It appears that the Everyone-Gets-A-Medal generation has made it to the racing circuit.
Admittedly, I have not been running or racing for long. My first race was in October 2012, and to date, I have participated in 27 races.
When I started racing (I use the term loosely as my pace is narrowly above that of speed walking. And some days, maybe not even that.), you received a cotton race tshirt for participation and a swag bag, most likely filled with coupons and nutrition bar samples.
That was it. Maybe a bottled water and a banana at the finish. And I was paying around $30 for registration.
Then there seemed to be an uprising surge of gimmick races. Suddenly, there were more color runs than I could count. I was running for beer; I was running as a vampire; I was running for pie; I was running through bubbles; I was running in an ugly sweater.
Most of these gimmicks were a great time, and I enjoyed checking them off my running bucket list. Yet with all the bells and whistles, the registration costs climbed past $50, $75, $100. And these runs are scarcely about the running. The hardcore runners weave themselves through packs of walkers striding infuriatingly six deep across the route (and zombie turtles like me).
With this tide of expensive pageantry also came the medals. All of a sudden, just recently during my forced prenatal running hiatus, there is a participation medal (“finisher medal”) for every other race I see.
What the hell is going on?
When I think medal, I think gold, silver, and bronze of the Olympics. I think of the first, second, and third place on a tiered podium. I think of winning. I don’t think of showing up and paying $65 to leisurely stroll 3.2 miles.
To me, participation medals at a race (by definition, competitive!) are the same as the participation trophies I received as a kid (and I believe is still common practice). Here is a symbol of winning given for just showing up, clustering around a soccer ball for five minutes at a time, and subsequently losing.
I understand the self-esteem psychology behind the gesture. Hell, I loved my trophies for the intramural sports (at which I was AWFUL). But where do the kids learn how to deal with the fact that other people will be better at them? Where do they learn how to lose? Where do they learn how to work and strive to earn the rewards of winning?
And why do we, as adults, need to purchase ourselves medals for just completing a run? It’s tantamount to giving ourselves a pat on the back with a $50 bill.
I am not immune to this fad. I have seven medals dangling from my runner board.
My Tap n Run beer openers are especially sweet.
Of those seven medals, I feel I actually earned two:
- I placed second in my age group in my first 5K. (Clearly, there was no one else in my age group running, but I did beat at least one girl.)
- My (first) half marathon (because it was a fucking half marathon).
I can get behind participation/finisher medals for races that are particularly extra challenging. Garden of the Gods 10-miler, hell yeah, give those fuckers a medal. Cripple Creek Mine-to-Mine Challenge, damn right, I would have earned a medal. But three miles you can walk around a flat park in Denver? Come on!
However, I suppose the definitions of “challenge” and “winning” are relative. My first 5K was a huge accomplishment. But every random 5K ever? The medal loses all meaning.
I will continue to collect these expensive, meaningless trinkets from the races I run (hell, I paid for them). I will hang them from my board, and I will even enjoy them a little–guiltily. Yet the principle remains: if everyone gets a medal, no one is a winner.
That’s right, America; let’s not actually work and compete and risk losing. Have another cheeseburger and a gallon of soda at the finish. After all, you’ve clearly earned it.