In Stride

A Location-Based Guide to Running Shirtless

For all those times you’ve wondered, “Can I show my nipples now?”

A Location-Based Guide to Running Shirtless

With some exceptions, running shirtless in crowded public spaces is not okay. Photo: Russ Ensley/iStock

It’s officially summer and time to address a longstanding topic in warm weather running etiquette: going shirtless. No matter what ultra-breathable, sweat-wicking miracle fabric sportswear companies may come out with, for some people, nothing compares to feeling the breeze on one’s skin while clicking off miles in the July heat. But just because something isn’t forbidden doesn’t mean it’s OK. 

This might seem obvious, but there will always be that airline passenger who thinks a Limburger sandwich is a swell choice for an in-flight snack or that guy who thinks it’s cool to blast 2 Live Crew on his stereo in a public park next to a children’s party. With shirtless running, as elsewhere, considerations of common courtesy should be made independently of what a law explicitly states. Just so we’re all clear on what’s acceptable and what’s not, I refer you to this handy guide:

1. On the beach boardwalk
It is almost always acceptable to go sans shirt. Conversely, on crowded city streets, keeping your shirt on is the way to go, at the very least because most people would prefer not to have to leap out of the way to avoid your sweaty torso. In fact, it’s a pretty solid rule of thumb that the likelihood of coming into physical contact with other people is directly proportional to the necessity of keeping one’s shirt on.

2. In remote areas
Runners are justified in feeling less inhibited about removing their shirts. (Look at master trail and mountain runner Anton Krupicka. Does that guy ever not run shirtless?) Perhaps proximity to nature incites some primal need to expose oneself to the elements. It would be just as well, since wide, open areas are most optimal for stripping down, just as enclosed, densely populated workout spaces—i.e. gyms—should be the last place on Earth one would consider doing so. 

3. Traveling abroad
Err on the side of caution. Nothing is worse than a boorish tourist. Disregarding local custom just so you can work on your tan during your 10-miler doesn’t make you a crusader for cultural relativism; it makes you a jerk. Venice has long struggled with topless tourists in summer, who stroll along its canals as though they were still out on the Lido. In a conservative country like Japan, where there is a huge running—and trail running—scene, social mores require you stay clothed, even when running through a remote forest of Japanese maple on a day with 95 percent humidity. In other words, leave your inner Matthew McConaughey stateside. 

4. For the ladies
The #freethenipple campaign is a movement claiming that women should the same right to toplessness as men. As the campaign’s website states: “After several arrests and protests men finally won their basic human right to be topless in public in 1936. Today there are 37 states in the USA that still arrest women for this same freedom.”

Though I am anatomically ill equipped to judge how comfortable, or not, topless running may be for women, it seems self evident that they should have the legal freedom to decide that for themselves. 

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