Friday, January 29, 2016

To get the medal... or not... Revisited.

As I mentioned in my recaps, my brother and partner in crime Ernest tried to run the Disney Half Marathon with me and sadly got swept at mile 8.
The End of the Road.
After the race, we had an extremely interesting conversation. As you might recall, I wrote a blog post about being swept and the fact that Disney gives you the medal whether you finish the race or not. (You can find that here) This is a very controversial topic that people feel very passionate about. Obviously, I was very curious about Ernest's experience on this matter, being a first-hand witness and all.

Sure enough, when I got in the car after finishing, there was his medal on the back seat. I asked him about it and he said: "Before I tell you, I want to know how you feel about it. Would you have taken the medal?" Now, Ernest is neither a regular runner nor is he familiar with run Disney and the crazy discussions it generates, so this was gonna make for some great conversation. I answered: "I would not take it. But that doesn't mean it's wrong to take it though. The medal means different things to different people." "Exactly!" he said. "There are so many different reactions to not being able to finish. There really can't be just one right answer."

I was listening to him with a smile on my face because it kind of validates my feelings on the subject which is essentially, "to each his/her own." But then he went on to recount his experience of being swept and taking the bus back to the start line and what he saw and heard... kind of rattled me a bit. Like I said on the other post, there are many reasons for taking the medal.

 I just wasn't ready to hear what some of those reasons were.

So I got swept. Now what?
I know this information is asked about often so it's important to talk about it. Hopefully it will help others. Contrary to popular belief (or unfounded paranoia), being swept by the Balloon Ladies does NOT look like this:



First, the Balloon Ladies don't actually sweep you (or look like Godzilla). They are simply keeping the minimum required pace to stay in the race. There are several cut-off points where Disney does a "hard sweep". Meaning that once the Ladies pass that particular point, Disney -along with State Troopers- block the road with buses and don't allow anyone else to pass. A "soft sweep" on the other hand is people that are swept from the course outside of those cut-offs whether for medical reasons, exhaustion or simply if you don't want to go on. This is not as bad as it sounds though. The Balloon Ladies spend the entire race calling out what those cut off points are and when they are coming up. In the case of my brother it was mile 8. He was actually not that far behind the Ladies so after they passed the cut off, he got intercepted by a police officer on a bike. It's important to mention that the Balloon Ladies also spend the entire race motivating people to keep up with them. They are very nice people and I have to commend them on the job they do. It can't be easy. 

Once the blockade is in place, Cast Members and medical personnel impart instructions and tend to those in need. They clap and cheer those that have been cut-off and even take pictures for those that want a reminder of where they were swept (like the one above of my brother). It takes a while for the buses to fill as runners keep arriving at the cut-off depending how far behind they were. It took about 15 minutes for the first buses to fill up and leave for Epcot, according to Ernest. In his words:

"The trip back felt long as hell. Even though it's a whole different route, it still makes you think about how long you still had to go. Not sure how long the trip back was, maybe 15-20 minutes, there was traffic, It may have felt like longer for me because i was standing and my stomach was still not feeling well (soon after getting on the bus i needed some fresh air, something that is obviously lacking in a bus full of sweaty people).  We arrived at EPCOT and the bus pulled up right behind the tents where there are people waiting to give you your medal and goodies box."

And that, folks, is how you get swept at a Disney race. Another thing I found interesting from Ernest's account was people's reactions during the race when they realized they were behind the Balloon Ladies or close to it:

"My favorite reactions came before reaching the 8 mile marker, when i spent a while running after and around the balloon ladies.  Anytime they passed a set of portable toilets, rest stops or people waiting in line to take pictures with characters, they announced themselves going by reminding people that you need to stay in front of them, and people just started scrambling. "Is that really them?!", lines break up, people come running out of the toilet lines, and a lot of "oh crap how did this happen?!" kind of reactions. Mind you not like angry or upset type of reaction,  they are mostly surprised and laughing at what just happened. From what i saw there's a great deal of people who train well and come ready to run the event yet still fall behind  just because they are enjoying the whole event so much, they stop at every photo op, maybe make a lot of stops or aren't moving at such a quick pace especially when they are in the park areas, then they see the balloon ladies and are all like "what the hell?! how slow was i going?!". You can tell who this lot are because they'll just take off and sprint past the balloon ladies then continue at a quick pace (guess they won't make any stops for a while), something many who stay behind simply aren't able to do after the first half of the race. Some people don't even notice that they've fallen behind, and a few were surprised to find out that the ladies with the balloons were the actual balloon ladies and not just someone in a costume.  Most tried to keep up with them, others just give up like "well i ain't going any quicker than this guess i'm getting picked up"."


