Washington Ran Here, Round 2

Allow me to begin my latest curmudgeonly guest post with a digression – or, as we call it in journalism, a heavily anecdotal lede.

Between the ages of 12 and 19, I was paralyzingly in love with Stephen Sondheim musicals. In 60 years I will have forgotten the names of all my friends and family, but will still be able to recite the lyrics to A Little Night Music in toto. So, it is perhaps unsurprising that I can approach almost any situation in life with a lyric from a Sondheim musical. In this case, the one I promise I will get to in like just a hot second, the musical is Assassins (it’s about successful and unsuccessful presidential assassins). The character is Samuel Byck, some lunatic who tried to assassinate Richard Nixon. And the lyric is this: I want my prize!

Samuel Byck, meet hobby joggers. Hobby joggers, Sam Byck.

There are plenty of things that piss me off about running culture: $150 stability shoes, white compression shorts, overemphasis on marathons, Gatorade stops in a 5K, and so on. But there may be nothing – nothing! – more maddening than the impression among recreational runners that the completion of a race merits a medal.

Examples of people who should receive medals:

1. Incredibly brave soldiers. They receive National Medals of Honor.

2. Brilliant mathematicians. They receive the Fields Medal.

3. Olympic athletes. If they are top three, they receive Olympic Medals.

(Megan says: The medals might be the only appropriate thing about this photo)

Examples of people who probably don’t deserve medals:

1. You, finishing a 1:45 half marathon. Or a 3:15 marathon. Or, hell, a 2:45 marathon that you didn’t win.


In the interest of full disclosure (or as full disclosure as you can get in an anonymous guest blog post), I have a number of medals, both ones I’ve earned through winning or placing in races, and ones I got because I finished. And do you know where I keep them? …really? You do? Because I haven’t seen them since I got home from the races, dumped my clothes and half-eaten granola bars in the corner, and hopped in the shower. I’m decidedly not a “stuff” person, but even if I were, I’d like to believe that I still wouldn’t demand a symbol of victory for doing something in which I was not victorious. Or, should I say, I wouldn’t be a whiny bitch about not getting a medal if I didn’t win.

This topic arose recently after I read a few reports about the  missing-medal kerfuffle at the Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas Marathon. In addition to the logistical clusterfuck (if Megan edits that last word, know that I did not self-censor) of the race, a number of half marathoners were irate because they did not get medals at the end.

I find such an attitude of entitlement repugnant, and said so on Twitter. One woman responded, saying something along the lines of, “Disagree! If you finish a marathon, you are a winner!”

No. No you are not. That guy who won is a winner. You – and this is the global you – are an also-ran. You’re John McCain. Howard Dean, if you will.

To be clear, I think the democratization of distance running is a good thing. The more people who run, get healthy, and promote road running, the better for the sport. You want to spend $150 on marathon registration as a New Year’s resolution? Mazel tov! Good for you! But, honestly, why on earth should the mere action of crossing the finish line result in anything other than a hearty pat on the back and three to four hours of brilliant, if painful, memories? I mean, is there any other activity we do, as adult human beings, in which prizes are compulsory?

Answer: no. And if you answered yes, let’s be clear, it’s just someone blowing smoke up your ass. And if there’s anything more irritating than smoke up my ass, it’s a bush league medal around my neck.

(Megan says: Leave a comment if you think Sarah should guest post more often. <3)

  • Guest

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Sarah blogging!!! I was laughing the whole way and really enjoyed reading the comments too. Personally I’m a race numbers kind of gal… I save them and currently have 2 framed. However, more than anything, I look forward to some day telling my grand kids stories of my racing adventures 🙂

  • Carrie Richmond

    Reminds me of the kerfuffle about raising arms when you cross the finish line, even if you don’t win. 😉

  • A while back my husband and I spent an afternoon at Dave and Buster’s. We spent a nice wad of cash playing ski ball and getting drunk. When we cashed in our tickets, we got some little trinket that was probably worth $0.14. I think you can see where I’m going with this…

  • Getting a finishers medal is equivalent to a getting a
    participation ribbon. It’s all relative to the person if they find value in that
    are not. If you are just starting out a finishers medal offers a small token and
    reminder of your effort. I don’t think a finishers medal is really meant for the people that knock out 5K because they need to burn
    15-20 minutes before their lunch is over.

    I’m all for finishers medals. If the person has put in their 100% and layed it all down to complete the race for a PR or just simply getting across the line. It doesn’t really matter that you didn’t come in 1st.

  • Mary

    Sara, You forgot to add:  In our family, we call them DUST COLLECTORS….

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  • I can see complaining about not getting a medal if the medal was included in the cost of the race. Basically, you’re not getting something you paid for. 

    In big races, the winners don’t just get medals, they get money, cars, and other prizes. Hell, they get paid just for showing up.I don’t do anything special with my medals. I’ll probably stick them in a box under the bed when I really get to cleaning my room. For now, they’re hung on my little entertainment stand. It’s just one more reminder of the work I’ve put in the last few years to get fit. 

  • margot

    I actually have no idea where any of my diplomas are.  Or my race medals (honestly I throw most of them away).   I don’t need more junk in my house.

    I just wish they’d stop handing them out at races bc I bet it would cut down on race fees like…a dollar…

    yeah and sarah needs to blog again. 

