A few days ago James Harrison, NFL Football player stated on his Instagram page:
 

jhharrison92 I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues

So, this got me thinking about endurance sports and the finisher medal. While few of us ever win or finish in the top-3 of an entire race, we often receive finisher medals for our accomplishments in a race. To be fair, most shorter distance endurance races like sprint triathlons, 5Ks and 10Ks don’t hand out finisher awards; most finisher medals are usually for completing a longer distance endurance event: half marathon, marathon, half Ironman, Ironman and endurance team relay, or an ultra marathon.

Swag vs. Awards

My question is do you expect the finisher medal? Do you look forward to it? Would getting cooler or more event swag make up for not getting a finisher medal for your last marathon or Ironman?

Does the memory of the event and knowing that you completed it mean more to you than the finisher medal? Or is the medal a symbol of your months (maybe even years) of sacrifice and hard work you put into finishing this race?

Could something take the place of the finisher medal you received for you last half Ironman? A framed picture or plaque (that you can usually purchase yourself after the event is over) of you completing the course?

Registration Expectations

Because you plop down over $100 (for a marathon) or over $600 (for an Ironman) do you expect the finisher medal as part of the registration fee? If the price was less for an event would you not be as worried about a finisher medal?

Do You Deserve One?

Do you always feel good when you get that finisher medal? Even if you are way over your expected goal time? Have you ever felt undeserving of a finisher medal? And, if so, why?

Personally, I’m on the fence on this one. To be honest, if I run a terrible marathon time I don’t really care about the finisher medal I am receiving. I’d also rather have a great finishing time and not get a finisher’s medal…But I may be the odd man out with these thoughts…

While I realize the incredible sacrifice, tenacity and journey many of you go through to complete your first 5K or first Ironman, I’m still not sure that getting a finisher’s medal is what you need. But finisher medals have become ubiquitous with longer endurance events – there are race series that give out different finishers medals for the various events in their series. I think we do expect a medal, but for so many various reasons.

Are finisher’s medals just a grown up’s version of our kid’s participation trophies? And if so, is that a good or bad thing?

28 COMMENTS

  1. Though you do bring up a good point; I do feel they do mark actual accomplishment. Maybe somewhere between participation and actual trophy?

  2. Psychology research would tell us that different people are motivated by different things, and some people are motivated by the physical award that justifies their effort. I also think that the value and expectation changes with experience. I ran for fun with my brother and sister, who were cross-country runners, when I was a kid but after several years of not running it took extreme tenacity to get out there and get in shape to run my first adult race (a ten-miler), one of those chain-restaurant-style races where they’re focused on appealing to as many people as possible with piles of cheap Chinese swag, lots of motivational posters at mile markers, and big Made-in-China stained-glass finisher medals. But at that time, on that day, that was what I needed – I was super proud of that medal and loved the race experience.

    I say all that because now, several years of racing later, I seek out the cheapest races that I know will be accurately measured and I don’t give a damn about finisher medals. I’d rather have an honest, challenging course, good support, and an interesting field of like-minded racers than some cheap imported crap medal. But before I get judgmental about it, I try to remember how much that first medal meant to me, and how it helped me to solidify some new-at-the-time habits into my adult life.

    Now I keep all my finisher medals in a drawer, except my Boston Marathon finisher medal, which alone hangs with my age-group place medals because, like those place medals, it denotes a specific level of achievement. I also keep the finisher medal from the race where I first qualified for Boston in a more dignified spot than the box in the drawer.

    • Yes, I agree with you about an accurate measure course – one of my biggest pet-peeves is when a course distance if off.

  3. It is ok not to have finisher medal for distance less than half marathon. Very small % of people can do / willing to do a half marathon and beyond. They should be rewarded for accomplishing what more than 90% has not even attempted.

  4. I do like getting finishers medals, they are a physical reminder of the accomplishment. Typically the age group and overall winners get something different, so it’s not like it is equivalent.

  5. I feel that finisher medals are different than participation trophies and have written about it here – http://hamptonrunner.com/2014/08/19/stickers-magnets-and-finisher-medals-hell-yeah/

    As far as distance goes, in some ways, I feel like 13.1 and up is a good start to awarding medals… But, that being said, I have to backtrack and think that it’s all relative.

