Have the Brands Gone Too Far? Boston Marathoners Think So.

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Cathy Connor loves the Boston Marathon. She loves the camaraderie. She loves the mystique of the event, which dates to 1897 as the world’s oldest annual marathon. She loves the idea that she gets to run the same rolling course that has been conquered by greats like Kathrine Switzer, Meb Keflezighi and Des Linden.

Ms. Connor, 58, loves the Boston Marathon so much that she has raced in it nine times. But there is one thing that she, and many of her fellow runners, do not love: the redesigned medal, which will be bestowed upon the 30,000 athletes who finish the 26.2-mile race on April 15.

“It was kind of a letdown when I saw the picture,” Ms. Connor, a graphic designer from Pittsburgh, said in a telephone interview. “Why mess up a good thing? This isn’t a turkey trot.”

The new medal bears more than a passing resemblance to versions from past years. The principle image, as usual, is of a golden unicorn, the longtime logo of the Boston Athletic Association, the marathon’s organizing body.

But the new medal has raised hackles among purists because of a key difference: It was redesigned to feature a large banner for Bank of America, the race’s corporate sponsor, along the bottom edge.

“I don’t like that it suddenly looks like it’s the Bank of America Marathon,” George Christopher, 55, of Downingtown, Pa., said, “and that the Boston Athletic Association barely has anything to do with it.”

The Boston Marathon has been giving out finisher medals since 1983, a practice that countless other marathons have since adopted. For Boston finishers, though, the medal seems especially significant. You can’t enter Boston on a whim. With few exceptions, you either need to have achieved a qualifying time in another marathon or be willing to raise money for a charity.

Also, the race is tough — lots of hills, the occasional storm. The finisher medals are earned.

Eve Lanham, 39, is hoping to run fast enough at the Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon in Las Vegas on Saturday so she can qualify to run Boston next year.

“For dedicated marathon runners, Boston is sacrosanct,” Ms. Lanham, who lives in San Diego, said in an email. “For someone like me, running Boston will be a huge achievement, and likely not something I’ll be able to do regularly. I want the medal to be good quality, and the emblematic unicorn to be featured, not yet another ad for a big bank as the primary focal point.”

Bank of America is in its first year as the race’s presenting sponsor, after a 38-year run by John Hancock, an insurance company based in Boston. And the bank did not waste time making a significant change, as this is the first time that a corporate logo has been splashed across the front of the medal.

After a local television news story about the production of the new medals aired in February, a thread on Reddit captured the general mood: “Nauseating!” one person wrote.

A few weeks later, marathon officials posted a photo of the medal on Instagram. But if they were expecting plaudits for their commitment to sustainability — the medals and ribbons are made from recycled materials — they miscalculated. The comments section was a grease fire. Reactions ranged from “extremely disappointed” to “so sad.” The trash basket emoji was used liberally.

“The B.A.A. understands how much a finisher medal means to Boston Marathoners,” a spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association said in a statement, adding: “Just as they have for decades, we feel that participants will wear them with pride and cherish them upon reaching the finish line.”

Representatives for Bank of America did not respond to a request for comment.

In October, Ms. Lanham ran the Chicago Marathon, which is also sponsored by the bank. But the medal for that race, she said, was “a lot more tastefully done,” with the brand name across the top in a comparatively modest typeface.

Mr. Christopher, who ran Boston in 2020 as a pandemic-era virtual race, said he was excited to tackle the course for real later this month. He also understands the collective frustration with the new medal. He has one from another race that was manufactured by the same company.

“It’s a wonderful medal,” he said. “However, the Boston medal has looked a certain way for a while, and I think everyone was looking forward to getting one that looked like that.”

Ms. Connor, who ran her first marathon at age 39 and has finished 37 since, understands better than most the hard work that goes into them. Last weekend, she completed her final long run — 21 miles — ahead of her 10th Boston Marathon. Is the new medal disappointing? Sure.

“Because it’s always about money,” she said.

But a hunk of heavily branded recycled metal will not dull her enthusiasm, she said, and she hopes to run many more marathons, including one in France, the Marathon du Médoc, where athletes earn a different type of prize: glasses of wine at every aid station.

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