The Great Hat Debate of the Men’s Marathon

If you watched the Men’s Olympic Marathon, then you noticed the amount of talking about hats.  Most athletes that ran had at least one statement commentating on their hat.  The commentators of the Olympics is a post for another day, though…

mens marathon

image via IAAF

On the US side, Rupp, as well as Meb, changed hats and most competitors ultimately took off their caps.  Ward stayed hatless the entire race.

Why were the commentators so obsessed with the racers hats? 

Thinking out loud, I decided to take an in-depth look at the hat situation and see how it affected the athletes and their placing.  Because why not? If the world’s “best” marathon commentators allowed to comment on hats…why can’t I.

If you followed me on twitter, you know after five minutes of listening to #hatchat by the commentators, I jumped on board with #hatchat too.

Actual comment from the commentator:


To clarify, Salzar later said the hats were filled with ice to keep the racers cooled.  Is that an unfair advantage?  I don’t know.

Any runner was welcome to have multiple hats but how many runners thought of that?  Are water stations going to eventually become aid stops?  Will you be able to stop, check your cell phone and play Pokemon Go at a water station?  Who knows how the marathon rules will progress…That being said, none of the athletes were breaking any rules by exchanging hats.

Let’s look at the three medalists: Kipchogue (gold), Lilesa (silver), and Rupp (bronze).   We can see both one and three started with hats but by the end of the race, neither had their original hat.  Several athletes exchanged hats during the course, however, Rupp was the only to medal.

At the beginning of the race and through about mile 10, it looks like several racers have white hats.  Only one lone athlete dared to wear blue, and he made it in the lead pack until around mile 20.

Let’s look at the various types of hats athletes used:

The overall winner began his race with more of a ball cap.  It had a flatter rim.

Both Rupp and Meb (possibly other athletes too), used various hats.  Each of their hats was filled with ice to keep them cool.

Early Stages of Race:

Lead pack of 35ish men:

  • About half wearing standard hats
  • One blue hat
  • One bandana/headband combo
  • A few visors but it seems more like a female racing strategy (I am a visor woman myself)
Mid-Race: 10-15 men
  • Half of the racers are wearing standard hats
  • One blue hat
  • One bandana/headband combo
  • No visors remain
// pack of 7
  • Leader maintains hat
  • Rupp is on hat 4 (?)
  • Blue hat begins to fade
  • Three hats left
Lead Pack of 4:
  • Leader has dropped his hat
  • Rupp remains the only hatted athlete
  • Pace starts to drop
Final Few Miles:
    • No athletes have hats and pace quickens
    • The hat debate is over

So my questioning begins…Do hats make you race quicker?  Does throwing your hat off mean you are about to drop the pace?The most important question, however, is: How can Hats Help the Nonelite Runner?

I’m no professional but can a hat (or 10 hats throughout a race) help a common runner like me?

Here I am running in a visor (which I kept and have run many races and training runs in).
Here I am running in a visor (which I kept and have run many races and training runs in).

Hats can keep the sun or rain out of your eyes and can keep you cooler.  If you can find a hat that you like running in, there aren’t any real disadvantages.


Will I wear a hat in my next marathon?  I will probably wear a visor if it’s sunny or rainy.  I like the sun out of my face as well as the rain.  I won’t have the luxury to exchange hats midrace but I’ll still use the one I’ve come to know and love.

Questions for you?
Hats or no hats?
Do you think the hat exchanges were fair? 


  1. I’m pro hats! I’m not really sure about how I feel about switching out hats and having ice in them (talk about brain freeze) but I’ve definitely worn hats during races before. For certain conditions they really help!

    1. A lot of the athletes had similar shoes. I think they were probably sponsored shoes given to all the Olympians

      1. If they were sponsored by Nike they wore the exclusive Olympic Nike Shoes (yellow/pink color scheme). If they were sponsored by another brand, they were allowed to where whatever shoes they wanted.

      2. Oh that’s good to know. I was wondering about why some wore them and some didn’t. Thanks so much for sharing

  2. I don’t like hats when I run. But if it’s very cold I’ll wear an ear-covering strap to keep my ears from freezing. For my triathlon, I did wear a bandana under my helmet to keep sweat out of my eyes, because it’s hard to wipe sweat out from under a bike helmet. But rain? Sun? Bring it. I’ll be running hatless.