    I still have my first 5K finisher medal hanging in my office. It has a special place to me as it was my first race ever completed. And, every race can be a reflection of effort. for example, many times, I find a 5K hurts more than a half marathon because I race them. Some people will prefer to stay with shorter distances.

    • Eric – thanks for the reply and comment. Just read your blog – nice. I think many who run half and full marathons will side with you on why a finisher medal is important to them. I have heard from a number of people via our Facebook Page on this matter with opinions all over the map. Thanks for adding your thoughts here.

  6. I think you’re not emphasising the key word- FINISHER medal. You’re damn right I want something to hang on the wall; something to remind me that I CAN and will finish a race, be it good or bad. I want something to wear proudly as a head out to dinner with the family to celebrate. I won’t ever win my age group, but I’ve done more than people who haven’t entered the event. I think they’re really important. Some I adore, they were great races or PBs, others simply show that I am resilient. Please include race medals.

    • Kirsty, you make all good points…Again, just a question I thought worth getting feedback on…thanks for chiming in!

  7. I love finisher medals. And each one is more than a “thanks for participating” trophy. They all represent nights I skipped spending with friends, mornings I didn’t sleep in, and weekends I was away from my husband. They are a tangible, visible reminder that I set a goal and reached it. And most importantly, they are inspiration to chase the next goal.

    • John, yest those nights of missed outings with friends for those early morning long runs…yes, that has to be worth something down the line…good comment. Thanks for your insights.

  8. If it’s a full marathon or full iron, my answer is yes. I’ve paid you a race fee that is three times greater than it was when I started the sport (for marathon). To me, the medal is a part of the experience, and the registration fee easily coves the cost.

  9. Damn right I want a finisher medal. I didn’t train to get out there to compete with the elite runners. I came out here to compete against MYSELF, so finishing IS winning

  10. I think that for the longer races (half and full marathon), I expect a finisher’s medal because it actually IS an accomplishment to finish them. OK, if I walked the whole thing and got a medal for a four-hour half, it would be empty. But when I push really hard and still come in eighteenth in my division, I still expect recognition. And how about those folks who at whatever age are just working their way up to excellence? I think a finisher medal, far from being recognition for a competitively mediocre performance, might be the kind of reward for effort that motivates improvement. And for elder runners who seek to prove their stamina, it could be a nice validation that they can still hang in there.

  11. Last year, at 44 years old, I completed my first Spartan Race, in Las Vegas. Getting a finisher’s medal felt great–almost as great as it felt just to finish the race. Part of the reason that medal meant so much was because for me, that race marked a point in my life when I began to take fitness seriously again. As a kid, I loved running and I was fast. I worked out, ran cross-country, mountain biked, skied, etc. Through high school and up until eight or so years after college, I took fitness very seriously. Then, I got married, had a few kids and began to take my fitness for granted. Exercise became one of those things I’d get to eventually.

    A year and a half ago, my wife began entering 5k and 10k races with a female coworker. She invited me to run with her but I made excuses that I had bad knees, due to a cycling accident, and couldn’t run. Eventually though, I got out of my chair and got running. 15 years off is a long time to take off. I hadn’t gained a lot of weight, maybe 15 pounds, but cardiovascularly speaking, I was a mess. That first mile was tough. We began running more together. 3 miles, then 6 and eventually 12 before that first Spartan Race. Crossing that finish line and receiving that medal was amazing. And no medal since has felt quite as good. Personally, I don’t need a medal every race. Maybe something a little extra to mark the big milestones. Each person has a race in them that deserves a medal, to commemorate whatever big push it took to get them there.

    Reading David Allison’s post regarding marathon times, I had a pang of jealousy to hear that at 45 he can finish a 10k in 33 minutes. Wow. That is just incredible. I just ran a 50:10 10k this weekend. I wonder how much faster I’d be if I hadn’t taken 15 years off. lol When my wife and I finish our first half-marathon next May, finishing will be wonderful. Getting our medals will make the accomplishment a little extra special.

