Over the years I’ve been collecting race bibs from various races I’ve participated in. Now, you most likely won’t find a collection of race bibs at an ephemera show or museum. But they’re among some of my most cherished ephemera pieces. This article isn’t just for people who race. Rather, it’s to show how even mundane “throw-away” items can become some of the most meaningful pieces in your ephemera collection.

I’ve come to understand that ephemera includes printed paper which has been held onto over time. Think postcards, receipts, stamps, brochures, etc. Now, think race bibs. You may be asking yourself, how are race bibs considered ephemera? Race bibs are meant to be used the day of the race and then be discarded by the racers. However, mine has been preserved and collected over the years. To read more about what exactly ephemera is, check out So You Want to Know More About Ephemera.

Ephemera Tells a Story

Ephemera often tells a story and gives insight into the lives of those who have handled it. A postcard sent to a loved one years ago may depict what life was like back then. We may even get firsthand insight into the sender/receiver relationship. Sometimes, however, we pass ephemera off as something meaningless. A receipt from the grocery store might not give you any insight. However, it may give loads of information to those who view the receipt in a hundred years from now. Think about what they can learn from what you’ve collected over the years.

In hopes of explaining how even seemingly valueless items can affect our own and others’ life stories, I’ve decided to share my journey of race bib collecting and what I’ve learned through this process with you!

My Own Story

My collection of race numbers consists of 63 bibs dating back to my first races in 2008. The latest bib collected was from a 5K Run during Thanksgiving in 2018. Running has always been a huge part of my life. From junior high to high school, a huge focus of mine day in and day out was to improve my race times. This isn’t to say I didn’t work hard academically or in other areas of my life, but just that running was an important part of who I was and continues to play a big role in my life today. From shorter 800m races to full marathons, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

First Race Bib

For example, before my first 5K race in high school, I was extremely nervous, a bit naive, and ready to get a personal best! Little did I know, there was so much more that went into a highly competitive racing environment.

In this race, I struggled not only physically, but mentally. I didn’t expect this to happen at all, as this was one of my first races. I was fighting two battles, one with the runners around me and another within myself. If you are a runner, then you understand how key mental toughness is in performing well. I remember trying to stay positive and just finish the race when moments of discouragement or defeat would seep in.  I wanted my energy to go towards a faster time, but it felt like all my energy was being sucked away by my negative thoughts. Luckily I finished the race but didn’t do as well as I had hoped. I’ve since attributed the results of this race to not being mentally prepared. Here’s a picture of the bib from that first race.

Reflecting back on this race, and other similar races, through careful examination of my bibs, I’ve learned more about life than I have about racing. Life isn’t only about our physical ability to improve and overcome challenges. We are in as much of a physical battle as we are in a mental fight to overcome our weaknesses and challenge ourselves to continuously improve.

This insight and many others throughout my running career have proved to be quite applicable to my daily life experiences.

Marathon Bib Lesson

Fast forward a number of years and many races later, running my first marathon was also a huge game changer for me. Here’s my first marathon bib.

I had put in about a hundred hours of training with some close friends for this one race. More than I had put in for any other single race I had done. One of my goals for this race was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This meant I needed a time of 3:35:00. I was certain I could get the time needed to qualify. Going into the race I felt like I was mentally and physically prepared in every way possible.

I had gone through a training regimen, taken necessary rest days and learned all I could about performing well in a marathon.

The first half of the race went great and I was on pace to get my lofty goal. As the miles rolled on, however, exhaustion started setting in little by little with each mile I completed, but the pressure to get my goal continued to push me on. My friend who I had trained with, and raced most of the race with, had pulled away from me, and after exerting every last bit of energy I had, I just couldn’t catch up to her.

I ended up finishing my first marathon just 2 minutes shy of my goal. So close, yet so far. I remember feeling disappointed in myself. I felt like my training and preparation had gone to waste because I didn’t get the goal I set.

Post Race Reflection

By pulling out this bib, I’ve been able to think back to my exact feelings during and after this race. I’ve since realized a couple of things. First, there’s nothing wrong with setting lofty goals that keep us focused and push us to do things we normally wouldn’t do. I had set this challenging goal and pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of during my training. Unfortunately, when I didn’t reach it, I started beating myself up. This is the second lesson I’ve learned. When we don’t reach the goals we set for ourselves, it’s okay. The journey, the steps we took to get there, and the time and effort exerted are what make us stronger. It’s not all about the completion of our goal.

Reflecting on What You’ve Collected Over the Years

The collection of bibs I have are invaluable to me because of the lessons I’ve learned each time I’ve received a new one. Upon careful reflection, I’ve been able to remember the feelings and experiences I’ve had during the different races. Some of the races have become a bit hazier when I try to remember them, but I still place great value on each one of the bibs I’ve collected.

Setting aside time to pull out your ephemera pieces often leads to gaining a greater appreciation for what you have. It’s amazing what we can learn from reflecting back on our collection.

Are there any things in your collection that make you pause, reflect, and remind you of something new you’ve learned? It’s amazing what can become so meaningful to us when others see it as something so insignificant.

Comment below if you have anything in your own life that may not be meaningful to others, but has left a lasting effect on you! I’d love to hear what lessons you’ve learned from your own collecting journey.

Collection Goals

Similar to what I learned from my marathon, ephemera collecting can lead you to set exciting collection goals. Maybe you’ve set a goal to get your hands on one of the rarest stamps, or a mint condition postcard from the 1800s. These are awesome goals that would require a game plan, specific to what you’d like to do. If you don’t end up reaching your goal in the time frame you want, just know that you’ve probably learned a lot more about collecting ephemera along the way!

My collection of racing bibs is not only a great reminder to me of tough things I’ve gone through but also something to draw strength from when tough times come.

I strongly encourage you to periodically reflect on what you’ve collected over the years.

Best Way to Store or Display Unique Items of Ephemera

Upon researching the best ways to store and preserve printed ephemera, I realized I haven’t been doing it correctly with my race bibs. If you didn’t know there was a “correct” way to store your ephemera, read How Should I Store Ephemera for great insights into the proper way to preserve your collection. My race bibs have been stuffed in a large Ziploc bag over the years, and some have definitely seen better days. With that being said, I plan to properly store them in binders filled with acid-free sheet protectors so that I can easily view and access my bib numbers. These binders and sheet protectors are well rated on Amazon and I can’t wait to use them! Not to mention having my bibs in a binder I can flip through, makes for a much more enjoyable reminiscing experience.

Displaying your ephemera collection is also a fun way to remind you of your meaningful collection. I have yet to figure out the exact way I’d like to eventually display my race bibs, but here’s a fun read for anyone looking for different displaying options: Top 10 Creative Ways to Display Your Ephemera.


Hopefully, you’ve been able to find joy in building your ephemera collection. It’s amazing the value that one can attach to something while it may be a bit unremarkable to someone else. Here’s to collecting, adding personal value to your collection, and making every piece count!