MedalGate

I ran the Springtime 10K race here in Tallahassee yesterday. It was my fourth time running the 10K race. It was also my slowest time running this race, not because I am inadequately trained but because I am in the middle of figuring out what is going on with my cardiac health.

After my friend Betty and I crossed the finish line, we walked past a lady standing there with a box of medals. Frankly, I had forgotten that there were medals for the 10K race finishers. When we saw her, I kind of said “oh yeah, medals,” and she explained that those were last year’s medals, that there were no more 2015 medals. I started not to take one, but since I often send my race medal to Gareth, who I run for, I went ahead and took one. Betty followed up on the woman’s admonition to “ask someone” about getting a 2015 medal and through Betty’s inquiries, we figured out that there were no more medals.

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I didn’t really think too much about the medal situation. I was happy to enjoy a gorgeous day, to be wearing the TeamRWB emblem as part of RunAs1, to find a compromise between the all-out runner I really want to be and the “keep things moderate” runner I have to be right now.

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TeamRWBTally

 

I did jokingly post a picture of my 2014 medal on my Facebook page, jesting that “And if you time things JUST RIGHT and finish toward the end you get to get on the race time machine and retrieve yourself a medal from the 2014 race from the special time traveler box.”

As it turns out, another runner who finished later than me along with her son was very unhappy about the 2014 medal situation, because she had paid race fees for four people, and it was her child’s first 10K. She posted that concern on our track club’s Facebook page, and what I deemed “medalgate” ensued. The entire thread has now been deleted but the categories of comments were roughly:

70%: people offering their medals to her and reassuring her that it would get handled

20%: people telling her to be grateful for the beautiful day and gracious to an all-volunteer operation

8%: combinations of the above

1%: responses from the race directors providing a brief explanation and instructions for how to pursue a resolution privately

0.5%: a response from the original complainant sharing a screen shot of a negative private message from someone who, to put it politely, disagreed with her stance

0.5% a meme

Our track club still has a members only Yahoo list (remember those?). After reading some of the chatter on there, I drafted a lengthy response. I am sharing it here.

Everyone, I have read every single word of the Facebook conversation started when [name] commented about being given a 2014 medal when there were no 2015 medals left today at the Springtime 10K. Some thoughts …

First of all, I think it is incredible (but very typical) of our club that so many people offered to donate their medals (and someone offered to refund her family’s entry fee).

Social media does make it possible to fire off a concern rapidly and publicly without giving an issue time to be resolved more privately. That pattern is here to stay, and I am writing to encourage you to remember that these situations present opportunities to bring someone into our fold.

I can absolutely understand the logic behind responses in the thread encouraging her to appreciate what a beautiful day it was, to cut volunteers a break (amen!), to use this as a teachable moment for her child, to focus on the positive. I agree with all of those statements.

But by the same token I encourage you to remember a time when you were a running outsider. If you are a back of the packer, the time(s) you wondered if you would be the last person finishing a race and therefore wondered if you should even show up at all. It may not be a medal but I am positive for all of us there have been days when we had to incentivize ourselves to get our butts out the door … maybe it was the thought of a glass of wine, the knowledge that we had to report in to our coach, or the hope that we would PR an upcoming race.

I am not a person who really cares about medals that much. I have kept a few from the races that are most special to me. Most of my others I give to the child I run for or donate. BUT for some people it really is “the thing.” For some parents (rightly or wrongly) they may have spent the last few weeks talking excitedly with their child about the anticipation of getting a medal. Adults, too, may  have seen the medal in their mind’s eye when they forced themselves to push one more mile, lift one more weight, pass up the second slice of pizza.

I do understand the challenges of an all volunteer operation, and how a plan which seemed failproof re: medal quantity didn’t work out that way. This year can help us better plan for next year.

I do think if we advertised the fact that every 10K runner would get a medal, we should try our best to make that happen (and I know the many offers to donate will undoubtedly take care of that). In the same way you wouldn’t ask for filet mignon at the grocery store and say “sure” if they said “you’re getting ground beef instead” it is reasonable for people to expect to get a 2015 medal.

I commend the directors on a FABULOUS and well-managed event. I haven’t ever directed a race but by now I am pretty familiar with the moving parts. As a volunteer, I have been chewed out by people when I didn’t have their tshirt size even though they pre-registered (it happens!).

I have been that obnoxious parent advocating too aggressively for my child. I have been the runner sending single spaced two page emails of “feedback” to race directors. Over time I got a broader perspective and learned a) how to give more succinct feedback b) when to give feedback and c) to remember to say thank you.

Do I wish [name] had held off on her negative post until she had tried to get a private resolution? I think it would have been in everyone’s best interests. For all I know, she is one of those people in the world who approaches everything from the negative, and no amount of offers to donate medals, refund her fees, or prove our goodwill can change things.

But I walked away from yesterday’s incident wishing that it had gone differently.

I want [name] and her family to come back to a track club sponsored event. The purpose of this lengthy reply is to remind us all that we can have a role in making that happen, via our words AND our actions.

Happy Running!

13 thoughts on “MedalGate

    • It was a lot of drama, Rena! I agree it is easy for all of us to rush to Facebook without thinking. On the flip side, it was a teachable moment for our club to be prepared to handle these types of questions in a way that didn’t alienate the person asking them. Thank you for your comment.

      • I agree with you, Rena; however, this runner was frustrated, & her comment was not caustic. People need to use their heads before they reply to comments, too.

  1. Old race swag/medals/shirts have no place at a race, unless they’re in a box for people to take if they want them, or unless they’re for sale. One year, all of the RDs brought leftover shirts to the Women’s Distance Festival, since the race was without a director & shirts were not ordered, and the entry fee was lowered as a result. Unfortunately, the Springtime RDs, in their “explanation” of why last year’s medals were being distributed, blamed their volunteers & revealed they were trying to “get rid of last year’s medals” by giving them to “the children.” I don’t know if that meant giving them to the children in the 1-mile or picking out children in the 10k to give them to. Either way, our children know when something that is supposed to be meaningful is cheapened. Sure, some little children may not know the difference in the year imprinted on the medal. But a lot of kids do. The runner who posted originally should have been handled with kid gloves. The participants in these races are our customers, and customer service is paramount. Sure, everyone working the race is a volunteer, but if they’re not willing to give 100% & understand when their customers are upset, they shouldn’t take the job. This particular person has participated in GWTC races before and will continue to do so. Fortunately, she doesn’t think the ugliness of a few represents the feelings of most. Her original post was less caustic than frustrated. Many of the nicer responses were overshadowed by the un-runner-like ones. Thanks for sharing, Paula. I think you have made some great points.

    • Thank you, Judy. You know how much I respect your viewpoint, especially your experience as an RD. I appreciate you chiming in.

  2. First of all, jealous here that you’re down in beautiful Tallahassee – I so miss that place this time of year. I bet the running route was beautiful. I hope the race organizers see this thoughtful post to understand the nuances of why getting a 2015 medal might be important and goes beyond adult temper tantrums over a prize owed.

    • It is a beautiful (and hilly) route. The azaleas were starting to bloom, so they must have gotten the memo! I, too, hope the entire incident will be used by all of us who are involved in organizing races to make future events awesome for everyone.

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