Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:39:41 -0400

Who Won What?

(This piece is for my book-in-progress titled See How We Run: Best Writings from 25 Years of Running Commentary. I am posting an excerpt here each Friday, this one from May 1990.)

The worst part of most road races starts after the runners finish. It comes during what should be a celebration, but which often descends into confusion and confrontation.

At a post-mortem breakfast with me after one recent race, the director’s black coffee couldn’t wash out the bad taste left by the day’s last event. “It all fell apart at the end,” he grumbled.

The race itself had gone fine. Conditions had been perfect and times fast. All crowd-control systems had worked as planned.

The race’s aftermath had given this director his only problems. Final results were slow to come together. The awards program started late and ended much later, when only the final division’s winners were left from the original crowd.

Another race initiated a new director with no prior experience of this type. The role came with her job for the sponsoring organization. Her last impression of her first race was being held captive by complainers.

They shouted, “You forgot to read my name.” And, “I finished ahead of the guy you gave the prize.” And, “You ignored the corporate division.”

Such cases are common at today’s road races. Most of them fall down, if not apart, at the end.

Awards-giving has gotten out of hand. The growing number of categories and their increasing size make many post-race ceremonies last longer than the race they reward.

At best these programs carry about as much excitement as reciting names from the phone book for an hour. At worst they spawn conflicts between runners and officials.

Harold Tinsley, past president of the Road Runners Club of America and member of the RRCA Hall of Fame, is normally the runner’s best friend. But he increasingly finds himself lined up against the more vocal and “greedy” (his term) entrants of races he directs.

He writes, “The greed over awards is the most distressing situation I’ve encountered in 18 years of directing races. No matter what, somebody will be dissatisfied with the age groups, duplication of awards or what the awards are.”

He hasn’t given up directing races, including the Rocket City Marathon. “But I’ve sure thought a lot about it.”

Tinsley calls awards “the least important aspect of the race, surely not so critical as to cause all the fuss. After all, age-group and overall awards only affect a small percentage of the participants, yet these frills cause the race director the greatest grief.”

An equally small percentage cares about awards ceremonies, and then only long enough for these runners to collect their own prizes. Wait out a full ceremony sometime, and note how the crowd shrinks with each passing group.

The majority of runners who don’t stand to win anything tangible don’t go to awards programs at all. They hear no applause and take home no signed checks, no engraved pieces of metal, wood or plastic.

But they don’t go unrewarded. For them the race is its own reward.

Setting a goal, training well, making an honest effort, displaying toughness and smartness, recording a satisfying time – these are the true rewards of racing. They are available to everyone, but like all meaningful prizes they must be earned.

And these victories then must be celebrated with all the other winners. The celebration involves far more people and is much a livelier, happier event than the awards ceremony. So why not make the party the main post-race event?

Don’t do away with awards and their awarding, but downplay them. Cut the awards program to reasonable length – say, five or 10 minutes – by allowing no oratory and reading no long lists of names. Announce only the division winners, and call only them to the stage as a group to take their bows.

Let all the other award-winners pick up their prizes at a table off to the side, on their own time, after the celebrating resumes. Don’t let the honoring of the few break up the party for all.

UPDATE FROM 2014

I did my fair share of prize-winning in early years as a runner but don’t know the final resting place for any of those prizes. The memories of those races remain accessible anytime.

Only one medal now hangs in my office. Every runner received one at the first George Sheehan Classic. On the front is his likeness. On the back, his words: “Winning is never having to say I quit.”


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as PDFs for e-reader devices and apps, from Lulu.com. Just released was Joe’s Team. Other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine.]

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