  • midwestrunner

    as a division II college cross country and track runner and national qualifier, i could not possibly agree more. from age 12 to 23 i chose to dedicate nearly my entire life to training and racing and spent my five year college career turning down drinks on saturday night to do a long run sunday morning and waking up on every spring break vacation to run alone because i had traveled with non-running friends. i went three years taking off thirty total days of running. i know what it means to make a commitment to this sport. and hear me when i say that nothing thrills me more than knowing that road races are drawing other people to the sport i have grown to love so much (i met my husband on the cross country team!). but what i have always seen as the beauty of this sport is its purity. truly all we need to be a runner is a ratty pair of shorts and some halfway decent shoes. in fact, i was tenth in the nation in the 10k and i have little else to show for it than the incredible memories of the trip i spent YEARS working to earn. so why do we need medals for the people who finish in the THOUSANDS in a marathon? believe you me, i acknowledge their accomplishments. but the beauty of running is that its reward is not tangible.

  • Tamara @31dates

    A friend of mine once touted that the problem with our society is “free t-shirts.” My eyebrow raised in curiosity. “How so?”
    And the conversation went on as Sarah did, talking about the expectations that we have of always getting something on the back end. Walk a 5k for cancer researhc? Get a free t-shirt. Volunteer at a food bank? Get a free t-shirt. “Why can’t people just do things solely for the experience?” she demanded.
    And I think she has a point. I have the pictures, memories, and the regrown toenails to show what I’ve done. Thankfully. Why do we expect so much stuff and honorariums for our experiences?

  • You may see it as a “free” t-shirt and entitlement, but to someone who works in marketing, I see it as a walking billboard. If they wear that shirt again, to the grocery store or at the gym or wherever, that is “free” promotion for the organization. So, basically, blame the marketing industry for that one.

  • Allispin

    I know I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but basically I have three comments:

    1. I’ve never run a race longer than a 10k, but my goal is to run a half-marathon this spring or summer. I’m really excited to get a medal that will commemorate my accomplishment and remind me of all the hard work that I (will have) put into it. It’s just one more motivating factor to nudge me into lacing up and putting in the miles.
    2. Race registration is damn expensive, and for many races I know that the cost of the medal goes into that, so in a way getting that medal kind of justifies the expense for me.
    3. I suppose if I was someone who actually had a chance in hell of placing in a race, I might be upset about everyone else getting the same “prize.” It’s nice to get a little extra recognition for being exemplary. I’m not sure if that’s what you were really concerned about in this post, but if so, I can see that perspective as well.

  • I think medals have become mainstream as a way to promote races and convince people to get running…which I’m totally okay with. I don’t sign up for a race for the medal, its just a nice perk which I am hopefully not paying a ton for.

    And in mentioning the money – I think it is completely legitimate for the RnRLV runners to be upset about not getting medals – they paid a crap ton of money for a race that turned out to be poorly run, at the very least RnR/Competitor could make sure they get the race bling they were promised.

    Oh, and yes, my race medals are hanging on from hooks on my wall…and the one I’m most proud of is one The Husband got after completely a duathlon relay with him. He won’t say it out loud but he is proud of that medal. That race was a big deal for him, so much so that he dug up that medal lanyard to use for his snowboarding season pass…that along makes the odd mainstreaming of medals completely okay with me!

  • anonymous runner

    I definitely agree with this comment about cynicism reworked as a rant.  There is something a bit off about this being a big issue for the author…

    It seems to be mostly “fast, for a local runner” types or people who did well running in college who get all ranty about stuff like this. When I hear these kind of comments, my impression is that the person making them wants to distinguish themselves from “slow” or “hobby” runners, but isn’t quite fast enough to hit the local elite category. I guess they can’t come to terms, and I find these people unpleasant, but I can understand the feelings that must generate these kinds of comments.

    I would be very surprised to hear a world-class runner say anything uncharitable about the 15000 other people running a race with them, or that their accomplishment was diminished by the rest of the field receiving finisher medals.

  • random

    Well, that seems like an issue of getting your money’s worth.

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  • I like my finisher’s medals because this size-small female has donated all her men’s race shirts that I would never think of wearing outside the house.  I’m all for ditching medals if more half marathons offered women’s sized shirts to the women that make up 50% of their participants.  Or allow me to opt out of a shirt entirely and reduce my race fee.

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  • Bummed that I just now stumbled on this blog posting. I agree 1000%. If you wanna medal, go win one. Otherwise, your rewards are the accomplishment and the memories, and that really should be enough. It kills me that races today are judged by the cleverness of the finisher medals, the on course entertainment, the food at the finish line, or the swag in the race packet. Gimme a break. Just give me a race with an affordable entry fee and cops/volunteers to control traffic and man the water stations. Keep your medals. Keep your swag. Keep your silly mouse-themed mascots. Let. Me. Race.

  • I’m glad somebody just commented on this post because it prompted me to re-read it and like it all over again!

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  • Trasie

    It’s disappointing to read a post like this as someone who loves the sport of running for the community. I vividly remember meeting Meb and him showing me his silver medal and NY Marathon medal. He said he often brings them to share with others because when he ran Footlocker Cross Country in high school an olympian shared his with him. Today, for the first time in my life, I collected my ULTRA medals and will be sharing them with a group of non-running women who are participating in a 5K. Whether it’s a first place or last place medal, they have inspirational messages that can be shared. I recently ran a 80K that did not give out a medal, they gave out finisher tee-shirts at the finish line. I struggled to finish the last 20K of a race I was sure to get a personal best as I was running so well the first 50K. So wether it’s a 5K or 80K, they are souvenirs that only means something to the person who ran. Who are you to judge that person’s victory? And just in case you don’t know who Meb is, he is the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon in which I also participated in. Would have been a bummer if they didn’t issue medals this year!

  • felixmeister

    Given the choice between a medal & a massage of my calves post race. The medal can be dropped into mount doom for all I care.
    How many extra masseuses could those medals hire?