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Is It All About The Medal?

Medals 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.

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About Annette Vaughan (429 Articles)
Annette Vaughan is a runner, personal trainer, and race director in Canby, Oregon. She began running at the age of 30 and became hooked after her first race (even though she is a self-proclaimed slow runner.) She enjoys small local races from 5Ks to half-marathons, with a 30K on the books as her longest run ever. She has also become a huge fan of obstacle course races and just can't get enough of them. Annette is the race director for Get A Clue Scavenger Race and owns a personal training studio in Canby. She believes in promoting movement, since our bodies were designed to move. The more we move, the better we move and function in everyday life.

9 Comments on Is It All About The Medal?

  1. I think I might prefer slightly cheaper races with no medals, but I have to admit, the Uberthons race medals — especially the 2013 Halloweenathon (casket shaped, opens up, and it glows in the dark!) — are quite cool. As between race medals or race shirts, I much prefer medals. I have enough running shirts already!!

    • Tung, I agree, the Halloweenathon medal was the coolest ever! 🙂 Like, I said in my post, I’ll never complain about a little bling! However, I just wish people didn’t EXPECT it all the time.

  2. I love the bling and I love the race shirts … but I am more than happy to pay for both 🙂

  3. Why not have it all? Putting on a race does cost money. And so does paying to register for one as a participant! There are so many events in the area, and there are some really great deals on events that do have a lot of perks (ex. most Uberthons events are very affordable, but professional events with AMAZING medals, Energy Events does a lot of great races and has discounts/shirts/medals/beer, Terrapin Events too), that there’s no reason to settle for less than whatever motivates you to run.–. People (non-runners) ask me all the time why i PAY to run races, and it’s because it’s fun, there’s swag (at least one variety–shirt, medal, etc.), there’s beer, and because it’s something to train for. Different things motivate different people. And that’s okay 🙂

    • I agree, it is fun to have it all! I just wish people didn’t expect to have it all at every race. I wish people would be pleasantly surprised and pleased by a medal instead of saying it’s not good enough, etc.
      Thanks for your input and thanks for reading!

  4. Brian Bernier // January 8, 2014 at 9:47 PM // Reply

    I raced 28 times last year alone and literally have a pile of medals. The ones that truly mean something are the races I won or the half marathons. I remember when I started running, medals were a rarity, even for the winners! Times change, I still prefer the same events, regardless of whether there will be a medal or prizes involved.

  5. I signed up for the Silver Falls Half when there was no medal. Then I signed up again the next year and didn’t care if there was a medal; although I did enjoy getting one the second time. It was the incredible, and tough, Silver Falls course that was the real draw for me…not the medal. That said though I am 59, live a plant-based lifestyle, have a titanium rod in my leg and pins in my knee and feel it a real accomplishment to finish strong given my previous debilitating injury that took five years of recovery. I like having that lasting proof to hang by my computer showing I can eat counter to the accepted urg urg meat meat to be strong logic and power past my previous debilitating injuries…with a little help from compression wraps and socks of course. For that reason I guess I do enjoy the medal a little but if a course was extra special (say…the Redwoods) I would still sign up and forgo the medal if one was not offered. I am left to walking courses because the pound pound of running does not go well with my floating fibula and knee pins but I always finish sub three hours on the half’s and walk a pace over four mph the entire distance. I track my steps and legs with GPS and software and go strictly to compete against myself because I will never be number one but I’m ok with that. There is a part of me that is very competitive and when I finish my walk an hour ahead of some of the “runners” that is the real prize for me….more than the medal. And oh…the pictures…seriously? I really don’t need pictures of me crossing the finish line or making the halfway point. Does anyone really buy those? Oh yeah…the shirts…love the shirts. Sorry…maybe I sign up for the shirts. 🙂

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