In the Money

Medals and trophies are nice, championships are special, and acclaim is welcome — but there’s nothing like that first cash prize for placing “in the money” at a road race.

My sister Robin, a faithful reader of the blog, reminded me of this the other day when she emailed to say that she had won a $30 dollar New Balance gift certificate, and asked whether that made her a “real runner.”

Hell, yes!

“Real” runners know that it’s all about taking home the big (or little) bucks. I congratulate Robin, who began running in her 50s and is still setting PRs in her 60s for finally deciding to “go pro.”

I often tell the story of winning my first prize that had a cash value. It was in the early 1980’s, and Ann and I were newly married. I finished third in a local race and won a gift certificate to Sears that I gave to Ann, who used it to buy a cordless drill. Every time she used that drill over the next fifteen years, she remembered whence it came and encouraged me to keep training. Nothing else I’ve done in running since then has ever made such a favorable impression on her.

In his autobiography “Marathon,” Clarence DeMar tells a similar story. Early in his career, he had his first payday, winning a local handicap race and receiving a crystal tea service as his prize. Seven Boston Marathon victories and an Olympic medal later, and he still remembered how good it felt to take home something more valuable than a laurel wreath.

I think that one of the things that makes us even more covetous of these cash and merchandise prizes is that there’s an element of luck involved. One’s best performances aren’t always rewarded (those days when a bunch of fast guys show up at the local 5k), and one’s mediocre performances are sometimes good enough. I remember one stretch where I finished one place out of the prizes in three straight races. I also remember my biggest payday ever at the Yankee Homecoming 10-Miler the year that almost no one else in my age group showed up.

I have to laugh when I re-read that last sentence, and especially the phrase “my biggest payday ever.” I would have starved many times over if I had ever tried to live for more than a week on road race prizes. Maybe that’s the other thrill, imagining for a moment that you’re winning the evolutionary battle, surviving on nothing but your fitness (and a knack for finding races with weak field and rich rewards).

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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