Random running annoyances – No.1: race numbers

If you’re taking part in a race, chances are you’ll have to pin a number onto your top. Every runner does, basically – heck, they even have to wear them in the Olympics and other high-end proper races and the like.

Last year I entered 19 runs that involved pinning a paper number on my chest, so I had plenty of practice. And you know what? I’m still rubbish at it.

The problem: how best to get the bit of paper with your race number on straight. You want to make it taut enough so it doesn’t flap about annoyingly while you’re running, but not so stretched that it impedes your movement. It’s difficult. Well, at least I find it difficult.

For a start, it involves the use of safety pins. Until I took up running, I probably went years without even acknowledging the existence of safety pins. Now I own loads of them, and of all shapes and sizes.

So the first challenge is picking the size of safety pin to use. Go for small ones and it’s often better to stop your number flapping, but they’re far more fiddly to handle – especially when it’s cold. My preference is to tend towards the smaller ones, because I irrationally believe that the smaller the pin the less it will hurt when I accidentally stab myself with it.

Something else to consider is what you’re going to pin your race number to. A running top, obviously. So that basically means picking your race shirt. Of course, you’re going to stick pins in whichever shirt you choose, which probably isn’t brilliant for them in the long-term. That means I never want to use my best, newest tops on proper runs, because I’m a bit overly precious about them. And, if it’s cold enough that you need to consider multiple layers for a run, having to work out to put the sacrificial layer on top.

Next decision: how to pin the number to your shirt (yes, with pins, obviously…). Two basic options here. The first is to pin the number onto your shirt before you put it on; rather obviously, the second is to pin it to your shirt while you’re wearing it. Now, the first option seems superior in almost every way: you can put your shirt on a flat surface, line the number up nicely and you don’t have to worry about stabbing yourself in the gut.

Not so fast. Chances are, your stomach isn’t a totally flat surface, so having your number neatly lined up on your flat shirt is no guarantee it will be perfectly positioned when you put your shirt on. Also, consider that a lot of races hand race numbers on the day of the race. And I quite like putting my kit on before I head to a race. So I opt to pin it on when I’m wearing it. Not that it works.

I neatly line up the number, put the first pin in on one top corner, and somehow, by the time I’ve stuck the second one in, everything’s at a terrible angle, and the positioning is way off. By the time I’ve pinned it on all four corners, I’ve usually also lost the nice tautness I’d line up.

What follows next is a constant process of unpinning one corner, trying to realign the number, then refastening. And then realising it’s still not perfect, and unpinning a different corner. And so on, until it’s about 30 seconds before the start of the race, and then I just have to make do with how it is.

And here’s the weird thing: during the prolonged, tedious process of pinning the race number on your top it becomes incredibly important to get it right, and incredibly frustrating when it isn’t straight, or when it flaps and crinkles as you move. But when the race starts? You forget all about it within moments – until the time comes to pin your next number on before the start of your next race…


I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. It’s a great cause that provides help and support to young people undergoing heart surgery. Please sponsor me by clicking the ‘Just Giving’ button below. Any donations are gratefully accepted – and will go to a great cause.

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