Medal Mishap

As a Race Director and a runner, it was my worst nightmare. I spend thirteen months a year doing everything I can to make this race an individually special experience for a group of 18,000 people. Further, I have a team of 20 in addition to 3,000 volunteers who put everything they can into achieving this same goal. Yesterday, our finish line was not the one I imagined. My disappointment in that is profound. My job is to oversee each and every aspect of this race, and this year, circumstances beyond my control resulted in your disappointment. For that, my team and I are truly sorry.

About 1/6th of our field did not get their medals placed around their necks at the finish of their race. Many of you were rightfully upset and wanted an explanation; to provide an explanation, I need to tell a story.

We ordered our medals in June, almost five full months ahead of the race. As most races of our size do, we had to order the medals from a company overseas. Shipping is always a challenge, but we’d ordered in the same timeframe as many years past and had no concerns.

The first week of September, however, a typhoon hit Japan and significantly delayed our medal shipment. Our medals were still due to be on US soil by October 11, and duly arrived in Long Beach, CA on October 11. They were due to be headed to Columbus that Monday, and while the timeline was close, I breathed a lengthy sigh of relief. Unfortunately, due to the backlog of shipments created by the typhoon, the medals were further held up in processing, and I faced the difficult task of preparing crisis communications that were due to go out to our participants on Saturday evening. Having to draft an email to you announcing that we would not have your finishers medals at the end of Sunday’s race was one of the hardest things I have ever faced in my professional life.

Instead, I learned late Friday evening that U.S. Customs had finally released our medals. Knowing from our vendor that there were no cargo flights available that Saturday, let alone for same day shipping, I still had my PR team prepared to launch our communications strategy; there was simply too much space between Long Beach, CA and Columbus, OH to get this done in a day. In addition, we still had an Expo to run, a start/finish area to build, and all of our usual race weekend preparations to attend to.

The man who was in charge of shipping, Allen Lam, felt personally responsible for getting these medals to us on time. Meanwhile, members of my team were also working together on my behalf – without my involvement – because they too shared the importance of the finisher’s medal. So began the epic one-day journey of your finishers medals, as Allen and a colleague picked up all 18,000 medals and started their journey from Long Beach, CA to Columbus, OH late Friday night. They worked in shifts to keep going and not lose time, with an ETA in Columbus of 6 am on race day – Sunday morning.

My team pulled together like never before, coordinating with Allen, learning geography (CA-AZ-NM-OK-MO-IL-IN-OH), getting almost hourly updates the day and night before the event. An entire team was working at high speed – but contending with speed limits and time zones – to make this right, and an entire team of volunteers was on-call to unwrap and hang these medals for you the moment they arrived, and before you reached the finish line.

Unfortunately, Allen lost some time in construction zones in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and the medals, both fortunately and unfortunately, arrived at the finish line at 9:30 a.m. What appeared chaotic and perhaps even happenstance to some onlookers was truly anything but: it was our desire to get these medals into your hands before you left that finish line. Hence the golf carts and forklifts, and in some instances, the still wrapped medals. We know that something is lost in not having the medal placed around your neck; we also know these were extraordinary circumstances.

We absolutely understand the frustration and irritation with the medal situation. We know that some of you may feel a moment was lost that can never be recaptured. For that, again, we are truly sorry and we will make sure that each person who missed their medal receives it promptly.

If needed, please email with your mailing address and we will make sure that each person who wasn’t able to get their medal, will receive one.

I am so truly grateful to each of you for choosing our race, as well as your patience and grace with this situation, and I hope that you enjoyed the rest of an inspiring Race Day!


Darris Blackford


35 thoughts on “Medal Mishap

  1. Darris and Team,
    Thank you so much for your dedication in ensuring the medals arrived. I for one appreciate your taking the taken to tell the story.

    Circumstances happen, and typhoons can not be anticipated. I love my hometown marathon and this certainly didn’t change that!

    You are awesome my friend!

    My best to you,
    Heather Eland

  2. Thank you so much for your dedication and tenacity. It is a testament to your goodwill and professionalism. I know each of you take your responsibilities, and this race, personally and you should be applauded. Every single person involved in getting those medals to the finish line should watch the video of little patient champion Emma. After she crossed the finish line she held onto that medal so tight taking about how pretty it is. Your effort was WORTH IT.

  3. I was one of those who didn’t get my medal hung around my neck at the finish line, instead had to wrestle through a crowd and eventually find a person who handed it to me still wrapped in plastic. I was disappointed, but hearing this story, I am appreciative of the work you went through to get them to us as soon as you were able! The Columbus Marathon is always an awesome experience, despite mishaps. Thank you!

  4. Thank you for all that you did to make this marathon such a wonderful event! Luckily for me, I didn’t cross the finish line until around noon so I wasn’t effected by the minor delay (grin). I’m confident that those who were effected by the delay will really appreciate the message above and also appreciate all the efforts that you and all the volunteers put into this to ensure the medals got to the finish line. Thanks again!

    Mark J. Gardner

  5. Wow! Well to go through what you did to get them here was nothing short of a great feat. That is amazing dedication I hope everyone can understand. To send out a letter saying, “we’re sorry, you’re medal will be mailed to you”, you could have easily done, but no, you personally drove across the country 2 days prior to the event and picked them up! Unwrapping the medals ourselves may not have been ideal to you. I thought it was a little odd but didn’t think much of it, hey I got it, that’s all I cared about being my first half marathon. But it says a lot reading this blog and knowing you guys went way out of your way to make sure the medals got there. I am impressed. Thank you so much for everything you do! I had an awesome first experience and I plan on returning next year!

