The ultimate ego boost!
The ancient Olympic games date back to 776 B.C. At the games the victors in each competition were adorned with olive wreaths. The contemporary tradition of awarding gold. silver, and bronze medals for the top three finishers began over a hundred years ago when such medals were first awarded in every event at the 1904 Olympic Games held in St. Louis Missouri.
The modern marathon also began with the modern Olympics first held in Athens Greece in 1896. Its current distance of 26.2 miles (42.195 km) was standardized by the International Amateur Athletic Federation 1921.
The practice of giving out finisher’s medals to all participants completing a marathon race did not become common until the mid to late 1980s.
Today, there are currently over 1000 marathons races held across the United States each year. About 1% of the US population has run a marathon. Marathons are the ‘gold standard’ of running. Nearly every runner wants to run at least one marathon in their life. Non-runners sometimes even put running a marathon on their respective bucket lists. If you asked the average person on the street how many miles are in a marathon, 90% or greater would not be able to tell you the correct distance, despite the prevalence of all those oval car stickers with the 26.2 on them. However, the MOST popular distance race is not the marathon, but the half-marathon. The number of half-marathons held annually in the USA is nearly triple those of the full marathon. Many seasoned runners sign up for multiple half-marathons each year. 13.1 miles is still a challenging race, but it does not beat-up your body as much as a full marathon. The bonus of this race is that you also get a finisher’s medal if you complete the distance. Some runners collect the various finisher’s medals, either by running favorite races annually, choosing races by the medal offered, or an combination of both.
Shorter distance races such as 5K , 10K or 15K do not as a rule hand out finisher’s medals. The only medal you’ll get in these races is if you place in the top of your division. Ultra-marathons also exist but only .03% of the population has run these distances of 50K (31 miles) 100K (62 miles) or 100 Miles (161K). At ultras, finisher’s medals may, or may not be offered depending upon the race.
Running half-marathons, full marathons, or (for those brave souls who dare) ultra-marathons is no easy feat. It takes up to 20 weeks of training to achieve these distances safely. If you skip the training program, you can expect a world of pain and physical injury, or possibly even death. Two out of every three Americans are overweight, and exercise is a foreign concept for most of them. Your health is your wealth, and you only get one body. I don’t care how easy or difficult running a half-marathon or greater is for you, but if you complete that distance you deserve a medal. You earned it! You’ve accomplished something that roughly 97% of the people in the country couldn’t do to save their lives. You are amazing!
In the short run
As previously stated, to earn a medal in a short-distance races such as a 5K, 10K, or 15K, you need to place in a top position in either your gender, age division, or weight class as is the case of Clydesdales. By breaking the race down into different brackets, you even the playing field so that all participants are able to compete at their best in an effort to shine by going for the proverbial gold. Winning a medal in your division is an incredible ego booster. It is a physical representation which proclaims that you bested another athlete. It is an amazing feeling to have that medal placed around your neck, or handed to you in front of a room of your peers. When I began running, I ran with a small group of fellow runners all of whom were very supportive and encouraging of ‘the new guy’. And that’s a great thing, to feel accepted and be part of the group. But it was kind of a mismatch as this pack of runners were much faster than myself, and overtime, they began to grow weary of waiting for ‘the slow-poke’ at the end of these fun runs on local trails. These athletes ALWAYS walked away with a medal at the post-race award ceremony. THEY expected a top place medal. THEY WERE FAST! My hope was just to maybe one day earn 3rd place.
Since then, I’ve met many other running-friends most of whom are roughly the same pace as myself and we have much more fun.
Expect the unexpected
At the 1st Third Thirsty Thursday race of 2020, I was sitting with that original group of faster runners and watching them go up one-by-one to get their medals. By this point I had lost all hope of ever getting one. I was stunned when my name was called for the 1st time ever. I had to ask race director Ron Horn three time “ME?” while point at myself as he said “YOU!” while pointing back at me before I claimed my medal.
The best medals are the ones we don’t expect. The worst medals are the ones we think we deserve, but don’t get. It can be soul-crushing to see someone else walk away with the last medal when you ran you’re fastest pace ever and thought you had the award without a doubt.
Ironically this happened to me just last year. Once again it was at a Third Thirsty Thursday race on May 21, 2021. The thing about the Clydesdale Division is that after a while, you know your competition. The course is a straight out-and-back 5K. You go straight down the trail 1.55 miles, turn around at the marked point, and run straight back. So as you run out, you’re aware of who passed you, and you have an idea of who’s still behind you. As you see people in your division heading back to the start, you count. 1St, 2nd, 3rd, etc. This particular race is a series, but it also allows for race day sign-up, so the line-up of competitors can change from race to race. As I counted the 4th male Clydesdale heading back, I was confident the 5th place spot was mine. Hitting the turn-around point, I saw that fellow Clydesdale Joe was right behind me by mere yards. This began a frantic pace to stay ahead as Joe and myself kept trading the lead. I re-claimed the lead at the last quarter-mile calling out as I passed “I’m fighting you to the finish ‘Apollo’ you ain’t taking the win, I’ve got ‘The Eye of the Tiger’!” As the finish line came in sight, Joe yelled back “Alright, LET’S DO THIS!” We sprinted the final 50 yards neck-and-neck like two crazed stallions. And just like that, Joe crossed the finish line with me just one second behind him. I was crushed!
Ironically, it was all for nothing. I had missed a ‘faux pony’ who must have technically just barely been a Clydesdale. The coveted 5th place spot had already been claimed. Joe was 6th and I was 7th. But what a race it was!
The Epic Battle for the gold against Muhammad Ali
Until I began running, the only medal I ever earned in my life was that one time when I was competing against Muhammad Ali. First I didn’t even know I was battling him, it was a total surprise. Second, it wasn’t THAT Muhammad Ali. It was this short Muslim kid in 9th grade named Muhammad S. Ali. It was our final year as seniors at Van Wyck J.H.S 217 in Queens NY and we were both the top students in computer programming. We had to right a computer program that did two things based on the info entered. I don’t remember the specifics, but I only know that my program worked and his didn’t. I ‘think’ I used a bit of spaghetti logic with an IF-THEN-GOSUB line that delivered the proper answer. At graduation we earned the top awards in computer science, I took the gold medal, he got the silver.
The eye of the beholder
Like beauty, these medals only have value given to them by the recipient. They are either treasured mementos, or worthless trinkets. If it’s important to you, then it’s important. Most runners like myself display our medals on the wall.
Some pack them away in a keepsake box. One very competitive runner I know has an entire trophy room to display medals, trophies, race-bibs, and framed news articles, If I owned a house, I might do likewise some day. On the other end of the spectrum, I know a runner who throws away his race-bibs, and gives away his awards to his grandson to play with. He ran the race, he knows how he did. It’s done, who needs a keepsake? Well that’s his viewpoint not mine. I earned my medal and you can have when you pry it from my cold dead hands!
You can find me at these upcoming local races
Be sure to check back on March 13th, 2022 for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!