“In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow (Founder of the New York City Marathon) – A Runner’s World post on Facebook on January 12th, 2014.
As a slow runner, I have often faced the fear of being the last one to cross the finish line. My first half-marathon, I agonized over the possibility. I obsessively checked the finishing times of the participants of the previous year to see if there were people who crossed the line after my projected time. During the race, I just about permanently tweaked my neck from looking over my shoulder to see if there were people still behind me.
As I’ve completed more races, I’ve grown less fearful. The idea still crosses my mind, especially in the smaller, home-town races with fewer participants. And standing in the last corral waiting to start, I hear my fears echoed by the runners surrounding me. The biggest fear of all – being picked up by the busses or vans sweeping up those who will not finish in the allotted time.
However, I also take comfort in the wisdom of Bart Yasso, Runner’s World Chief Running Officer: although someone needs to be the last to cross the finish line, the chances are that it probably won’t be you. And if you are, so what! Even Ryan Hall, two-time Olympian, has crossed the finish line in last place.
In spite of knowing this, here are a few tips to help you feel more confident in your race and to help alleviate your fears.
- Pick your races carefully. Check the course schedule for pacing restrictions before signing up. I usually try to participate in women-centric events that attract racers for many reasons other than personal time records. These course limits are usually a bit more generous than others such as Boston Qualifying events. As an added bonus, the camaraderie is incredible.
- Stay in the corral to which you were assigned but work your way to the head of the corral. If the race has many participants, the clock countdown often starts with the last person crossing the start line. You can give yourself some spare minutes by being in front of the group.
- I’m a huge fan of taking a kazillion photos along the way. Gotta document the journey! But as my husband observed while waiting for me to cross the finish line during my last race, “You could have saved two minutes by not stopping to take pictures”. I just didn’t realize how long I was taking. Particularly during the runDisney races that may have so many opportunities for character photos (with so many lines that eat up your time), I found I’m more comfortable only taking photos towards the end of the course when I know those sweepers are not going to get me!
But, if I did come in last, I would hope that I could celebrate the way that Jenna did when she was the last to cross the finish line in the runDisney Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2013 (even if the celebration was just my imagination going wild, I believe every race should end like this – truly inspiring!).
So, just get out there and have fun! Happy running! Marji