  6. I thought it was strange that the medals weren’t there, but I figured there was a good reason for it. Thanks for the story behind the delay. It was a great event, even with a minor hiccup.

    Now about the gear check pickup lines… 🙂

  7. Marathon effort to make it happen! Big kudos to you and the team for putting in the effort! I have finished the Columbus marathon five times (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010) and would still be coming to do the race every year if I had the time to travel. Always an A+ job in my book!!

  8. Thanks for the explanation. Things happen. One suggestion could you have made an announcement at some point that morning letting the few thousand people standing around from 9-10a (At this point I assume you had a good idea of where the medals were and when they would arrive) what was going on. If I would have known you would have mailed mine I would have hopped in my car and drove home right after the race instead of standing in the chilly weather.. I tried to get any info from anyone and no one knew a thing? Anyway great job on all the other details. See ya next year.

  9. Columbus Marathon Staff,
    I cannot imagine the stress this must have caused. We truly appreciate your efforts, and no “medal mishap” could take away the amazing race you put on.
    Until next year,

  10. Appreciate your team’s efforts and the medal mishap won’t overshadow all the good seen on the race course yesterday morning! Thanks to you, your team, and all the volunteers for their hard work in creating an opportunity to showcase all that’s good with our City!

    Greg Kullman

  11. This was my second half marathon but my first one in Columbus. I finished a bit before the medals came out but it did not bother me. I was amazed at how everything went that day and will DEFINITELY be back next year!
    As far as the explanation, things like that are obviously not foreseeable but it shows a lot about you for writing this letter to explain what happened behind-the-scenes.
    See ya next year!

  12. Wow! Awesome job, Darris (and team)! I received my medal still wrapped in plastic, but didn’t think anything of it. I was just happy to have finished my first marathon. The whole experience was fantastic and I’d recommend this race to anyone.

  13. Thank you for the heartfelt explanation. I was one of the runners who did not get a medal at the finish but rather at the gong when they became available. Knowing this information is very much appreciated and I thank you for all of the effort that was put forward. This is my favorite half marathon that I participate in and plan on being there next year!

  14. Great race. Thanks for the explanation. Fortunately for me, I was five minutes slower than my previous Cbus half marathon and heard the announcement that the medals arrived just as I crossed the finish line. Thanks for a great day.

  15. I appreciate you letting us know. I did receive my medal, after I tracked someone down and it was handed to me in a plastic bag. I was disappointed in a lot of things in the race (specifically the finish – like the post race food), so I suppose this added to the frustration.

  16. Many rushed to judgment but I appreciate your time to give us your side of the story. First time at this race and loved it! I thought it was a little weird that there were no medals but wasn’t going to get on facebook like others did and pass immediate judgment. Thanks for your story and will see you next year! Loved your race.

  17. I didn’t run in Columbus on Sunday but have friends from Pittsburgh (SCRR) who did. This is an awesome story. You are very deserving of our support. I would be proud to run the Columbus Marathon some day. Thank you !

  18. Sorry it didn’t quite work out the way it was planned. But you and your crew definitely get an “A” for effort. We racers can be quick to bark when problems arise at races. It’s really important for people to hear about the “unseen” hard work that goes into putting on a race.

  19. No worries, man. It’s just hardware. Nothing can negate the accomplishment. I’ve run marathons and ultras with no medals to be given before and will again. I think it’s safe to say most people who run don’t do it for the bling. I have a feeling a lot of them just end up in a shoe box, anyway.

  20. Appreciate your efforts! It was a great race. But…….try having the medals made locally, I’m sure Columbus has a company that would do this. Thanks ! 🙂

  21. I’ve run 53 marathons and only one did not fulfill the promise of a medal. They made no effort to correct the situation. The lengths you and your team went to in order to provide what you know is an important part of the experience for so many people is inspiring. I will go home this afternoon, look through my medals and find Columbus and remember the great race I had there – and know why this is such an outstanding event year in and year out.

  22. I did not run this marathon, and only heard about the medal mishap through this article posted on a running group Facebook page. I can only imagine the disappointment by the staff and RD not to have executed this part of the race as they envisioned. Being transparent about what happened – and also the effort that went in behind the scenes – is admirable and gives this race high marks, in my opinion. I will look into it for the future.

  23. Wow. I’ve managed crisis communications. It is always hard to know what to say when, since the situation might be different in 10 minutes. Sounds like ke it was a grat team effort.

  24. I know for some having a medal put around their neck after a race is important. But for me it wasn’t about the medal, it was about completing a goal. I had the honor of volunteering at the Expo and running the 1/2 marathon. Thank you for a wonderful race.

  25. 24 hours later, most should-by now- realize that their accomplishment was never about a Medal (or T-Shirt). Regardless, thanks for the explanation. “Life happens”- and many of us faced many unforeseen obstacles through our training and racing. It’s what makes us strong. See ya next year.

  26. While I was initially disappointed and frustrated (because we skipped our official finisher photo in hunt of the medals), my husband and I ended up making the most of it. Our moment felt right and real and personal. And then to read this yesterday made everything fall together. Thank you for sharing this with us, for working so hard to deliver an amazing experience as always.

    We’ll be back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s