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Gary the Scrooge and the rewards of racing

by @garyfallsover
Monday 21st December 2015
Tags  Gary Dalton   |   Medal

Run247 columnist Gary Dalton explains why the weight and size of a finisher’s medal should not be the reason you chose a race!

I need to be a bit careful here. It seems I’m having a bit of a run lately in creating twitter spats which end up with me being likened to some sort of running Grinch who just wants to suck the joyful life out of everyone’s Strava  segments. And I don’t, obviously.  Strava manages to suck the joy out of running perfectly well on its own, thank you very much.

But what I thought to be an innocuous comment a couple of weeks ago sparked what ended up being quite an interesting debate. Not only about the original topic, the relative difficulty of ultras in comparison to other endurance sports, but also about a side topic on how we place value on the trinkets we get for finishing a race. I had suggested, only slightly tongue in cheek, that we stop the common practise of giving every finisher at every race a medal and return to the traditional form of medals for the top three only. Well it was as if I had invited a burka wearing Donald Trump to mount the Queen whilst she was giving her Christmas speech. To say there were some objections raised by the running community would be an understatement on a par with saying David Cameron likes a bit of bacon now and then.

I did try to fight my corner but I was overwhelmed, every time I tried to explain my thinking in 140 characters I failed, Twitter just not lending itself easily to debate, rather witty and pithy paragraphs preferably extolling the virtues of coffee or clever memes about how the poster was actually powered by cake. So onto Facebook I took it and though the debate grew, the consensus stayed the same. Medals for all were a good thing and woe betide and race director who didn’t agree.  And whilst I’m not completely against medals for all I think my earlier point, the one that got completely lost somewhere along the line may be worth thinking about.

Think back to when you first started running. Why you started. What your motivation was for getting outside, lacing up your trainers and taking those first horrible, wheezy pain filled steps. Now if you’re like me I can’t imagine your reasons included a few grams of base metal, painted in gaudy colours, but were instead about getting fitter or losing weight, about supporting a favoured charity or even wanting to be able to enjoy playing with your kids a little more easily.  All good reasons and all sharing the characteristic that they’re all intrinsic rewards. Though the charity endeavours obviously benefit others, that’s almost a by-product of the effort, the sense of helping others by your physical efforts is the motivating factor.

So when did we move from those internal motivating factors to extrinsic ones? Now of course I know that not everyone is the same, that race ‘bling’ matters more to some than others, but there were very few people who told me that it didn’t matter to them at all and there were even quite a few who said that they wouldn’t enter a race that didn’t provide a medal! Now maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s incredibly sad that someone would potentially deny themselves an incredible experience, purely because they didn’t get a trinket at the end of it. It almost feels like the medal has become the reward and not the achievement of finishing the race itself.

When I think back over the years and over all my sporting endeavours the very last thing I think of is the medals, caps and badges I’ve earned along the way. What remains with me are the memories, the sense of achievement and the experiences I’ve had and no medal or t-shirt can replace or better those.

It’s a common refrain to say ‘well the medal reminds me of the race’, but I don’t buy that. I get that memories fade, but a piece of metal isn’t going to bring back the memory of how you felt at mile 4 or 40, it won’t bring back the nausea you fought down as you struggled to take in another gel and it won’t bring back that familiar feeling as yet another blister popped inside your sock. All those memories will stay with you, whether you have a piece of metal on your shelf or not. The medal doesn’t represent your achievements and to give it that power is to take away from yourself. You achieved it and you achieved it because you overcame the obstacles put in front of you. I don’t need a medal to remind me of that and nor should you.

My most cherished memory from my short running career is from a race I didn’t finish, a race where I have nothing tangible to look back on to say I achieved something. But I wouldn’t swap anything, no finishers t-shirt or gilet, no medal or plaque, for even a second of that experience. Because even though I have nothing to hang on the wall or wear to the local parkrun, I have the incredible memories it generated. When those memories fade I’ll have the friends I made and the photos I took and they’ll remind me well enough. When even those fade away, well I’ll just have to make some more memories. Because there’s another race just around the corner I think you’ll love…..

So what I’m saying is this. Enjoy the achievement for the achievements sake. Take from the experience and don’t deny yourself the enjoyment of the journey by focusing purely on the ‘reward’ for finishing. Medals can be a great thing but they’re not the be all and end all. Happy running.



About The Author

Gary Dalton

Gary Dalton is a rugby loving, crime fighting, white Irish Muslim ultra runner. Despite all this he's not a complete eejit. 

Gary is originally from the west of Ireland and can't actually remember when he moved to London - he blames a heavy diet of being tackled by prop forwards and potatoes for the memory loss. He hates going out for runs, canals and borderline hypothermia and loves ice cream and going out for runs. 


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