The Hippo


May 31, 2020








Custom-made medals. Courtesy of Millennium Running.

Running for swag
Races upping the free-stuff ante

By Ryan Lessard

 There are a lot of reasons to participate in a race, like getting or staying in shape or raising money for a worthy cause. But admit it — what really motivates you is the free stuff. 

A lot has changed from the days when the most anyone got from a 5K was a shirt. 
“At a minimum you’d get cold water, orange slices and a crappy cotton T-shirt, maybe in your size,” said Loco Running co-founder Arlon Chaffee.
Now, organizers say the options for merchandising are nearly endless .This is partly due to advances in manufacturing and online ordering, but Chaffee said it’s also the result of a boom in the number of road races. 
“Runner incentives, if you will, have become significantly more important. As there are more and more road races out there, you have to offer the runner something besides a slap on the back,” Chaffee said. 
The T-shirts, for example, have all upgraded from cotton to wicking performance technical Ts. 
“That’s the bare minimum,” Chaffee said. 
Other items have begun to appear in recent years, according to Jake Dodge, the director of creative services at Millennium Running.
“We’ve been trying to keep things unique with what you’re getting,” Dodge said.
A hooded sweatshirt was offered at last year’s Snowflake Shuffle, and participants of the Millennium Mile on New Year’s Day got scarves. This year, runners in the Traveler Beer Half Marathon on Oct. 23 will get fleece jackets. Earlier this year, runners at the Red, White and Brew race got trucker hats. Last year’s Yule Light Up the Night race in December came with hats with LED lights.
And at the Halfway to Saint Patrick’s Day 5K on Sept. 18, the first 1,000 registrants will get a green plaid kilt, Dodge said.
Medals & collectibles
Millennium Running partners with Ashworth Awards to make all their race medals and Dodge said they customize everything to make each race medal unique.
“I’ll supply the artwork, they can do any size medal, they’ll do custom ribbons to go with the medals. Everything’s fully custom. They have medals that spin, medals that can glow, medals that can have ... glitter or paint or anything on it,” Dodge said.
Some medals and memorabilia are awarded as a set to a series or as a single award for completing the whole series. Dodge said each of the Holiday Hat Trick series races came with hot cocoa mugs branded for each race.
Useful merch
The latest trend in race merchandising has been items that serve multiple purposes — like engraved spatulas or grillmaster aprons for the Ribfest race, Dodge said. 
Chaffee said useful items have more marketing value since they get more visibility. They’re more likely to be photographed in a selfie or used as a conversation starter in someone’s living room.
“I have these hooks in my garage. I get back from a half marathon, I hang [my medal] up there. … And then it sits there and gathers dust,” Chaffee said. “So, if you can do a coaster or a fridge magnet or a bottle opener, it lives on. It has utility beyond bragging rights.”
The medal awarded at the Smuttynose Brewing Rockfest Half Marathon is also useful — it has a bottle opener cast into the bottom end of it.
Chaffee said some races have come with branded towels and athletic bags, compression sleeves with the race name on them or branded headbands — a mix of apparel and utility.
Need to recharge your electrolytes or fill up on carbs after a good run? Your options there have improved as well.
“The food has gone from orange slices to bagels and now pizza,” Chaffee said.
At the Rockfest race, there’s lobster rolls and clam chowder, for example, and at the Boot Scootin’ Boogie 5K in July, there were pulled pork sliders, frozen yogurt pops and an ice cream truck. Snowflake Shuffle runners get free soup and pasta from Bedford’s Copper Door restaurant, where the race ends.
And then there’s beer. Loco organizes the Will Run For Beer race series that culminates with Rockfest, and Millennium has the Red, White and Brews event. Plus, plenty of non-beer-focused runs include a ticket for a drink after the race.
“With [a lot] of our road races we give a post-race beer at a local bar,” Dodge said. 

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