“Running without bling is called training,” said a racer on iRun’s Facebook page when we suggested, perhaps, that it’s time to do away with medals and T-shirts. However, given the supply chain difficulties and the environmental factors behind supplying racers with medals and shirts, iRun asked our community about their feelings for giving up the racing accoutrements that have become part of the sport. “I wish there was an option to not get either the shirt or medal and instead the money could be donated to a charity that promotes running/active living/gives out free running shoes to the needy,” wrote one reader. “That would make me feel so much better about the higher race entry fees.”
As you can imagine, opinions varied—and were intense.
“Medals—yes, as they act as a fun souvenir for me, especially if it is a destination race or a goal race. Shirts—no, being plus-sized, rarely do I find one that fits. Would rather see shirts as paid option upon registration,” wrote one reader.
Another runner wrote: “I LOVE the medal! I have lured many new runners into races because of the medal. It’s all about the bling! However, I don’t care for a T-shirt. They are usually ugly and fit poorly. I only wear about 10% of my race shirts. I like it when events offer the shirt as a separate cost at registration.”
“For a marathon or half-marathon,” wrote another reader, “I do like to receive a medal, placed around my neck by a volunteer. It cements the accomplishment.“
A race director I know is thinking about capping registration at his event because of a difficulty securing enough shirts and medals. This means people might not have the chance to race because the director can’t get enough swag. Meanwhile, the race director of the Calgary Marathon said that she’s not worried about the safety of her event—but she is worried about getting the stuff to give away to the runners. The stuff is important. We like it.
Do we need it?
“My half marathon medal truly means so much to me,” a reader told me.
“The medals I got for virtual runs during the pandemic mean more to me than most of the in person ones. My running group got me through some of darkest days working in public health,” one reader said. “We celebrated our Chili half and full Boston outside with tailgate parties. T shirts are always fun to get.”
“I love getting both medal and T-shirt,” a reader said. “If you make the commitment you deserve to have both!!”
That’s the tricky thing about races and T-shirts. Lots of readers told us that if they’re running a destination event, like the Boston Marathon, they absolutely want the shirt. And that if it’s an event they’ve trained hard for then the medal or shirt becomes very important. But one person’s bucket list race is another person’s training run. So how do you please everybody? It’s a difficult concept, and the world, especially now, is challenging. Do we want to eliminate people’s joy? A joy that is healthy? Change, however, by definition, always is painful. What’s an event organizer to do? Listening to our readers, the jury’s out.
“I have too many medals and shirts,” a reader said. “Knock down the cost of the race and make those optional add-on for extra cost.“
Another reader said: “Medals were cool when I started running, but now they sit in a box.“
“I’m not interested in the medals anymore and I only get the T-shirt if I really like the design, but when I first started running 13 years ago, the medal meant a lot more to me and the T-shirts helped me build up my running wardrobe,” wrote a reader: “It would be nice to be given the option on having them or not.“
The problem with giving participants the option of ordering shirts and medals in exchange for paying a bit more for a race bib is that it makes it difficult for a race director to order the prizes, which often come from China. In the end, lots of new people are getting into running and the goal is to have them fall in love with our sport. If receiving a medal or a T-shirt for their effort will help solidify a positive experience, then it’s possibly worth keeping the tradition, despite the environmental impact and current difficulty in securing the items. People, like my son pictured below, do love their bling.
“I love getting a medal to show my accomplishments of a race I worked hard for,” said a reader.
“I don’t care about T-shirts, but the medals are important to me,” a reader said. “I display them as a reminder of what I am capable of, but also as an inspiration for my daughter.“
“I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve run some marathons and other races in large part because of the bling. I keep all my medals in a cabinet I purposely built for that, therefore I’m forced to admit that it is important to me.”
What do you think? Should races cut out the medal and shirts? Would you run a race if there was no medal? Let us know your thoughts and let’s keep the conversation going. Please know that the race directors across the country are interested in your thoughts and they’re making these decisions as we speak.