Ernest was surprised (and a little appalled) that in the past people have dressed up as "Balloon Ladies" and wreaked havoc on the course. Yes. It has happened.

I was surprised at how many people fall way behind simply because they insist on taking every character picture and savor every moment. There are many who don't get swept that are always running away from the Ladies simply because they gotta have that pic with Goofy or Minnie or whatever.

Another surprise, although both my brother and I agree it might have been different in other buses or cut-off points, is that he saw nobody crying or frustrated on the bus. Just a lot of "Oh well, next time." kind of reactions.

Hold on to you hats
Here's where it gets interesting and kind of weird for me. As Ernest was giving me the info on what happened post-sweep and he was talking about the different reactions he heard from others, it became very clear to me that, while the reactions were of course, varied, there was a particular group of people that took me some time to process their motives.

Putting all the pieces together, it seems there is a group of people who sign up for these races knowing full well they are not going to finish. They sign up, have fun, take pics, soak in the atmosphere, run through (some of) the parks and do this knowing that for them, it ends on a bus. No finish line. Then, the next year, they do it again.


Excuse me. What?

My brother, once again:

"I think for sure there are, and i don't think this should be a surprise at an event as big as Run Disney or any other big event.  They sign up knowing that there is a big chance that they are not gonna finish in time, or maybe even not being aware of what it means when they say you need to keep a certain pace.  Among those that sign up and don't finish there are likely many categories of people but from what I saw there are two major ones:
There's definitely a lot of people who have tried this more than once without finishing, who, I'm sure, are actually hoping to finish, i don't think they go in knowing that they're not going to finish, but they are content with just making it further than previous attempts. For the lady i mentioned before, she mentioned she had tried the previous year, this time she made it further than last year. So i guess for some, it's just another way (albeit a slower way)  to get to the same goal as many people who want to go finish a race. They're thought seems to be "Every year i go, I've made it further, that's a good thing, and eventually, i'll finish one of these things." 

Another group of people that don't finish, are those who actually signed up just " for the heck of it". I'm sure there's plenty of people that were simply talking with friends one day and said "hey, Disney marathon weekend, sounds like fun, lets do that!"  They signed up, maybe trained a little or not at all, tried to do a race, couldn't finish, yet probably still had a blast.  They are there at the event because it's a fun thing to do, not because they've set themselves any kind of goal. If it's fun enough for them, I'm sure they go back and do it again, maybe they finish, maybe not.  These were some of the people who were in the lines to take pictures with the characters when the balloon ladies went by, and didn't run after them, they were just glad that the line got shorter all of a sudden."

It has taken me a while to process this information. Allow me to put things in perspective here. As mentioned before, if you get swept, Disney gives you the medal anyway. To them (them being the operative word), that belongs to you either way. After all you paid for it and ultimately Disney is a business like any other. Call me naive or even obtuse, but in my head, every person who signs up for a race has at least  the intention to finish it. There was no space in my mind, for the possibility of someone purposely signing up with the intention of getting picked up. Discussing this on the car back to the hotel, I was about to get upset when my brother, who was certainly not upset and is not emotionally compromised as I am over this running "thing" brought me back down to Earth:

"Dude, to YOU it's about goals, and finishing and achieving something. To others, it might just be about having a fun day and nothing more."

Wait a minute, I'm having a fun day too you know. I know I describe my struggle pretty vividly on the blog but I wouldn't be doing this (let alone thinking about doing it again) if it was no fun. I guess they are just having a different kind of fun maybe? I don't know.

What I do know is, this information is gonna bother a whole lot of people.


Think about all the arguments runners have engaged in over the "accept or not accept the medal" debacle. Now add to that, the fact that there is people out there with race medals that knew they were not gonna finish beforehand. I can see the hateful threads now...

Even though it took me some time to absorb, this information does not change my view on this issue. I know what the race and the medal mean to me. I can't expect everyone else to feel exactly the same way. For some people, this is just a race. An event. It's not the life-defining phenomenon that some of us make it out to be. Ultimately, we ascribe value to things and not others. Things become important if you make them important. So if others don't come into this giving it the sacred importance I feel it deserves, it's their loss but I'm not gonna berate you for it.


Before handing this over to you readers to discuss I'll add one more thing. My brother and I don't agree on one thing. Here is Ernest one last time.


