Kevin Manz started running races three years ago in San Diego, thanks to his natural competitive streak.
“I had a few friends running races and I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can do it,’” said Manz, 29, who grew up in northwest Ohio and now lives in Columbus. He plans to run in the Ohio Health Capital City race this May. “I really like that it’s an individual sport. I challenge myself; I can always get better.”
Manz said he races to keep an eye on his time and make sure he’s improving—but there is one more thing.
“I’m definitely partial to races that have medals because I like to collect them,” Manz said. “It’s something tangible. You like to have something to remember it by, and it’s nice to celebrate the achievement that way.”
Manz is one of a growing number of runners who choose races that award medals. The popularity of neck bling has become so contagious that nearly every race, big or small, offers some type of finish line jewel.
Just ask Darris Blackford, race director for the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon and Half-Marathon, about what happens when you don’t have the bling at the finish line—which is exactly what happened to him last October during the half-marathon.
“It was pretty devastating for people,” Blackford said. “When they came across the line and didn’t have the medal—it’s a big deal. Because of what goes into earning it.”
Cap City Race Director David Babner said that the training runners go through, short or long distances, is a big deal and should be rewarded on race day.
“For our demographic to get ready, they’ve been training over the winter, in horrible weather conditions, to get ready for this thing, and we’re going to celebrate them like the champions they are,” Babner said. “It’s something that really speaks to the celebration.”
That hasn’t always been the case.
“The mentality in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s was much more a sense of competition above all else. Medals were given to the winners only,” Blackford said. “Now the whole business has changed. You don’t have people in it to win it. Now it’s more of a bucket list; everybody’s in it for health and wellness.
“Competition and time isn’t as critical for many people today. And they want to be rewarded with something fun. It’s just that physical manifestation of what they’ve been through.”
Local runner Dave Parsons couldn’t agree more. With a collection of over 35 medals, Parsons said the neck bling is symbolic of both the training for the race and the challenge of the race itself.
“My favorite medal is actually a cheap plastic one from the Last Chance for Boston marathon in 2013. It’s not my favorite medal because of the medal itself but because of the experience it represents,” he said. “I had been injured and came back to knock 28 minutes off my marathon PR and post my first Boston qualifying time. That medal is special to me.”
Because it’s symbolic, the look and feel of the collector’s piece has also become a critical element.
“Our Cap City medal is over 3 inches across and the lanyard is full of color,” said Babner, who added that races associated with the Ohio State University always tie heavily back to the school—one year a helmet, the next, a stadium. “The medal has become really the symbol of the event. It’s the most important thing. What maybe used to be the race shirt or an award, now it’s the medal.”
Every runner has a preference for the look and design.
“I like the larger medals; the more weight they have to them,” said Manz, who has approximately 20 medals in his collection, which he plans on formally displaying someday. “The more unique they are to the theme [of the race] the better.”
Parsons, who’s run over 50 races, said he never runs a race just for the medal—but he does enjoy the themed ones.
“A nice medal is like icing on the cake,” said Parsons, a runner of five years who’s about to tackle his first 50K in May. “I like unique ones that represent the race or location well. And they need the year on them.”
And the better the medal, the better the marketing. Because, without fail, medals promote the event through social media.
“[Runners] can show it and they can show it off. And you do see it on their Facebook posts,” Babner said.
Now, third-party businesses are even beginning to take advantage of the medal trend. At this year’s Cap City Expo, there will be a company selling medal racks.
That’d be just fine for Manz. While he runs because he loves it, he wants a way to show what he’s accomplished—and he’s glad everyone else has the same opportunity to share that.
“I think it’s a good thing that everyone gets a medal. It’s unique to the sport,” he said. “It shows that no matter what pace you’re running, or your goals, you’re embraced by the running community no matter where you finish.”
Beyond the Finish Line
The finish line. Racers in any sport cross it with varying degrees of emotions—excitement just from finishing, tears due to reaching a goal, disappointment from missing a goal time; all the feelings you might expect as the medal goes around your neck.
But one thing not enough racers plan for is recovery—and how to do it properly.
“There are multiple stages of post-race recovery,” said Dr. Kari Brown Budde, a doctor of physical therapy board-certified in sports physical therapy. She runs her own practice, Endurance Athletes Physical Therapy and Sport Performance. “Whether you’re racing a 5K or a marathon, you still need that same recovery. You still need to follow all the steps to prevent injury and so you can get right back to training.”
Budde said there are three time-based stages of post-race recovery.
“First is the immediate stage—that first five-10 minutes post-race where it’s really important to focus on your nutrition again,” said Budde, adding that hydration should begin immediately following the race with water or a drink that replaces electrolytes.
Many races have a refueling station just past the finish line filled with carbohydrates like bananas and bagels—all good for recovery so long as your nutrition intake is on a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
“You should also be doing a dynamic cool down and stretching routine right after your run or your race,” said Budde, who offers an example routine on her website (bit.ly/DynamicCoolDown). “You want to get out of the bad form you got into during the race when you started to fatigue.”
For example, in a race when you start to fatigue, you start to slouch your shoulders, tighten your hips and sink in. So post-race, you may do some active recovery of backwards jogging and backwards swings, shuffles or arm swings to open you back up.
“When you stop a race, you quickly go from a heated point to not using those muscles, and you cool down really quickly. If you don’t slowly get that temp down, it can be a shock to the system,” Budde said about why runners are sometimes given something to put over their shoulders after the race. “You’re going to start to stiffen up, maybe start shaking. Depending on the outside temperature, you can cool down too quickly.”
A post-race cool down routine can also help with the next stage, 24-48 hours after the race.
“That’s usually when the delayed onset muscle soreness comes on,” she said. “That’s from tiny little muscle tears or muscle breaks, which is good because you get stronger, but it can also make you sore.”
Budde recommends active recovery over that 24-48-hour span, ranging from a light walk or jog to casually riding a bike. She said static stretching and foam rolling also help.
The final stage is prepping your body for the next event.
“If you have another [race] coming up in a month, you have to make sure you don’t sit around for a month in between,” she said. “A rule of thumb for running is however many miles you just ran, you want to be cautious for the same amount of days. So if you ran 26 miles, for 26 days after, you shouldn’t perform the same hardcore training that led up to your race.”
Budde called this strategy reverse tapering. Most racers taper their mileage down just before a race—in reverse tapering, you taper it back up, post-race.
“This stage can be as long as you want it to be,” she said. “It’s dependent on what you ran and what your next goal is.”
And thinking about your goals is one of four questions sports psychologist Jack Lesyk of the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology recommends.
“When you’ve invested so much of your life to training for this one event, it’s not unusual to have a letdown after. You have to deal with a letdown,” said Lesyk, a retired marathon runner, who ran such events 14 times. “Some time within 24 hours after the race, where you can sit down within the quiet of yourself, answer four questions.”
The first question is, “What did I do well?”
“Even on days you feel disappointed, you probably did a lot of things well,” he said. “By writing them down, you can boost your morale and do those things well the next time.”
You also need to ask yourself, “What did I do not so well?”
“Even on great days, you probably weren’t perfect,” he said, adding that this is a great question for goal-setting the next time around.
The final two questions are, “What did I learn?” and “How can I use what I learned to continue improving?”
“You should do the four questions whether [the race] was a wonderful experience or a disappointing one,” Lesyk said. “Now you can let the experience fade as you move towards whatever’s next.”
Hopefully what’s next is another race, for which now you’ll be better prepared.