Swag: Its Glory Days

by Benita Zahn and Friends

Picture Made by Bing AI Illustrator

I’ve been contemplating signing up to run the Syracuse Half Marathon in the spring. A former colleague and runner, Kevin Montano, raves about the race. The deciding factor may be the swag. As I perused Facebook, I saw a post about the race and it touted a lovely ¼ zip pullover. That got me thinking about the giveaways associated with race registrations, and if they make a difference in encouraging runners to sign up for an event and if the quality and quantity of those items have diminished over the past 20 years.

Many years ago, there was a sweet 5k in Delmar, the Mother’s Day Race. I vividly recall friends encouraging me to run it because of the swag, a pair of running shorts. But that’s not all. I checked with Sharon Boehlke who, along with her husband Chet, were race directors for a number of years (not the Mother’s Day Race). She remembered that umbrellas, cooler bags, tote bags and mugs were also given to runners at the Mother’s Day race.  Talk about booty!

That wasn’t the only race that piled on the goodies. Sharon reminded me that during her tenure as race director for the Child’s Challenge (remember Child’s Hospital, now part of Albany Med?), they gave away socks, windbreakers, safety belts and specially designed shirts. I had the socks for years until the washing machine ate one! Sharon shared that she often meets runners who tell her they still have ALL the swag.

Standout local runner Denise Herman still has the cloth tote bag from the Mother’s Day run. But the race that keeps her coming back is the Freihofer’s Run for Women. She’s been toeing the line since its inception 46 years ago. She loves the course, competition and camaraderie, but she also loves the shirts, chocolate chip cookies and finish ribbon along with, as she terms it, a great finish line party. By the way, back in 1979 the registration fee was only $5!

In chatting with Tom Dalton, who has walls filled with first place finisher ribbons and trophies, he said that while he hasn’t run a race because of the swag, he’s run some with very nice giveaways. Probably the top of the list is the NY Empire State Games back in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Runners were outfitted head to toe, including a warm-up outfit. I’d try to make that team! He also recalled the polar fleece tops given to winners at the Schenectady Stockade-athon.

There’s lovely pottery – mugs and bowls – given to winners at the Teal Ribbon Run which supports ovarian cancer research. And how about those great long sleeve, heavyweight tops you got for running the Miles Along the Mohawk during the waning days of the pandemic. Heck, at the recent Troy Turkey Trot I spotted a host of folks wearing that top.

If you’ve ever competed in a Diva race, ladies only, you may have gotten a tutu along with headbands and very pretty medals. You get heavy duty medals for competing in a RAGNAR event. But by and large these days all you’ll find in your race bag is a t-shirt, some brochures for local businesses and hopefully enough pins for the bib or better yet, bib snaps that don’t poke holes in your clothing.

So, you decide. Does the swag make the race, or don’t you care? And what would you like as a giveaway? Frankly, I’d like a little more than a t-shirt given the cost of races nowadays. For example, The SingleCut North and Side Stage Tap Room in Clifton Park sponsored a great 5k – the Singlecut Have a Drink on Me this past April 29th. All competitors got socks and a beer. No question, I’ll be signing up for that one again. This year it takes place May 4. Will a skimpy swag bag keep me from signing up for other races? Probably not, but that lovely running top has me seriously considering the Syracuse Half.


HMRRC Member Survey: What was the Best Swag You Received?

Jon Lindenauer

My three all-time favorite swag items were the jacket for the Adirondack Distance Festival (2022)- it is thin and light with a great fall foliage design and color scheme; the jacket for the 2023 HMRRC Marathon/Half - it has a sharp layout and is excellent for either running in for a warm up or a cool day, or just walking around in; the finisher shirt for the 2014 Tobacco Road Marathon, that year if you qualified for Boston they gave you a special shirt at the end of the race that said you were a qualifier (I did not properly appreciate at the time that not many marathons actually do that). Honorable mention would be the Boston Marathon gear - every year they have great new items: hats, jackets, shirts. It is perhaps unsurprising, but it is definitely some of the best swag someone can acquire for any running race, and you have to earn it!

