My first race ever was in 2001. That year I ran a total of 7 races and only 1 gave out medals to finishers, a mere 14% of my races. The one event where I did receive a medal was a bigger event (a relay) that made me feel like I had actually earned it. Out of those 7 races my favorite race was one of the races without a medal. I was hooked on racing simply because it was a way to challenge myself. Medals were a bonus that you had to earn by running a longer/harder race or by actually winning the race.
In 2012, I ran a record (for me) 19 races, many of which were small local events. That year I received 13 finisher medals. 68% of races I ran were now handing out medals to all who participated. In just over a decade, the finisher medal has become almost standard at any race.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I will never complain about a finisher’s medal. It’s kind of cool to come home with a little bling, but it seems that a medal is no longer a bonus and it’s definitely not just for the race winners anymore. Instead it has become an expectation of race attendees. I’ve regularly heard comments from runners saying they would not run a race if there was no finisher’s medal. I’ve also heard complaints about “lame” or “cheap” medals received at a race. That in itself seems to have bred the bigger and better medal competition that many Race Directors feel is necessary in order to attract participants. No wonder race prices have skyrocketed. Keeping us runners happy with the biggest and best medals (not to mention, the best-looking tech shirts) is not a cheap endeavor!
What happened to running a race simply to see how you could do against yourself or others? Now I can have the worst run ever and still come home with a big ol’ medal. Where’s the satisfaction in that?
I remember when my racing friends would choose a race based on: location, distance, route, price, and sometimes the after-party. Never do I remember a discussion about if there was a finisher’s medal and how the quality of that medal would be. Now my circle of friends who run has broadened, as has the running community, and race choice often seems based solely on which one has the best medal. Runners, what have we become?
We no longer seem to be a community of athletes who race to improve our running times or even just to enjoy the camaraderie. Instead, we feel entitled. I ran, therefore you owe me bling! We are like a T-ball team where everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season so that no one goes home with hurt feelings.
What’s my point? First, if you want a race with a fancy medal then expect to either pay more for that event or to get less from that event. (Maybe no shirt, limited post-race snacks, less race support, etc.) Remember, putting on a race costs money! You can’t expect to have it all.
Second, and most important, get back to being a runner again. Choose a race based on something besides what stuff you’ll get. Remember why you started running in the first place and choose a race based on those standards. There are some great races out there that don’t spend a lot of money on medals. I challenge you to try one out. I promise, you won’t go home feeling like a loser if you don’t get a medal. Instead, you might just find that stripped down, raw runner inside you again.