I’ve made no secret of the fact that signing up for races motivates me to stay on track with my running. But I know there are many people who think, “I won’t put myself through that. What if I come last?” An easy response to that would be “Don’t worry, there’s a very slim chance of that happening” but seeing as I’ve come last (or close to last) a few times, I am going to share why coming last is okay. Yes, it really is! In the photo below, can you tell that my cousin Tapiwa and I placed last and second last? Or do you just see two wide-grinned girls showing off their medals?
1/ You Deserve To Be There: When I started running, I spent so much time feeling like an imposter and it took a long time to convince myself that although I’m slower than others, I deserve my space on that road as much as anyone else. My husband runs a Half at least 40 minutes faster than me but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a runner. I’m just slower and that’s okay. So even if you’re shuffling along, your breathing pattern is out of whack and your body hurts all over, you deserve your space in that race and no one can tell you otherwise. And from my experience, most runners only have kind words of encouragement and funny anecdotes to share. The photo below was taken at my second race in 2017. It was a gruelling and hilly 10K race and I struggled at the back of the pack for most of it. But I earned that Finish Line.
2/ People Don’t Care: Most runners on Race Day are so concerned with their own race, their fueling, their race strategy, that niggling injury, that they are really not focused on anyone else, let alone whether you are likely to come last or not. Your pace and ability is your concern. If I’m not mistaken I think I was one of the last to finish in this race – it was my first 5K Trail and I got so incredibly lost but I finished. Aside from my husband and friend Polelo who were concerned about my whereabouts, no one was bothered that I was one of the last finishers.
3/ Everyone’s Victory Counts: When I was in Secondary School, I was struggling with Maths at one point. The struggle was real – 12% and 26% marks were not unheard of. One day, I came home with 54% to great cheers from my mum and dad. These cheers probably rivalled the other kid in class who got 100%, LOL. But the point here is that the 54% for me was worth celebrating because I’d worked hard and done way better than last time. And it’s the same for running. The person who does a sub-1 hour 10K is just as elated as the person who got under 1h30 for the first time or the person who finished their first race. Take any group photo of mine, look at our big smiles, and you’d never guess that our times are actually incredibly different.
4/ Not All Races Are Great: But of course there will be races that disappoint you. The one that stands out for me is the Gabs Half Marathon last year. I trained so hard but I was one of the last to finish and I felt that I deserved more. But truth is, there were far faster runners on that day than myself. But this disappointment fueled in me a greater desire to work harder and be more consistent. It forced me to adjust certain things in my training and in the very next race I got a PB. Even the best runners have a bad day, and you will too. Again, that’s okay.
5/ Fun At The Back: I’ve found from my time at the back of the pack, that there is a very friendly vibe and atmosphere, a lot of banter and solidarity. I remember a race in South Africa where every time we approached an uphill, runners would shout, “Here comes the Monster” and as we huffed and puffed our way up there was such an awesome spirit. You could feel such positive energy even with all the suffering. I also had so much fun at the Kgale Hill Challenge in 2018 and in this photo, we (strangers) are pushing each other along to finish a tough race.
6/ You Get An Awesome Finish Line: There is some fan fare when the first runners come through but look at the team waiting for me at the Finish of my Gabs Half last year! They cheered and clapped as I came through, genuinely happy to see me. And boy, was I happy to see them! The small crowd left on the sidelines was also so supportive and encouraging and because there was no one else there, my friend Zurika came running behind me with my kids in tow! That would not have happened if there were still many runners out! 😉
7/ You Inspire Others: I think it’s fair to say that we are all inspired by the Eliud Kipchoges, the Isaac Makwalas and the Gerda Steyns of the world. But very often their achievements are so far out of reach for the majority of us. The person watching a race on the sidelines is probably more inspired by you – the runner who has struggled their way through the race but has finished. Without even realising it, you are inspiring so many others who see themselves in you. You might not run as elegantly as Eliud, but your finish still shows strength, grit, determination and courage. And for people watching, that’s inspirational. By getting to the Finish Line, you’ve most likely encouraged someone else to get off the couch. How incredible is that? And your kids watching you? Well, if they are anything like mine, they think you won the race. 😉
Signing up for a race is scary. It certainly takes you out of your comfort zone. It gives you butterflies in your tummy. It makes you question your sanity. But it also motivates you to train and to put in the work even when you don’t feel up to it. And what’s the worst that can happen? If coming last is your answer, then what are you waiting for? Sign up! 🙂