  12. Although I don’t expect a medal for anything under a half, I treasure each one that I have, 1 full, 27 half’s so far, and many 5 and 10k’s. I’ll never win a race, although I’ve managed to pull off a few AG awards. Some races were fast, and some weren’t, but it took a lot of training to get where I am, which is, at best, is “mediocre middle aged woman” speed. The point is, it’s a Finisher’s medal, and it takes a lot to finish a race, no matter what your speed. My (our) medal wall is something that we both enjoy, as it reminds us of all of the miles of training it took to complete those races, and the memories that went with each one. Running a half marathon, or a marathon, is something that only a small percentage of the population has done, and I enjoy my reminders hanging proudly on the wall.

  13. Thanks for writing this, David. As you know events are competing for paying participants who increasingly expect a medal. The trend is toward medals even for the shorter distances.
    For me personally, i wish there could be a plaque or maybe a framed photo or some other reward that is more distinct from the medals that are won by competitors. This goes for kids too. I accept my medal and hand it to my 7-year old child through the fence at the finish and she keeps it with other shiny playthings.
    As a (ahem) mature runner, the journey has always been the destination for me. I can say that i’ve done my best at the end and if that gets me an AG award it’s great it means i’ve given my competitors the challenge they deserve, but it also means the best of my group either didn’t make it or had a bad day. I don’t hope for that but it’s a RACE.

  14. I have a drawer full of medals and that is where they will be including my Boston events. Most are for marathons and half marathons. I laugh reading reviews on marathonguide.com of runners complaining about the medals. Personally I would rather have just something I could use like a shirt or hat and a discounted entry price. I have run ultras that have more unique participation awards than a medal that gets buried in my sock drawer!

  15. I think the football player isn’t comparing apples to apples. From peewee on up, the winning team in any sporting competition gets a trophy. Even if, viewed objectively, they aren’t very good. And in a team sport like football, you have a 50-50 shot at winning. Those are really good odds. I’ll guess the NFLer racked up lots of those as a kid.

    In a foot race your chances aren’t nearly as favorable. Sometimes 20,000 to 1. Every level of runner from the peewee to the Olympic medalist is competing in the same race. That’s why many races have age-graded awards, to level the playing field, and age-graded results. For newer runners in longer races, the medal is affirmation. For others, they’re milestones.

    And a medal is small compared to how much effort a runner generally has to put in to prepare (and let’s be honest here) to lose.

  16. Finisher medals ARE more than just participation awards. That’s basically what the race shirts have become. Remember when those were only for finishers? I doubt if many of you out there do.

  17. I agree about handing back the participation trophy for children. I think it’s important for children to learn what they’re good at so they can eventually make good life choices. It doesn’t hurt to know that you’re not the best at something. It does hurt not to know the things you can be competitive in.

    I think as a well rounded adult though taking part in an event. Getting to the event and finishing it is an investment. We deserve a little recognition. I like commemorative tshirts better than medals though.

  18. I like getting finisher medals as physical proof that I actually put in the effort. To me they’re more of a mark of pride than any of the participation trophies that I received as a child. It’s a willing commitment that I made and having a tangible award to help me remember those efforts means more to me than casually remember “oh, I ran a 5k in thirty minutes. Good for me”.

    I still carry around the award from my first race because it reminds me of how much I can accomplish when I really want to.

  19. I look for 5k’s that have a finisher medal as a sign of an accomplishment. I was diagnosed 6 years ago with a brain condition that affects my balance and coordination and causes pain because of spinal cord and brain stem compression. I have never been “athletic,” but running a full 5k without walking at all was a goal that made me feel more “normal.” I signed up for my first 5k at 52 years old. You never know who is running next to you because not all disabilities are visible. Finisher medals may not mean much to the more athletic or competitive runners, but to some of us they are enough to keep us motivated to be the healthiest version of ourselves that we can be.

    • I’m in the same boat, dealing with chronic illness. I put in a lot of effort and pain just keeping up with 5k and 10k, I know I’ll probably never place in my age group but it’s really reaffirming to get a finisher medal. It’s great to feel like I’m still accomplishing something despite my condition, and it pushes me to keep running and staying healthy.

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