“I can’t wait until I get that finisher’s medal around my neck,” a runner said to us early one morning last year as we were waiting for a subway to arrive and take us to Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. The Brooklyn Half was my first half marathon and my first big race. I had done a few small 5Ks and a 10K races until that point.
Ben answered her, “I don’t think Brooklyn has finisher’s medals. I don’t remember them from last year.”
She looked disappointed at the news. She sighed, “I’m glad I found about it now. I was really looking forward to a medal and I would have been really mad if I crossed the finish line expecting a medal and not getting one.”
I was puzzled by this whole exchange. I was relatively new to the running and unschooled in the running culture. I asked Ben about the finisher’s medals. At the bigger races, it wasn’t uncommon to have finisher’s medals. To say that I thought the practice was perplexing was an understatement. Medals, trophies, plaques, and ribbons were symbols of great accomplishment — not only did you complete the event, but that you did significantly better than the other competitors. In high school I regularly competed in horse shows and brought back to my mother my fair share of ribbons, trophies, plaques, and one time a large platter to demonstrate that I did well against my fellow competitors. Never once did I bring home a ribbon for simply showing up and riding. The thought of getting a medal for completing something was utterly a foreign concept. I couldn’t believe that so many people needed an external form of validation.
Ben could tell from the look on my face that I was not a fan of finisher’s medals.
He said, “Runners really like getting those finisher’s medals. They get upset when they expect one and don’t receive one.”
Indeed this culture of expectation proliferated into the now ubiquity of finisher’s medals at all the big races and even trickled down to smaller local races of shorter distances, which I think is ridiculous considering the cost of the medals. Honestly I’d rather have a cheaper race entry fee for the short races. This column in Running Times describes the writer’s desire for more “shiny metal objects.”
While I personally don’t need a finisher’s medal as recognition of accomplishment, I do like them when they are cool and/or interesting in some way as a souvenir of my experience. For example, I really do like my Paine to Pain medal because the design is wonderful. It reflects the theme of the race well and was beautifully made. In addition I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of running Paine to Pain (except for the part where I fell and was bleeding all over the place, but the first aid crew was fantastic!), so the medal brings back memories of a great event.
As well, I like Ben’s Miami Half Marathon because of its double spinner feature (the center cut-out and the palm tree spin). It’s something I hadn’t seen before.
I like the finisher’s medals as a little momento of the experience, so I would be as happy with some other form of souvenir that a race director decides to hand out instead. I wonder how many other runners would also feel this way?
The list for the best medals of 2012 came out and Wineglass Half & Marathon’s glass medal came in 11th. I’m looking forward to receiving the 2013 version in the fall. To me these medals are tokens of the experience, rather than validation of who I am as a runner.