Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Importance of Race medals

As I removed the "stack" of race medals hanging over the corner of my dresser mirror, they clanged together like wind chimes. I guess I've never picked them all off at one time before, because I was surprised at the pretty sound.

I laid them out on the bed in chronological order. My favorite is the 2000 Air Force Marathon medal from my first (of only two) full marathon. It's large and pretty heavy. I remember it being a little uncomfortable to wear for very long after the race because of the weight. I looked at the detail and I still think it is a very cool medal. As I looked at the medals, it dawned on me that the quality DOES affect my perception of a race.

Many of us say we don't do a race just for the medal. Others say if races did not give medals, they would still do them. However, how I feel about a race after the fact is often colored by the quality of the medal.

After just about every race I've entered, the finishers stand around talking about the event in general and we invariably discuss the medal hanging around our necks. One race I did several years ago, the medal was so thin and ugly, we all laughed! The race also ran out of medals and several of us said we didn't even care. Basically, the finishers felt the race was being cheap and did not care about the people in the race. I still laugh every time I see that medal. (Yes, I laughed today.)

When we finished Big Sur last year, the medals hung from a leather thong and looked as if they were made from clay. We all thought they were very cool. Part of the positive experience of that particular race is the fact it had a unique medal which fit the feeling we had of the race. The race itself was cool.

A few races I've entered even make their medals into collector items, changing the design enough that you really want to have more than one. The Fox Cities Marathon in Appleton, Wi and the U.S. Air Force Marathon both do that. (I'm sure there are many others, those two I know about firsthand.) Air Force features a different military airplane/jet each year that is the focus of the shirt and medal.

OK, so I don't decide whether to do a race strictly because of the medal. If I did, I probably would have done Little Rock a long time ago! But how I talk about the race afterward, my positive or negative feelings toward it always include the quality of that after-race reward. And I admit, I have entered a couple races more than once because the medal was great. Case in point is the Flying Pig -- not only was the race great and the volunteers fantastic, the medal is pretty darn cute. It added to my reasons for doing it again this year.

Now if you were a race director, wouldn't it be worth it to spend a little extra on medals and have your finishers leave with an even more positive attitude toward your event?

Part of the reason I even began thinking about race medals is because of a conversation some Buckeye Striders had recently about how to count if you've done a race in every state. One walker was deciding whether the Flying Pig would count for Kentucky because it crosses the river into Kentucky for a few miles. She then mentioned that the race she is doing in Vermont might not give out medals and she considering counting only races that give medals.

My personal opinion is, if the race is promoted as being in a specific state, then it counts. For example the State to State would count for Ohio and Indiana. But, the Flying Pig is promoted as an Ohio race, so I would count it as just Ohio. And whether the race gives out medals or not, if you did the race, it counts. (Though it would be more cool to have a medal from each state.)

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