  3. I had no idea this was “a thing” until reading this (though I didn’t watch the marathon, either.) I nearly always wear a hat when I run in the summer. Less because I love it but more to keep my *ahem* slightly thinning crown from getting sunburned. I’d prefer a visor (to keep the sun out of my eyes and sweat out of my sunglasses) but that doesn’t do the job. And I wear a light knit hat in the winter. So, yes, guess I’m a hat person.

    1. I don’t think it was “a thing” until the men’s marathon. It’s definitely interesting…

  4. Great post on the hat advantage. I wouldn’t have thought to use ice but I’ve run with a drenched hat to keep cool. I have lots to learn from the pros.

  5. Good idea with the ice hats for the runners. I’m a visor girl myself, and have gotten the inside of it wet during really hot races. But I can see where a hat would be best for that sort of thing.

    1. It’s funny because in my personal experience, it sounds like women prefer visors where men like hats!

  6. Hats are a practical necessity for me. For those of us with minimal hair, the hat helps wick away sweat that would otherwise go in your eyes and it helps with avoiding sunburn on your head, which really hurts. I wear them year ’round.

  7. Fun post on the hat debate! I was watching the race but not keeping up on the hats other than noticing Rupp was changing his at aid stations. Personally, I prefer a visor for almost every run and race…I try to get one at every race so have a bit of a collection! Hat packed with ice is a great idea though I don’t think it had much impact on the outcome of the race.

  8. I wear a hat year round. I wear it to hide my gross sweaty hair and to keep sweat from dripping nonstop into my eyes. Also to keep rain out of my eyes when it rains. And the sun out of my eyes when its bright. I am definitely in the pro-hat camp! Though I would never ::gasp:: THROW AWAY a hat mid-race. My hats are as precious to me as my shoes and are chosen with care! <3 my hats.

  9. Pro-hat, though I’m bald so it’s less a style choice and more a “sunburns suck” thing. But this has me seriously considering putting fresh hats with ice on a course. Hmm…

    I usually suggest one to people anyway, especially for a sunny race. The (even minimal) extra strain you put on your face muscles to squint (or to show your level of exhaustion, for that matter) can wear on you. I do my best when I’m able to keep a pretty flat look, and the hat and sunglasses really help with that.

    1. Why wouldn’t you add multiple hats on course?

      I’ve burnt my scalp before and when it peels it looks like dandruff.

  10. I never wore a hat while running until Shamrock this year, which I wore a hat to keep me warm and keep the rain out of my face. I’m obsessed with wearing hats now. Keeps hair out of my face, the sun out…or rain.

  11. I loved your twitter commentary!

    I was team no hat for years then had to run a half marathon in pouring rain last October and last second brought a hat. Game. Changer. This girl who never used to run in the rain now does and also has been a lifesaver in summer from squinting (I cannot wear sunglasses and run, entirely too much sweat for that). Under armour makes a fantastic light weight one that velcro’s in the back. Very good investment.

  12. Great post! As for fair/unfair, I think it’s fair because it wasn’t breaking the rules. I think the rules need to more clearly defined what is allowed at a water stop, though. I prefer a visor to a hat when it’s hot and sunny because I feel like a hat traps heat. If it’s raining then I prefer a hat to keep water out of my eyes and my hair.

  13. I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who was fascinated with their hat comments during the race. I personally ALWAYS wear a hat to keep the sun off my face but had never really thought about the different it could potentially make in a running performance.

  14. This is so good! 😉

    I prefer just dousing my hair in water instead of a cap if it’s very hot, and in the UK the UV is very low by evening so I’m luck, but maybe I should look into a visor. However, I’m very pro-cap in wet weather – anything to protect your face and eyes from a heavy downpour is a must for me!

  15. Hahaha I love that you made an entire post about this. Seriously interesting! Those commentators were ridiculous though 😂

  16. This is really interesting. You know I’ve not given it too much though…I wore my NUUN visor during a half marathon and PRed my time by something crazy so maybe it’s good? In my opinion you’re like an elite runner. To me anyway! I love following your blog and all your crazy fast races. You inspire me to believe! 🙂

  17. I’m all about a hat in a race but recently have been wondering if I should switch to a visor.

    I didn’t notice the hat switching so this post was super interesting to me!

  18. I think USTAF/Nike got the kit pretty right actually. I only wear hats in training and when it’s really really sunny, but I thought that this idea of ice caps at aid stations was inspired, as was the concept of having holes in the kit to keep the runners cool. I bet there were some interesting leopard effect tan lines going on though.

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