Amanda Aussems

I really like my long sleeve t-shirt from the 2013 NYC Marathon!! It’s one of my favorites and I wear it at all the time!

John Parisella

2003 Pittsburgh Marathon. Tough nylon Cordura travel kit for stuff like small bottles of shampoo, razors, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. It is still in perfect condition. The cotton race shirt is still in great shape as well.

Katie McNamara

I got as an award a diamond wedding band from our Wedding Day 5K in 2017, timed by AREEP.

As for swag, I like the blankets from the Richmond Marathon and Half Marathon (2019) and I still use my mouse pad from MiamiMan 70.3 in 2016. MiamiMan also gave us mugs and good hats.

Ryan Cooper

For swag, the 23.1 Challenge Medals Josh did this year were pretty cool. The individual medals with the one that joined the two was cool. Also, the 2022 Helderberg to Hudson medal of Henry Hudson’s ship, the Half Moon, that split apart was awesome.

David Roy

NCR Marathon, 2017, long sleeve quarter-zip marathon running shirt with pockets and an NCR blanket (it’s a late November race).

Shaun Donegan

Hmm, swag.  Bacon Hill Bonanza would give out gift baskets full of items from local business and farms, with eggs, syrup, pies, pastries, cheeses, and gift cards.

My favorites are races that give out mugs! I love mugs.

Lauren Scarupa

I think my favorite swag is when there's a nice high-quality running clothing item (not just a cotton t-shirt). I always enjoy the Mohawk Hudson long sleeve tech shirts (this year's design/colors was my favorite so far)...  Boston Marathon has really nice long sleeve shirts, too! The Heady Trotter race in Stowe, VT, gave away these heavy duty, thick winter beanies a few years ago, I wear that often on my cold running days!

Emily Taft
I think my favorite swag is when there's a nice high-quality running clothing item (not just a cotton t-shirt). I always enjoy the Mohawk Hudson Marathon and Half Marathon long sleeve tech shirts (this year's design/colors was my favorite so far). The Boston Marathon has really nice long sleeve shirts, too! The Heady Trotter race in Stowe, VT, gave away heavy duty, thick winter beanies a few years ago, I wear that often on my cold running days!

Aidan Canavan

The Cherry Blossom 5k in Niskayuna used to give out a massive cheesecake to the winner that was very tasty. They stopped doing that in 2015.

I did it my senior year of high school expecting a cheesecake and II ended up getting pancake mix, which wasn't bad, but I would have preferred the cheesecake!

Sarah Parks

Best swag is from the Freihofer's 5k Run for Women! Every year there is a big fun expo with lots of vendors. I have gotten pint glasses, samples of things like gels and electrolytes, and there are fun things for kids like temporary tattoos and poster making. And there are cookies and bread from Freihofer's.

Alyssa Bove

I think my favorite was from the Wilmington Historic Half Marathon in 2021- the medal was HUGE! Plus, that race had a great bag- a quarter zip that’s come in handy.

Nathan Laing

For general giveaways, it has to be winter hats, gloves or buffs to stay warm!

As for specific awards, probably the collapsible seat from the inaugural Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon in 2019.  I still use it when course marshaling or camping!

Theresa DeLorenzo

The best swag I have ever received in a race was my recent Grand Circle Trail festival.  We received a shirt 3-4 months before that said "In training for Grand Circle Trail Fest."  Then when we got there, we got a t- shirt AND a sweatshirt.   The festival was three days long so at the end of the race each day, we got not just a medal but the largest medal you have ever seen.  And they gave us a wooden holder that all three medals fit into!

Julianne McCarthy

Race swag: I would say the best conversation piece I won would be a bar tap handle trophy from my 2021 win at the Single Cut 5k, but probably the nicest award with most thought put into it was a 2nd place age group win at the Big Apple Half 2021 in which I was mailed an engraved paperweight with my name and age group win in the shape of the Big Apple Half logo. NYC Runs is a great organization.



Loading Conversation

Partner Clubs

Partner clubs offer group runs and local races to the Capital Region running community

Create Account



Log In Your Account