|Duane's medal tree|
The fact that many people will wait patiently after a race through a long, boring ceremony to collect their "treasure" serves as further evidence that people do care about those awards. After all, when else are people so patient? I know if I am in a slow line at the grocery store, I immediately freak out and start looking around for a faster line. Obviously, there are some who do not care about awards, but since you chose to read this post, I am going to assume you are among the 33% who is interested.
1. Think Small: Find small, local races with only a couple hundred people - especially ones that are not well-publicized. In the DC area, many people look at runwashington.com or racepacket.com to find races. If it is not advertised on one of these sites, many people may not know about it. Pacers and PR are two running stores which put on a lot of races too. So, if you can find a race that is not sponsored by one of these stores, it is likely that not a lot of people will show up to challenge you in your age group.
2. Past Results: Look at results from past years. This is a good way to analyze your probability of winning an award. You can see what times would have won you an award in previous years to figure out what your chances are. Be careful though if you are not familiar with the course. One time I ran a race that had really slow times in the previous year. It turned out that the reason for the slow times was that the race course was incredibly hilly. I ended up running a very slow time and not winning an award.
3. Schools and Churches: Races that start at churches and schools (especially elementary and middle schools) tend to be less competitive, and also give out nice age-group awards.
4. Inaugural Events: Inaugural events can be another sure way to score some hardware. Notice that I did not refer to them as "first annual." This is because there is no such thing as first annual. Something must occur in at least two consecutive years for it to be annual. Sorry, this is one of my pet peeves. But these events are ripe for the picking because, since the race is just getting started, usually a lot of people haven't heard of it yet, so it tends to be less competitive.
5. Combined 5k/10k races: These can be a goldmine for award-seekers. First you have the fact that there are two races instead of just one - so your chances of an award have instantly doubled. Also, if your goal is to win an award - DO THE 5K!! Almost every time at these races, the 10k is far more competitive than the 5k. Most of the best runners will be in the 10k. Many times, at races that I have done, the pace of the 10k winner is actually faster than the pace of the 5k winner. Usually, several of the 10k runners could have easily beaten the 5k winner if they had chosen to run the 5k instead.
6. 5-Year Categories: Usually the race website will tell you how many awards they give out. Look for races that do 5-year age categories instead of 10-year categories. Example - awards for 30-34 AND 35-39 instead of just awards for 30-39. Much like 5k/10k races, 5-year age category awards double your chances of winning an award.
7. 3-Deep: Also, look for races that give awards for the top 3 overall, and to the top 3 in each age category if possible. Some races will only give awards to the winner of each age category, so if you get 2nd in your age group, you are screwed. Sometimes, they only do one "overall" award too, instead of 3, which makes it harder to win age group awards.
A few years ago, I really got screwed on this in a 5k. I ran a great race and finished 2nd place overall that day. I was waiting patiently until the awards ceremony started, ready to claim my prize. It turned out that they didn't do ANY overall awards, and only gave out ONE award per age group. And, of course, the only person who had finished ahead of me in the entire race was in my age group! So, even though I finished 2nd place overall, I didn't win anything!! The Bolt for Babies 5k can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. (Just kidding, it was a great race for a great cause. But I am still a little bitter.)
8. Busy Weekends: Try to run races on busy race weekends, when there are multiple races going on in your area - especially if they are in the same town. This waters down the competition, thus making it easier to win awards. Usually, there are a ton of races going on in April and October, so this could be a good time to deploy this strategy.
Well, that is about all I know about winning age group awards. I wish you luck in finding a small, inaugural, 5k/10k, which starts at a church, that gives out awards 3-deep with 5-year age categories, and is not well-publicized, on a busy April weekend. And do me a favor - let me know about it if you do! Thank you for reading. Enjoy your awards!