The Case of the Running ‘Bling’

As with any sport, the running world has it's own set of controversial debates and hot button topics among its community and athletes. And right up there next to "should headphones be allowed at races?" debate, is the case of the racing "bling".

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As with any sport, the running world has it’s own set of controversial debates and hot button topics among its community and athletes. And right up there next to “should headphones be allowed at races?” debate, is the case of the racing “bling”.

Bling. Hardware. Buckles. Medals.

These days it seems finishers medals are as abundant and as freely given as the paper cups of water served at race aid stations. Once reserved solely for race winners, medals are now more often than not handed to absolutely anyone who participates in a given race, regardless of placement, regardless of race distance, and in some cases, regardless if the runner even crosses the finish line at all. Here are just a few examples:

RunDisney races, notorious for their strict cutoff times and sweeper “balloon ladies“, are widely known for pulling participants who cannot maintain the required pace out of the race long before the finish line, yet giving them finishers medals anyway.

Spartan Race, an obstacle course race series known for penalizing people who cannot finish an obstacle with grueling burpees, does not referee the open course, and therefore gives medals to anyone who crosses the finish line…even if they didn’t complete the required obstacles and/or penalties that comprise the race.

– Speaking of finish line, in the case of the ever popular “virtual races”, you don’t even need a finish line anymore. Send your money to the virtual race organizer, and in turn they will send you a finishers medal, without you even having to ever leave your computer desk chair.

-In the ultra running community, belt buckles were traditionally given to runners who completed a 100 mile race. Now buckles are often given to those who run shorter distances, such as 100K, 50 miles, 50K, or even less. In fact, you can even earn yourself a belt buckle simply for promising to run 100 miles in the course of a month (see the virtual races above).

As a result of these examples and more, there is often heated discussion among runners over who truly “earned” their medal, and who did not. Runners who feel their achievements are diminished by others who didn’t put in as much effort as they did on the same course. To throw fuel onto the fire, we’ve got a subculture of runners who claim they solely run for the sake of collecting new medals. And who can blame these “bling runners“, really, with races competing with each other to see who can have the largest, gaudiest, and most medals? The traditional runners, that’s who will roll their eyes. These devout runners claim they don’t need any sort of material trinket to validate their accomplishments.

It’s enough to make your head spin, and wonder why any of it truly matters in the first place. After all, unless you’ve won a Gold in the Olympics, a finisher’s medal is truly just a cheaply manufactured trinket.

Or is it?

The thing I’ve always loved about running and racing is that even though the community is huge, the sport itself is 100% individual. Sure, coaches can provide you with tools and knowledge to become a better runner, and teammates can provide you with the inspiration and motivation to get out there. But no one can put in the training for you, and no one can cross the finish line for you. YOU have to do the work.

Therefore, in my opinion, your race is YOUR race, end of story. You know the effort you put into running that race on that day. You know if you completed the tasks required of the race. And you know the training and the hardships you went through to get to the finish line…or even just the starting line for that matter.

So whatever that medal means to you (or doesn’t mean to you, for that matter): own it.

If it is a representation of overcoming difficulties and achieving something you never thought you’d be able to attempt, never mind accomplish, then display that medal proudly.

If it is simply a material trinket that will never embody the experience of that race for you, then toss it in a drawer, donate it, or don’t even accept the medal in the first place.  Do the same if in your heart you feel you fell short or for some reason didn’t honestly earn that medal.

But regardless of what you do or what that medal means to you, don’t let someone else’s opinions nor actions take away from how you feel about YOUR accomplishment.

It’s your bling: own it.