ASK THE GOAT: Bringing home a trophy

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Goat: “How do awards usually work in the different events? Do ultras get different things than 5Ks? Do triathlons get different stuff?” Signed “Medal Maniac”

Dear MM: Now we’re talking. This is one of my favorite topics. Here is what I have witnessed over the last three years, in what ironically has equaled 150 competitive events as of this article.

For running, the awards vary from size of the event to the distance of the actual course. For instance, most local 5K/10K races have placement awards one to three deep for each age group and the overall winners. Usually these awards are medals. As the venue gets larger, you begin to see the overall and age placement awards become small plaques or trophies. In the largest of the 5K/10K races, you will see grandiose winner accolades that could be a winner’s purse (money), sculpture and/or other large trinket. But usually, no matter how large the 5K/10K race, finisher medals are not provided.

Conversely, once you get into the half and full marathon realm, finisher medals are the standard. Very few 13.1/26.2 races will not hand you a heavy, colorfully-ribboned medallion as you cross the finish. Overall winners often are awarded a winner’s purse and trophies can be awarded 3-10 persons deep.

The Ultra-marathon is a completely different entity, though. Some will have purses, but it is rare outside of the few cornerstone or championship races. There is also a geographic division. Ultra has its foothold in the sands of the western United States. East of the Mississippi, the races are newer, and even the awards reflect a different cultural view. For instance, the majority of “Free Admission Races” (FA events) are in the Eastern half of the country. Also, as in North Carolina, pottery is a mainstay of overall, age group and finisher prizes. Western U.S. (and Texas, as I have just recently witnessed) races are fixated on medals and buckles. If you complete an ultra-marathon 50K-50M in the West, you are likely to receive a finishers’ medal. If your race is 100K-100M (or beyond), you will be “buckled.”

Triathlon follows the same path as the running races. Shorter triathlon, like the super sprint, sprint and Olympic distances, you will only be awarded medals/trophies if you place or win outright. Some smaller races grant everything from Mason jars and pottery mugs to pig sculptures and interpretive art as merit-based awards. Very few, however, bestow a finishers’ medal. Half-Iron and Iron Distance events, however, follow the same award structure as the half and full marathon described above. If you cross the finish, you walk away (usually slowly and stiffly) with a completion medal.

The key point is this. The larger and longer a race is, the better your chances are at accruing quality SWAG. A Rock’n’Roll Series Marathon or an Ironman Event will yield heavier “booty” than a local 5K/10K or FA ultra. But there is more to competing than simply getting trinkets. Or so I have heard.