"The way I see it, the medal isn't a prize, it's a souvenir. It's probably going in a box with all my other souvenirs, and this probably would've been the case even if I had finished. I have two WB10K medals in there somewhere, if they didn't get lost in the move (actually, i think they did).

On a side note, if there are indeed people who don't finish that actually refuse to take the race medal from the people who give them out. I would tell them, take the damn medal, don't put someone who's just doing their job in a difficult position. After you take it you can throw it away if you want. The medal can mean anything you want it to mean, but a volunteer/employee giving it to you doesn't mean anything, except "here's the stuff you paid for". Refusing it would just cause them unnecessary trouble.  This isn't the Olympics, the race medal isn't a placement medal or even a 'finisher' medal, it isn't a prize, at least from Disney's point of view. From their point of view, you get it because a)you paid for it, and b)you participated in the event (well you can't pick it up if you don't even show up, I don't know if you can get it in the mail)."

Here's where I disagree. If you don't'want to take the medal, don't take the medal. I totally understand what my brother is saying about giving grief to a volunteer or Cast Member who doesn't deserve it. It's not their fault and they are just doing their job. However, I have to be fair. If I can't force a person to not take the medal because it's not my business, then you can't force me to take it because it's none of yours. It works both ways. It is also not difficult for Disney to give instructions to these folks to avoid any problems. If, after asking "Are you sure?" , they still won't accept the medal, do not insist further. Let her/him be. That's not hard.

I'm one of the runners who would not accept it if it happened to me. I don't like making scenes and in a time like that, it would be the last thing on my mind but this is important to me and I would definitely insist on not taking it. Scene optional. And no Ernest. They most definitely do not mail you the medal.


So what do you guys think?



16 comments:

  1. This is a great topic. I joined a group challenge this year to run 2016 miles in 2016. (Fortunately, there are 4 people in my group, so I have to manage 500 miles!) They have a facebook group. Lots of people like to post pictures of all their medals, or "bling". Someone posted that they didn't see the reason to collect all those medals, they know what they did. I keep my medals because they are a reminder that I've done things I never thought I could do. I've run 5Ks, I've run 10K's, and I've done Warrior Dashes. I even have ONE finisher medal (3rd place!). When I ran my first 10K, I almost missed getting my medal! I had to go back and ask for it, because I walked right past the nice volunteers. Whether you finish the race or not, you deserve the medal, just like you deserve the bib and the t-shirt. When you see it, it reminds you of your goals for that race. Was it to be able to say that you ran in a race at Disney? Is it a remembrance of maybe your ONLY trip to Disney? Is it a reminder to keep trying until you finish? Is it a reminder that you ran EIGHT MILES when you never thought you could? Or three miles, or ten miles? I guess my point is, take the medal. You deserve it. And if you don't want it, I'm sure you can sneak it back into the box or throw it in trash.

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  2. Wait until you finish your first Half (and you are gonna finish your first half). You are gonna want to frame that sucker and post in your front door.

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  3. This is really great perspective. While I've signed up for races just for the fun of it, I always have the intention of finishing it to earn my medal. I never would have thought people sign up for a half or a full, just to see what they can see and get as far as they can get, but I've also never ran a Disney race before. The souvenir aspect for him makes sense. I think if this had happened to me. I'd take the medal too. Then I'd run the remaining part of the race on a day when I felt better. Just to make things right in my mind. 1 half marathon medal = 13.1 miles.

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    1. I think you hit an important point here Sarah. I think this issue is more prevalent for Disney races. There are plenty of great, fun races with incredible scenery but it's probably the prospect of running through the parks that entices people to sign up with no intention to finish.

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  4. Luckily, I have never been swept but I still think I would take the medal as a momento. I attempted to run the NYC Marathon in 2012, but it was cancelled. I ran with a team and our coach picked up medals for us. That's the only medal I have for a race I didn't run. It was supposed to be my first marathon and I was standing at the expo when it was announced that it was canceled. I didn't put that medal with my others, but I kept it as a motivator for what I would accomplish in the future. I did run NYC in 2014, but I'm glad I have both medals.

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    1. Cancelled race is another aspect of this that is not talked about often. Keeping the medal as a reminder to do better and a motivator is probably the most common reason I hear for keeping a medal for a race you didn't finish and I gotta say, I think it is a very powerful reason.

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  5. What great perspectives on this topic. Here are my thoughts.

    1. I really am surprised to hear that people sign up with the intentions of not finishing. They could pay a lot less for a park ticket and get character pictures and so much more. I just don't understand that concept.

