Medal Culture, T-Shirts, and (again) Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder has certainly dropped some news bombs this week. After the tear gas news, they’ve done something that will really make obstacle course racers cry: They’ve announced that they will stop giving finisher T-shirts. (Which I learned via @muddy_race.)

Even from my disinterested, non-Tough-Mudder-racer perspective, I’ve managed to become of several minds of this news.

On one brain, there’s a rational understanding that putting on an obstacle course race is a business, and that cutting costs are sometimes part of doing business.

On a slightly related brain, and one that’s poorly developed with (to gruesomely mix metaphors) grotesque facial features and one arm that’s just a stump and another with a tiny little hand that’s somehow worse than the stump, it seems like over the past couple decades, when businesses shift their focus to cost-cutting it’s a sign that they don’t feel they have any more room to grow the business so if they want to increase profits cutting spending is their only option. So let’s toss that completely irresponsible rumor out there.

On a third brain that’s much more robust and still sort of related, kind of like that third or fourth cousin you have who is Justin Bieber (or maybe someone who doesn’t suck), is the thought that T-shirts are a pretty silly expense to cut. They’re popular and they’re a good form of advertising that’s pretty likely to reach its intended audience. After all, people who run obstacle course races generally spend at least some of their time in a gym or some other fitnessy-type place, where other people who might consider an obstacle course race will also spend some amount of time, and as a race T-shirt is appropriate attire for such a venue, it will in all likelihood be worn there occasionally. While seven bucks a shirt (a value that may or may not be close; it was the first figure I found online for 10,000 printed T-shirts) certainly adds up, it seems like the savings probably wouldn’t justify the ill will.

The fourth brain is safely unrelated and therefore marriageable. And that one is: I don’t get the medal culture—and the other gear gift culture—that seems to run through obstacle course racing like some really good obstacle course racer through a really easy obstacle course. (And boom goes the simile dynamite!) Okay, that’s not 100 percent true—I get it in the sense that medals and horny hats and T-shirts are neat things and that there’s an in-built acquisitive nature to our brains, that says when we see something neat, we must have it.

I can even accept that these schmoogies (a highly technical term I once picked up from a trade show booth organizer) are a nice memento of a nice and relatively unique experience, and even an accomplishment. (Although I can’t let that pass without wondering how many people who are deeply concerned about their finisher gear would in the same breath rant about how the real problem with society is that we’re raising kids to expect a participant ribbon whenever they don’t win something.)

OCR Finisher medals, shirts, hats, sweatbands, and mailers with overly defined dangly bits.

My collection of participant ribbons from two obstacle course races (so far).

From a rational standpoint, I just can’t care too much about these schmoogies. In two OCRs, I’ve got 3 medals (see next paragraph), a headband, a hat, and two shirts, and I don’t think I’ll mind I never get another thingy. I suppose I’m not yet actively bothered at having to find a place to stuff them all, but I don’t see any great value to them, and I don’t understand the great passion when something goes wrong.

As it did, sort of, at the Spartan Stadium Sprint in Milwaukee this year. Whether by typo in the design or a production glitch, the finisher medals said “SPARIAN RACE.” I didn’t actually notice, which is odd for me because proofreading is something I naturally do automatically. I once casually caught a typo in Italian, which is not a language I know. My only defense is that I didn’t actually look at the medal upon receiving it until a few days later, when I saw some hyperbolic complaints on the race’s Facebook page about how the error proved just how far down the toilet the Spartan Race had been flushed and how the poster was NEVER going to do ANOTHER one of those TERRIBLE races AGAIN and how they RUINED Christmas ALSO!!!!!!>!!!

As with most things where words appear in all caps and exclamation points are used, that type of reaction was well over the top.

It should be noted that Spartan Race did send out new medals, presumably to all racers but at least to me, with a correctly spelled medal and even a reasonably charming note. (It also included a few photos, one of which had some reasonably prominent dangly bits concealed only by some yellow Spandex; whether you consider that a plus or a minus is beyond my willingness to judge.) So even if you were traumatized by the incorrectly spelled medal, I can’t imagine not considering that an adequate make-right gesture.

Onto brain 5 and final: T-shirts are a bit of a different animal than medals or horny hats or even headbands, as they have a practical use—preventing you from being distracted by my sexy, sexy nipples. I’ve used both of mine for exactly that purpose, even the Warrior Dash one, which has a design I don’t like and is pretty crappily made besides. So while I wouldn’t miss getting race-completer-stuff if it were done away with, I definitely wouldn’t mind getting more race-completer-T-shirts.

So there you have a lovely mishmash of 5 brains on the topic, enough for a full hand or perhaps a basketball team. Which is the center and which is the bird? (Which mixes the metaphors so delightfully that I couldn’t resist even though it will never make logical sense, as the center is the bird on the former, and the Bird is a center on the latter. Except, as I learned on Wikipedia, he was a forward, but I’m not going to let facts mess with wordplay.) As with a great many things, that’s up for debate.

In this case, I would generally be interested in hearing from people who do care more about their medals/hats/bands/etc. As I said, I don’t really understand that perspective, but I wouldn’t mind doing so. So drop your comments in the comments, and let understanding bloom.



Filed under Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash

4 responses to “Medal Culture, T-Shirts, and (again) Tough Mudder

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