shop ‘large’ does not mean HUGE!

I quickly examine the tag – it’s 100% cotton!  Great call!  A good washing and a thorough drying will make it the perfect fit.

This FREE t-shirt is embroidered on the left chest with name and date of the race, along with a Spanish and Afghan flag.  I T   I S   A W E S O M E!!

The FREE T-Shirt!

I casually flip the shirt over my shoulder, grab a water and strut back toward the finish line to encourage the rest of the racers.

It looks like the non-shoe tying Belgian made the t-shirt cut. In a show of NATO solidarity and world brotherhood, I think I’ll show him that shoe lace thing.


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