The Meaning in Medals

Having run for the past quarter century, I’d become ambivalent to and, then, perhaps, opposed to race swag. Heck, in iRunFar’s earliest days, I wrote a piece questioning whether we really need all those medals and shirts and bags and mugs and on and on and what we could do about it. Well, two Mondays ago, I guess I had an epiphany of sorts.

On a beautiful late-October morning, I drove north out of Moab, Utah once again on my way to the Grand Junction, Colorado airport. As I glanced toward the right through my windshield at the splendor of Arches National Park, foreground motion caught my eye. I focused closer and touched the source. I was immediately filled with the sense that I could do anything. That’s the effect that the Hardrock finisher’s medal has on me.

The medal’s hung from my rearview mirror since just after I finished the race two Julys ago. Immediately upon finishing the race, I felt an awesome sense of accomplishment, and not from my time or my place or the like. No, just finishing that race felt like a huge accomplishment. It still does, even though I’ve since done it again.

What’s been percolating for the last year and a half and has just come to the surface in the past fortnight is that, for me, Hardrock represented my first major step up in terms of difficulty of race finish since running my first 100 miler, Western States in 2004 or, at the possibly, my first big mountain 100 at Wasatch in 2005. Finishing Hardrock allowed me to experience fully the sense of accomplishment that comes from successfully tackling a new race distance or race the completion of which otherwise seems more challenging.

Now, that Hardrock medal, which I see every time I get into my car, is a tangible reminder that I can work harder than I think, that I can dig deeper than I think, that I can accomplish more thank I think. And, for that, I’m thankful. And, because of that, I’m now cognizant of the meaning and the power a medal or shirt or mug can have for others. Personally, I can recollect having a similar appreciation for the wooden obelisk I received for completing my second ultra, the 71-mile Laurel Highlands Ultra in 2002. It makes me hope that my sister has a reminder of her first and only official ultra finish, the Laurel Highlands 50k, displayed somewhere and that it fills her with a sense of accomplishment. It makes me hope that others, like you maybe, can take a physical reminder of one of the moments from running that left you feeling empowered, place that item someplace you’ll see it often, and tap into that strength, that power, that spirit and use it not only to fuel your athletic endeavors, but also your endeavors in all other aspects of your life. I know I do.

So, while I do think we can and should make many race-associated items optional, I’m much more inclined to think that races should have some sort of memento available. You never know who at a race will be running her or his personal Hardrock equivalent. That could be the case whether the race is a 5k, 50k, or 500k.

Call for Comments

  • What’s your most meaningful race memento and what does it mean to you?
  • How and when does it motivate you?

There are 12 comments

  1. Ellie G

    I rather dislike huge amounts of race swag but a small medal is a super memento – a reminder of a particular day on trails, the people, the personal experiences and the achievement (or not). It’s not how fancy or big the medal is, just a small token to remind the runner of their day.

  2. John Vanderpot

    Funny, of the over 100 finishes these last 5 yrs., I’ve kept exactly one, that 100th finish, San Diego 100 in June, and the rest? I work with kids, they sometimes perform minor miracles, and when they do, and the world ignores them, well, I make that right and hand them an award, the looks on their faces!

    It’s like my own little recycling program —


  3. Marco

    Do not wear my race tech shirts for fear of getting a stain or something as I want to preserve them as they are. Not too big into medals or buckles. Similar to John above, I gave one to my daughter when she first pooped in the potty. That made her happy. Gave another to my massage therapist. I like unique finisher awards that tie in something of the topography or history of the region you are racing in. Like at Jemez or Never Summer.

  4. Andy M

    It’s funny. I’ve got dozens of medals lying around somewhere and a couple buckles I never wear. But my son mocks me for wearing race shirts all the time (I’m wearing a 2013 long-sleeve tech shirt right now!) Heck, I’ve got so many. And I’ve worn the finisher shorts from Vermont this past July to every race I’ve done since. Sometimes they’ve brought me luck, sometimes not so much, but it still feels really good to invoke that sense of accomplishment. Oh, and the sizable collection of race-logo-emblazoned pint glasses is not so bad either.

  5. Nick

    Memories of the race are all I need. My medals and buckles took up space in the closet in a shoe box; I recently scrapped them (or what little was scrap-able) at a metal recycling center.

    I respect whatever people choose to do with these things. To me, they don’t matter. To others, they matter a lot. If there was an option to decline these ahead of time and save the materials, then both sides would be happy.

    I don’t like to get “stuff”, it just means I’ve got to do something with it!

  6. ClownRunner

    I’m ready for race directors to start handing out UltraRunner Card packs (with gum!) at races (i.e., the equivalent of sports cards in other sports, like baseball cards). Just imagine getting a Jim Walmsley card, a Karl Meltzer card, an AJW card, a Jurek card, heck even a Bryon Powell card could be worth alot some day ;)…

    Hey, I still want my own medal for my own finish, but imagine trading running cards with your buddies, and saying, “yeah, I got this K. Jornet card at Hardrock last year, it’s now going for like $250 on eBay!”

    1. Scott

      I would honestly be really into this but I’m also one who wants to promote the professional side of the sport and wishes more athletes could do it full time.

  7. KenZ

    I could do without most of the swag. For me, I keep the 100 mile buckles, and I write my finish time, place, and date on EVERY race bib and tape them all together along a wall of my garage. The ones that mean the most are Spartathlon and Mogollon Monster, the latter because is was a terrible race for me but I still pushed through to finish.

    Now, that said, even though I don’t care about anything else from races, I think Bryon’s point was that what I’d consider a useless medal at a 50k might have huge meaning to someone else in the race, so who am I to thumb my nose at the idea? I prefer races where you pay extra for the swag bag, or at least not have the dates on anything so that you can decline all that stuff without it going in the dumpster.

  8. Jim Skaggs

    I like my race finisher stuff. I keep all of it, even the few 5k’s I’ve run. I do have a meshrine with all that crap in it. When I take a look at it, each one of those close to 100 race items evokes a memory of that particular race. It’s my personal trip down memory lane. Now I do have way too many race shirts. Those I can do without. I don’t have enough drawer space.

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