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The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: What’s the best race memorabilia? (includes poll)

A long time ago, I ran cross country for half a season, and didn't like it at all. Not only that, I didn't get anything for finishing the races, other than shin splints. A few decades later, I took up running again and found it weirdly enjoyable. Then I discovered local 5Ks and became obsessed with the sport. Even better, I didn't get shin splits, but I did get race shirts! This is the first one I picked up, from the first Zombie Apocalypse Run in 2011 (I got devoured about 2/3 of the way through):

My first ever race shirt!

  Since then, I've gotten tons and tons of race shirts. I'm nowhere close to catching up to fellow Run Oregon blogger Joe Dudman, who has an entire blog category on his race shirts, but I have way more than I could possible wear, especially since I have more than my share of non-race tech shirts; I'm especially partial to Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero ones. Race shirts pile up and take up a surprising amount of space, so while I like them, I also don't need any more. (Unless they're really cool. I still wish I'd snagged one of the "I'm here for the buffet" zombie shirts from the second year of the ZAR.) But shirts aren't the only commemorative items from races. From finisher's medals to useful items to award pins and ribbons, there are lots of little things that race organizers give out to racers:

Race bibs:

Binders full of bibs!

If I could only keep one piece of memorabilia from a race that I’ve run, it would be the race bib. That may sound a little strange, since every race comes with a race bib.* But most races customize their bibs so that there is an artistic rendering for memory’s sake.

* Actually, I don’t have every race bib I’ve collected, because one of the races that I ran in 2013 and 2014 needed to take the bibs for recordkeeping.

After each race, I strip the foam cushion over the RFID chip (if necessary) on the back of the bib and then put the bib inside a 3-hole punched plastic sleeve. I print out my race recap and add that to the binder after the race bib. Voila, up to date memory book!

The 2014 Halloweenathon finisher’s medal – the eyes light up red when switched on

Finisher’s medals:

A few years ago, local races, especially those by Uberthons, started offering finisher’s medals instead of (though sometimes in addition to) race shirts. At first, the medals were on the small side, and made of plastic or some other kind of lightweight composite material. By the next year, however, Uberthons was handing out metal medals(!). You could make a pretty decent weapon by swinging one of those by the attached lanyard ….

The nice thing about finisher’s medals, compared to race shirts, is that the medals are much more compact. After I finish a race (and sleeve the race bib in my binder), I put the race medal in my memorabilia box – namely, an unused running shoe box; I’ve got plenty of those.

Time to get another memorabilia box!

Some (old school-type) curmudgeons may think that finisher’s medals are another sign of our devolution into mediocrity, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that these are finisher’s medals. You don’t get one for signing up for the race (although race shirts get handed out before the race); you actually have to cross the finish line. We actually had a spirited internal Run Oregon debate about this, and one of my co-bloggers wrote a passionate defense of finisher’s medals that I completely agree with, and have quoted here with permission:

I think it’s great that there are races that offer 5k finishers medals, and that there are races that only have them for the half. Race directors and runners have the option to put on whatever race they want, and register for whatever race they want, and I respect their decision to choose what they feel is good for them. For some people, a 5k may be the biggest physical accomplishment of their life. I wouldn’t begrudge them a nice medal.

No, people don’t deserve a trophy “for everything.” But I would disagree–race participation medals aren’t so people “don’t feel bad” about how they performed. It’s because running races allows them to work towards their own individual goals.

Sure, I don’t get the same feeling from finisher’s medals today as I did with the first one, but I can still admire the artwork and craftsmanship. And it’s easier to do so with medals in a shoebox than folded race shirts in a drawer, where I’d have to refold them after looking at them.


The 2015 Rum Run finisher’s medal

Finisher’s medals that have other specific uses:

Some races take the “medal, schmedal” approach. They provide a finisher’s … item, but they’re definitely not medals. Energy Events came up with one of the best items in this category: a bottle opener for last year’s Rum Run. It fits thematically with the theme of the run – well, sort of: I don’t drink alcohol so I wouldn’t know, but I imagine it’s got to be useful for opening something you’d mix with rum. Mine’s still in the shoebox, but hey, if I ever can’t find my regular bottle opener, I know where I can get another one.


Age group pins, ribbons, etc.:

For those curmudgeons who dislike the trend toward more and more races with medals for everyone who finishes, the practice of noting age group winners may be a tolerable compromise. Typically, finishing first, second, or third in one’s age and gender group (customarily in five-year increments) earns the finisher some kind of award. Uberthons, for example, hands out bronze, silver, or gold pins depending on one’s age/gender group placement. I like the pins because they can be attached to the lanyard of the finisher’s medal as a double reminder of the particular race. Other races hand out different colored ribbons depending on where the runner finished in the age/gender group.

So these age/gender group awards have to be earned, although in smaller races, there are sometimes three or fewer people in a particular group, meaning everyone in that group gets an award. (I’ve gotten a few age/gender group pins that way….) But if what you are looking for is something to chase after in competition, these age/gender group awards fit the bill, because you are generally not going to know how many people at the race are in your group.


Yeah, I didn’t win all of these…

Overall top finishers/top masters medals:

I’m guessing that former pro football player James Harrison wouldn’t return these medals the way he sent back his kids’ participation trophies. These are obviously hard to get – in a big enough race, the top finishers are likely to be sub-elite or even elite runners. In a smaller race, however, it’s within the realm of possibility for a mere mortal to snag one of these.

I’ll confess that on more than one occasion, I may have been motivated to keep pushing during the strenuous parts of races because of the thought of picking up one of these awards. It’s not the physical nature of the award itself, or even getting into the photo op, but rather the tangible acknowledgement of the achievement.

I suppose if I had one of those display racks that I might hang the top finishers/top masters awards (I haven’t gotten the top finisher award ever, but I did snag the third place one in a race, and I’ve gotten a few of the top masters awards), but instead, they go into the shoe box. Well, they’ll go into the second shoe box, since I filled the first one before starting to get any of these kinds of awards.

What are you thoughts? Vote in the poll, and add your comments below!

About Tung Yin (252 Articles)
Law prof by day, runner all the time. Got off the couch in January 2011 and have been obsessed with running ever since.

1 Comment on The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: What’s the best race memorabilia? (includes poll)

  1. I appreciate all race memorabilia and awards, but among my favorites are some pewter (style) beer steins from the Crater Lake Rim Runs, engraved with the race name, date, distance, and award category, and some hand-made ceramic plates with the same information from the Salem Run For The Arts. One of the best prizes I was really hoping to win but just missed out on was a one-of-kind custom analog watch created by a local jeweler for the winner of a race celebrating the opening of the newly restored Twin Tunnels stretch of the Old Columbia River Highway. Oh, and yes, I DO like shirts! 😉

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