Boston Marathon Medals For Me, Thee, He and She

Rarely does the amateur running world ever have any kind of controversy but one is brewing now over the decision by the Boston Athletic Association to award highly-coveted Boston Marathon medals to runners who participate in this year’s virtual marathon. You can read about it from the B.A.A. website here.

The controversy is from the reaction some runners had over the announcement. You can read a bit about it here. But basically, there are runners who feel handing out Boston Marathon medals to people who participate virtually cheapens the prestigious race and diminishes the accomplishments of those who earned a spot at the start line in Hopkinton. It’s also interesting this is popping up now shortly after my blog entry last week about virtual racing.

The B.A.A. is doing this as a way to make money to make up for what was lost by not having a race last year due to the pandemic. If we want the race to continue, the B.A.A. needs money to put it on every year. I completely understand the idea behind this move. Frankly, I think it’s quite smart and a good business decision.

It takes a mixture of work and talent to get here. Are those really diminished because of a virtual race too?

I can understand, though, the argument of those against awarding medals to virtual runners because the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of distance running for amateurs like me and you. To simply meet the time qualification (or the high dollar mark needed to secure a charity entry) is an accomplishment in-and-of itself. But then to make it to the start line, tough out the Newton hills and cross the finish line on Boylston Street, that’s another high-level achievement that everyone should be proud of if they’ve done it. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, time and dedication. All runners know this which is why you get smiles and a look of awe and wonder when you tell people you’ve finished the race. That hard work, dedication and fortitude means a lot to people personally and they respect others who’ve put in the same effort to cross the finish line too. I can understand how they feel like all of that work to earn the unicorn medal is cheapened by someone else who can earn it by running around their neighborhood.

At first, I thought it could diminish the meaning of the medal. But I thought about it some more and realized it would do no such thing. We run because we want to achieve our own life goals. We run to celebrate and challenge ourselves, always pushing to go farther and faster. I run for myself. That’s it. Yes, I’ve run for charities before and am proud of that and will do it again. But what gets me to a start line and what gets me out the door on most days is my desire to improve and challenge myself. I don’t run for handshakes, congratulations from others or for social media “likes.” I run because I like what it does for me. I ran the Boston Marathon in 2014. It was an amazing experience and my second-fastest marathon to date. I know what it took to get there. I know how incredible it felt to cross the finish line on Boylston Street. I proudly wore the medal after the race. In no way does a virtual runner who also has a Boston Marathon medal take away from what I know I achieved. I’m proud of what I did to get to Boston. Tens of thousands of people with the same medal who will never earn a spot on the starting line doesn’t make me feel less in any way about what I did to get there.

If people want to run the race virtually, whether to help out the B.A.A. financially or to simply get the Boston Marathon medal, it makes no difference to me. If virtual finishers want to show off their medal on social media, good for them. It could have the effect of getting even more people more dedicated about running. That’s always a good thing. Anyway, just remember that you know what you did if you got to the real start line.

Me and my Boston Marathon medal in 2014.

Yes, the Boston Marathon is exclusive and I like that which is why I’m even more proud to have run it. But the race itself isn’t about the medal. It’s about your drive and spirit to push yourself to the limits. Even If your medal isn’t so limited, you know in your heart what it defines for you. A flood of the same medals around people’s necks could never diminish that.  

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