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Finisher Medals: What’s the Big Deal?

Posted on August 14th, 2016 at 4:59 PM
Finisher Medals: What’s the Big Deal?

If you have spent any time searching online for races with finisher medals, virtual or live, you have very likely encountered as many articles and forums discussing them as races that award them. It’s a hot topic, and this trend shows no signs of dwindling any time soon.  But what is the big deal about a finisher medal?  Well, that depends on who you ask.

Finisher medals mean different things to different people. For me, they are motivation and a reason to get off the couch and run. In the beginning of my running adventures, I didn’t run. My first 5k took me an hour to finish. I walked almost the entire thing, and did not do so very quickly. When I first started “running”, I ran as far as I could possibly run in one stretch--about a half of a block—and then walked until I caught my breath and could run again, which was a pretty long time. I was out of shape and very overweight, but I tried. And I finished.

I should have prefaced that paragraph by explaining the fact that I hate exercise. I was one of those people who signed three-year gym contracts only to go a handful of times. Listening to the beefy muscle guys grunt for an hour while they watch themselves in the mirror, or seeing skinny girls come in and “workout” for 20 minutes and barely break a sweat was the opposite of motivational for me. I knew I needed something to get myself interested in exercise. I was 200 pounds, depressed, and a pre-diabetic. Something HAD to be done. But what?

A few years ago, I did the Dirty Girl mud run with a bunch of friends from work (with absolutely no prior training). I got a necklace and a t-shirt at the finish line. It was a ton of fun, but not enough to get me hooked. Fast forward a few years as the Dirty Girl ads begin to pop up on my Facebook newsfeed. I thought it would be fun to do again and, while researching, discovered they now award finisher medals. This intrigued me. I couldn’t find a Dirty Girl event near me, so I searched for “races with finisher medals” to see what was in my area. It was at that point I that I accidentally stumbled on virtual races. I could do a race on my own and still get a medal? Pretty awesome.

I completed one virtual 5k and was hooked. I was soon registering for two to three 5ks a month as well as 50 mile challenges. My running became an enjoyable habit. My shins hurt and I was wearing out my sneakers, but I was losing weight and feeling great. I kept track of my 5k dates and finish times on the back of the race bibs. After only two months, I had shaved off almost 14 minutes from my time. Feeling more confident, I then started mixing in live events as well. Crossing the finish line was exhilarating! And putting that medal around my neck, whether it was virtual or live, made my efforts all the more rewarding. This was exactly the drive I needed. I was constantly looking for my next race.

While hunting for races, I came across a few forums where “elite” runners mocked the finisher medal. One of these runners even went as far to say, “The fatties must have their medals.” I was appalled. And hurt. In live races, there are always awards for top finishers. They get additional medals, trophies, cash prizes, or some other recognition of their achievement. So why is it so awful to let participants have a finisher medal? It doesn’t put a shadow over the first to cross the finish line, it merely gives the slower people something to strive for and the motivation to come back and try again. The winners still get their time on the podium. No one is taking that away from them. In all the live races I have participated in, I have cheered for every one of those people up there receiving their award because I know how much training and effort is required to be one of those top finishers. I know how difficult it is, and I completely respect that. I think that all runners do.

When I run a race, whether it is virtual or live, I am not competing against anyone but myself. I push myself further and always try to do better than the race before. I truly believe that I have earned every one of the medals on my display racks, even though they aren’t all “top finisher” medals. They are a constant reminder of where I once was and how much I have achieved. It is not easy to get out there and keep going. Sometimes it even hurts. Everyone who crosses that finish line should be recognized for their efforts. Some people push themselves more than you could imagine to reach that finish line, both mentally and physically. Let them have their finisher medal. If it helps people stay motivated and get healthy, then what is so wrong with that?