at the races What if races got rid of medals and shirts?

What if races got rid of medals and shirts?

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“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.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Logistically I am sure it is easier for the organization to make the shirt optional than the medal given the finish line crush. My vote make the shirt optional (up until a certain date, after which not available). In terms of cost going to donation vs. reduced entry fee. By allowing reduced entry fee some people may be better able to afford the entry cost, so I would make divert to donation as optional. But keep the medal for all, perhaps with a recycling option if you don’t want it..

  2. When I first started running, the medal was really important! It was a symbol and reminder of my accomplishments. Over the years, the medal has become less important but I still like to add it to my collection. The t-shirt should always be optional – have a drawer full and don’t need anymore. So yes to medal, no to t-shirt.

  3. I never take the medal and rarely do I take the shirt. These are often mass-produced overseas.
    I would like the option to pay more if I want the shirt, but I don’t think it is necessary to give them out automatically.

  4. I agree with Steeve. Some of my medals I am very attached to and bring back awesome memories. Others end up in a box. T-shirts…not so much. Most of my t-shirts are either stored away or have been given away, so I would agree on making them optional.

  5. I also shamefully have to admit I am a runner because of the bling. It motivates me & love to keep them as my achievements & I hang them all on my wall with a photo of myself or partner at end of race. I agree I never keep/need or want the tshirt. My suggestion would be make it available for extra cost to those that want it.

  6. The importance of the loot depends on the personal importance of the event. I agree with making medals and shirts optional with a time limit as to when they are available.

  7. T-shirts, optional, please. Let the participant select reduced entry fee, or donation to the benefitting charity. I have kept no more than a dozen t-shirts, from “firsts” – 5K, 10K, half, full, ultra; from destination races (some of which are in the “firsts” category; from majors; from special anniversaries – inaugural, 10th, 25th, etc.
    Medals are fun, especially those that are from my categories, above; those that are thoughtfully designed, including the ribbon; and those that acknowledge age group accomplishment.

  8. friends, there’s no shame in loving the bling! sorry if it comes across that way in the story – really, if you love to run and love to race by all means, that’s something to celebrate! no shame on our end, and big thanks for commenting

  9. I have way too many shirts that I will eventually either donate or throw out. I don’t really value the shirts at all anymore. The medals are a critical part of the experience. Running across the finish line after finishing a race to nothing, is no different than losing. It’s a huge part of the psychological motivation to keep pushing and driving yourself forward. I have my medals pinned on my motivation board as a constant reminder. That little “reward” plays a huge part in the psych of accomplishment. Much like rewarding yourself with a donut after a long run, the medal is a reward after a long period of training.

  10. I have entered several races just because of the bling and shirt! Always happy to get both! But I do like that there is the option sometimes for those who don’t want either the shirt or medal!

  11. Medals are a must. Like others have said – it both marks an accomplishment and incentivizes people to do more. There are few people who will say they don’t care about the medal. Even a 5k fun run could be a huge milestone for someone and having a keepsake from it is empowering to them. Shirts on the other hand have gotten way out of hand in recent years. With so many race options, we’re just piling thrift shops and landfills with them. They all have the year noted on them so you can’t wear them forever and often the designs are so busy that you really don’t want to wear them because they date quickly. A smarter alternative would be to offer an option to purchase a shirt at registration (knowing what the design is) or providing a 1 week window to purchase following the race. Or use that fee to offer free race photos, or plant a tree / make a donation to get kids into sports with the funds instead.

  12. No shirt and give the option of receiving the medal or donating its cost to whatever charity the race is supporting. I don’t have a problem with those who like a medal as a memento but as others have said, for many, they just go in a drawer. Let’s offer a greener option: Reduce. Take a photo for your brag book -which could be a digital one.

  13. I think having the medal to celebrate the accomplishment is a must with the t-shirt optional up to a certain date. From some of my bucket list races I love having the shirts and will never part with them as souvenirs however most of the time they are ill fitting so I don’t end up wearing them and they are not necessary for all races. Having the option in advance helps with that. That said, when my daughter was younger and she was starting to run with me it was ALL about the bling. We still talk about the race we did in Toronto that to date had THE BEST swag and that was a fun thing that she looked forward to as an 11 year old runner with her mom. It really made her love going to the events when she was younger so I would hate to see it disappear as it really adds to the event atmosphere and makes it special.

  14. Make both medal and shirt optional by a certain deadline. Also suggest the medals and shirt designs be more long term without a date. Then can be reused for several years. Then race can offer optional engraved date on back of medal. This eliminates waste, and ensures unlimited swag available to those who want/need it to be motivated to race.

  15. I do not want a medal. It is wasteful to me. Most tshirts at races are lower quality and I am not interested in running in them, so they are not used.

    The Boilermaker race in Utica NY offers medals. They offer a small decorative metal coloured lapel pin. This is useful to me. I can put it on my coat or duffle bag. Would love to see races adopt this.

  16. I agree with optional medals and t-shirts. I noticed there is a company in British Columbia that is providing medals, made of sustainable materials, for a race here in Canada. Do we need to order medals from China? I love all of my medals and most of the t-shirts that I have received for races. I trained hard for all of my races and I like the reward of bling. When I am 90yrs old I might just start wearing my medals as jewellery! For now – they just hang on my wall, behind a door. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the rewards for training and completing a race – go far beyond just crossing the finish line.

  17. Such an interesting article! It is clear from both the article and the comments how much opinions vary. I was struck by how much passion there is for the sport – and that’s a good thing.

    Personally, I enjoy my medals but they’re now all in a box in a cupboard. Our condo doesn’t really have a spot to hang them all.

    I will wear race shirts with pride for years. (Maybe I shouldn’t admit that I still wear some from the early 2010s!) But I’ve found that shirts lately vary so much in sizing, fabric, and logo design that I donate about 50% of them to charity without ever using them. They just don’t fit or the design is too corporate.

    I like the idea from the comments to take the value of the bling and instead provide free photos.

  18. I think the best compromise would be as many said already. Make the shirt and medal individual add-on options to the registration. Somebody here also mentioned the idea of implementing a deadline for people who wish for a medal and/or shirt. I think this is a very good suggestion as it would likely help to manage better the amount of medals and shirts ordered. Races organizations would be only ordering medals and shirts for those who want them and won’t end up having to order surpluses on those items to ensure to be able to cover for participants who register past their deadline for ordering those items.

    As well, I also think offering the option of donating the cost of the shirt and/or medal to a charity is also a great idea.

    Moreover, someone here has mentioned a company in British Columbia that makes medals from sustainable materials. Race directors should consider that option instead of the mass produced in China ones.

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