Review: The Simple Joys of Running in a Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Singlet

For those who love history and hate chafing

Review: The Simple Joys of Running in a Tracksmith Van Cortlandt Singlet

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Tracksmith’s Van Cortlandt Singlet is an unlikely history lesson. Its name refers to Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx, some 1,146 acres of public land with nurseries that grow hundreds of thousands of plants each year, hiking trails that follow abandoned aqueducts into Westchester, and over 50 percent of the New York City’s cricket fields. In 1909, the park hosted the city’s first (and last) Canadian Football League game. In 2002, The Rolling Stones stepped into a yellow blimp from Van Cortlandt’s parade ground, to kick off their 40th Anniversary Tour.

The site is best known, though — beloved, hallowed, dreaded — for its status as cross country lodestone, a place where high schoolers cut their teeth on cinder trails, college athletes fall apart on Cemetery Hill, and aspiring marathoners blaze through it all, attacking the “flats,” “cowpath,” and “back hills,” enough times in training that that fateful day in November might feel like a Sunday long run in comparison.

It’s a thoughtful name for a singlet. But then, it’s difficult to imagine the Boston-based running brand ever yadda yadda’ing the history of its sport. Tracksmith reverently upcycles its Northeastern running tradition, literally stitching personal bests and regional quirks into its collections. Its proprietary moisture-wicking mesh is named “2:09” in honor of Olympian “Boston Billy” Rodgers, who set his first American marathon record (2:09.55) wearing a mesh tee he found in the trash. The diagonal stripe found on Tracksmith’s apparel isn’t just there to project an “old school vibe,” (to quote every single review of the label) it quite literally refers to a Cornell tradition established in the late 19th century. Athletes who scored points at Ivy League events earned the sash.

Cornell Track and Field athletes earned sashes when they scored points at league championships. (Tracksmith)

I’ve been running around in a Tracksmith singlet for three weeks now. Running has been a welcome, if predictable refuge for me during the national quarantine, a sometimes mindless, sometimes draining, always-there activity. A couple days ago I ran within a mile of the New Jersey-New York state line, all the while listening to a few of my favorite podcasters debate whether Cameron Frye’s dad really deserved to have his 1961 Ferrari 250GT California kicked through a window. How bad could he have really been? Yesterday, I ran full-tilt for the final half-mile segment of a 5K through my town’s center, eager to shake up a Strava leaderboard. I cracked the top 10, but the all-time leader is still 30 seconds faster. I’m convinced he ran down the center of the street in the middle of the night.

Wearing a Tracksmith singlet on these runs has been a technical revelation — the mesh is featherlight, the cut sits high on the chest, the whole shebang’s antimicrobial, and the cords are sturdy without feeling obtrusive. It’d probably have a hard time chafing Andy Bernard (who, incidentally would love the Cornell-inspired sash). It can also be deployed as a base layer underneath a half-zip or crewcut sweatshirt. Whenever the weather’s sniffed 50°F, though, I’ve enjoyed wearing it on its own, and for reasons that go beyond the specs.

Tracksmith likes to say that race days are sacred. When I throw on this singlet, I believe them. It brings me back to the bus before dual meets, the starting line at state championships, that sickly, religious feeling before the gun goes off, the cowbells, the popcorn crackle of an announcer down the final straight. At a time when the roads can feel long and lonely, I like what it represents: running’s commitment to community, its rare theater for competition (no matter how old you get), and most significantly — all that history that Tracksmith took the time to read.

Find the Van Cortlandt Singlet here, in six different colors. My favorite is the double-paneled blue.

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