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Opinion: races should hand out ribbons, not medals

A simple solution to stop the clutter of finisher medals around your house

For new runners, a race finisher medal is a significant symbol of personal development; you trained, you raced, and you finished. And that medal is a reminder of your accomplishment. I like the idea of putting a keepsake around your neck for something you’ve achieved. But after a while, as you run more races, you accumulate so many finisher’s medals that they start to seem like meaningless clutter.

Photo: Canada Running Series

When I began racing 20 years ago, I remember receiving race ribbons for finishing my small local 5K and also at elementary school track and field meets.

Ribbons are lightweight and easy to store. But there’s also so much more that you can do with them. You could create a scrapbook of all your race ribbons. You could sew them into a blanket. Or simply pin them to a corkboard.

I understand runners wanting to keep or frame their finisher’s medal from their first race, first marathon or the Boston Marathon. But most of the time, after asking yourself a year later, “Do I really need this thing?” finisher medals end up being thrown out or donated to charity. Granted, you could always buy one of those garish finisher medal racks to display them to your admirers.

New York City Marathon Medals
An upscale medal rack at the New York City Marathon. Photo: Canadian Running

According to PinProPlus, a U.S. supplier of custom promotional products and finisher medals, the cost of one finisher medal depends on the quantity ordered. Prices can range from one dollar to four dollars, depending on the detailing and the size of the order.

Ribbons are a fraction of the cost. To buy 500 custom medals, you’re looking at spending around $400 to $800; according to the website Ribbons Galore, the same number of ribbons would be $150 to $200. 

Ribbons are inexpensive and practical, and smaller races need to stop handing out finisher medals that people don’t know what to do with.