    2. I DO think that the medal should be a "finisher Medal". I share your thought in that the medal means something to me. It is a symbol of hard work and dedication. It saddens me that some people think of it as "just a souvenir" but of course that is there opinion. I know many runners who DO complete races and don't care about the medals. I volunteered at the wdw half one year handing out medals and someone who finished the race (in a pretty good time too) did not want the medal!

    3.I do not have an opinion one way or another on people accepting the medals if they did not complete the race because like you said "to each there own" and because it does not specifically say "Finisher" on it ( or at least I don't think it does), it can me different things to different people. However, I do think that Disney should make "Participation" medals and "finisher" medals but I know that would be difficult for them to gage how many will not finish each year.

    So just for fun, this made me think of a Wine n Dine last year. None of those runners ran 13.1 miles because the course was cut short but yet they all accepted medals that said half marathon on them. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that. it wasn't their fault they could not complete the distance. I would have taken the medal too.

    Okay, I guess I've said enough....lol. Have a good weekend Frank. I always enjoy your posts!

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    1. While I'm not sure the logistics would be simple, a separate "participation" medal could be the fair and just solution.

      I see the incident at Wine and Dine to be a different issue. It was an event that was totally beyond Disney's (and the participant's) control and safety always comes first. Yes, it wasn't the complete Half distance but all who finished the short version were treated the same. It's not like some did 13 miles while others did 7 so under the circumstances I thought it was OK.

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  6. I could never take a medal for a race I did not finish, but that's just me. I like Meranda's idea of a participation medal and a finishers medal. It just kind of cheapens the accomplishment IMO if "everyone gets a trophy" even if they didn't do the work that you did. I ran the castway cay 5k on the ship a couple weeks ago b/c we could not dock, and they gave everyone the option of taking the medal WITHOUT EVEN STARTING THE RACE, or running laps around the ship. My mouth dropped when 340 some odd people took the medal and left, not running a single step.

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    1. That completely blows my mind Heather! This thing simply goes a lot deeper than we think I guess. But I think it ultimately goes back to what it means to you. I could not live with myself if I hung that Castaway Cay medal on my wall with out ever stepping on the starting line. I couldn't be able to even look at my girls in the eye. But again, that's just me.

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  7. I definitely think it is to each his own. I would not want to take the medal but probably would just because i dont want to be rude to the volunteer. I would then donate it so someone else could have it.

    and it does not surprise me that people would run without the intention of finishing. I just think there are other ways to work up to a half marathon or a full. i do think a lot of people sign up with the intention of training and then dont and dont defer-which is just silly to me.

    the only experience I have had with the medal not matching my race was the wine and dine half or the half of a half marathon last November. Even though we couldn't run a half marathon (safety first!) I do still keep that medal as I ran what I could and that will probably go down as one of my most memorable races ever.

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    1. Adding to what I wrote on Miranda's comment, here is why I think that Wine and Dine medal totally counts: You didn't quit. you didn't choose to run a truncated course. You followed all the rules and regulations imposed by runDisney. You ran the course the runDisney laid in front of you and most importantly, you did not create a thunderstorm and dropped it on top of the event (though if you did, I have a film franchise you should look into) so the 2015 Wine and Dine medal totally counts. Just my two cents.

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  8. I'm really surprised to hear that people sign up for the races with no intention to finish! It's a lot of money, why not just sign up for the 5k or 10k then? I would hope that they at least had the intention to train at some point and then either got injured or life got in the way.

    I always thought I wouldn't take the medal if I didn't run the race but I did take the medal for the Wine and Dine half last year when the race was shortened to less then 7 miles. I also think sometimes in the fog at the end you just take what they hand you. And I decided to keep it since I was prepared to run the full amount :)

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    1. I think you earned that Wine and Dine medal like everyone else. Look at my comments above for the reason why.

      As for the reasons why people would do that, I'm having a rough time grasping the concept myself. It just doesn't make sense to me. Then again, as runners we look at it with a very specific perception in mind. After all, we do run long distances and suffer... for fun. Not everybody understands that so I hope people who do that don't expect me to understand them either.

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  9. I'm with you Frank. If I don't go the distance, I'm not taking the medal. BUT THAT'S JUST ME. The one thing that does bother me though, are those who take up a registration spot with no intention of at least trying to finish in time, when that spot could have gone to someone who really DOES want to try and finish. Especially since reg spots fill up so crazy fast these days.

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    1. Disney races are hard enough to get into for people to be taking spots and then don't finish.

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