If you've spent any amount of time looking at photographs of today's professional runners, then you've noticed a major trend: sleeves.
Wait, it's not what you think. It's not that runners are running long-sleeved shirts. They're still wearing the same tiny singlets they've always worn. But now they're pulling on sleeves, sleeves that are unattached to any accompanying garment. The sleeves themselves are the garment. So, what you end up with is a guy or gal wearing a tank top and a pair of spandex sleeves. In Mo Farah's case, there often isn't even a singlet involved. He's shirtless, but for a pair of spandex sleeves.
The first question to ask here is why? The answer is relatively straightforward. Running sleeves offer protection from the sunlight, often up to and beyond 50 SPF. They also provide "temperature regulation," meaning that when it's cold outside, the sleeves will help keep you warm. Depending on the material from which they're made, they may also be capable of cooling you in warmer temperatures: as they wick moisture away from the skin and into the fabric, and the breeze hits the fabric, the runner wearing the sleeves feels a rush of cooling air. Lastly, one article I read floated the theory that the sleeves provide more "real estate" for a pro runner's brand endorsements. In other words, he or she can wear a logo all the time, over and above whatever logo exists on their other garments.
These all seem like sensible answers, until we stop to acknowledge that all of the above is true of any garment that already has sleeves.
Now, we've all been in situations where we wished we were wearing long sleeves. Most typically, in those situations, we put on a long-sleeved shirt, or a jacket. I cannot say that I have ever been in a situation in which I wished that I was wearing a tank top, exposing all the parts of me that a tank top exposes, but that I wished desperately that my arms were covered from the bottom of my deltoids to my wrists. Not only is that oddly specific, but it's also just plain odd. After all, it is far easier to put on a long-sleeved shirt than it is to go shopping for the sleeves, minus the shirt. What could possibly be the advantage of just the sleeves, not the shirt?
In speaking with a few different people, one advantage to the sleeves kept coming up: They're great sun protection. The wearer doesn't need to bother with sunblock, and the sleeves are cool enough that they can be worn in very hot and sunny weather.
With this sun-blocking advantage in mind, I did a little online window shopping to see what sort of "sun sleeves" were available out there. Guess what I discovered: sun shirts.
That's right, for many years now, surfers have been wearing long-sleeved shirts that wick away moisture and block the sun's rays while keeping them (the surfers) cool and allowing the full range of motion that a surfer requires. These shirts have high collars, too, so your neck doesn't miss out on all that great sun protection.
So, once again: with products such as these, there is no need to wear just the sleeves. You can have a whole sun-blocking, moisture-wicking, self-cooling shirt. I bought a pair of these shirts to test out. In the cool spring air, they've been very effective as sun block, and they've helped me keep a little cool. The real test will come in the infamously difficult Texas summer heat.
I suspect, however, that these shirts will perform no worse than stand-alone sleeves. Don't wear sleeves. Wear the whole shirt.
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