The Casual Runner

The Value of Race Medals

We love SMOs. Let us say that again, we LOVE SMOs.

There is no better feeling than standing there, at the end of a race, when you have left everything out on the course, and then have a smiling volunteer place that medal around your neck.

Reserve - Mike - 2014 Pitt Half Race Review Pic LOne of the more interesting aspects of the explosion of the popularity of running as a recreational activity, is the expansion in the number and variety of events from which Casual Runners can now choose.  From a variety of distances and locations, to unique themes and costuming opportunities, there is a plethora of events out there that offer memorable and personal experiences.  Along with this evolution and expansion, race directors have realized that we all love SMOs, and many of them have really stepped up their game in designing unique, quality keepsakes that commemorate the race experience in a worthy manner.

Yesterday, Mike mentioned a recent dispute that he witnessed amongst runners who have different definitions of what it means to “earn” a medal.  Given what he had to say on the subject, the rest of the team wanted to weigh-in with our thoughts and opinions.  And we promise, in the spirit that he urged, we are not going to insult anyone. The Casual Runner Team strongly believes that we can and should support all of our fellow runners, even when differences of opinions do exist.  And, let us be clear, these differences of opinion should never lead to insults and arguments.

We recognize that, in the traditional sense, finisher’s medals are just that. They were originally intended for those runners who actually do finish the race.  But everyone must acknowledge that, as race events have evolved, so has the definition and purpose of medals.  Many marathons now offer medals to teams who finish relays.  Thus, one can earn a medal without running the full 26.2 miles. There are some events that offer the same medal for different distances, and runners can decide mid-event whether to complete the longer or shorter distance.  There are also medals for race challenges, where runners are awarded special medals for completing a series of races.  Additionally, recently there has been a notable explosion in the number of virtual races where runners are left to the honor system in completing their own distances in accordance with the parameters of the virtual challenge.  As best we can tell, these virtual races began as a way of letting members of the military, who are deployed overseas, to virtually complete races that they cannot be home for to compete in personally.  That is pretty darn cool.  So, at the very least, we all must recognize that the concept of “earning” a race medal has evolved, and continues to evolve.


There is perhaps no race organizer that does a better job of creating great SMO keepsakes than runDisney.  Coupled with the fact that runDisney participants also tend to be Disney fans who are spending a lot of money on their runcations, these medals are always highly desired.  In fact, it is common to hear first time runDisney entrants express concern prior to events about being swept, as they really, really want that medal. Recognizing this, some runners have reported that, despite being swept or pulled from the race due to injury, runDisney has nonetheless awarded them finisher’s medals, thus helping to create their own magical moments.

As Mike mentioned yesterday, there are runners who do not like this practice.  In fact, it makes them angry and slighted as they feel as though such practices devalue, in some way, their own accomplishments.  We want to urge Casual Runner to resist such lines of thinking.  The fact remains that, no matter what anyone else does in terms of their own race, with the exception of race bandits and those who cheat in order to steal group awards, thus threatening the integrity of the event itself, it does not affect your race or in any way diminish your accomplishment.


The reality is that, as long as you abide by the rules, there is no “right” way to run a race, and thinking that there is only creates dissention and discord in the running community, when none should exist.  Does someone who runs a race at a Boston Marathon qualifying pace “deserve” a finisher’s medal any more than someone who runs it at a slower pace? What about someone who employs the run-walk-method? What about someone who is running a PR pace but is forced to walk half the race due to injury? What about someone who stops several times throughout a race to take pictures with some loveable costumed characters?  Conversely, what if someone has the capability to finish in a Boston Qualifying time, but stops to lend aid to another runner in need? Some would argue that such selflessness is even more deserving of commendation than someone who wins the race.

The point is that success can and should be measured in many different ways.  And that success is honored by the bestowing of a medal.  We should appreciate our fellow runners and their accomplishments, not sit in judgment of how they earned it.  When you place an SMO on your bling rack, it is not a mere soccer trophy, rather, it is emblematic of a very real and very personal accomplishment.  It may be a reminder of how you ran the perfect race, a great experience shared with amazing running buddies, or how you overcame adversity to accept…adapt…and advance.

Is there anything wrong with a race director who makes the decision to award a medal to someone who, for whatever reason, was not able to cross the finish line?  Before you answer that question, put yourself in the other person’s running shoes. You do not know what they went through or what they had to overcome to get there.  If you decide that no, you would not accept the medal if offered, then that is up to you, and that is the right decision for you. But someone else’s decision and reasoning may be different.

In the end, while we all love SMOs, it is the not the medal itself that counts.  Instead, it is the effort, the commitment and dedication, and perseverance that allowed you to achieve a personal goal that matter.  The medal is merely a reminder of all that you have accomplished.  So enjoy your SMOs in your own way, and allow others to enjoy their SMOs in theirs.

The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below.  To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.  See you out on the running trails!



2 thoughts on “The Value of Race Medals

  1. Pingback: The Casual Runner | Getting Started: Stay Positive - The Casual Runner

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