On The Run

Why Coming Last In A Race Is OKAY

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! 🙂

I’m joining Kooky Runner and Zenaida on their link up, Tuesday Topics. Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!

32 thoughts on “Why Coming Last In A Race Is OKAY

  1. I great post, Shathiso! It is so true: everyone is so concerned with their own race and finishing times that they don’t really care about who comes in last. And I especially agree with your last point: runners who come in last are inspirational to people watching. It helps them to see what’s possible and might be the final push to make them sign up for a race.
    I LOVE that last picture of you with the kids!! I am guessing they are your two kids, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What beautiful and inspiring words. I had a tear in my eye at the end of the post as I reflected on my own running journey and why I do it. I think runners are the best kind of people and there is a place for everyone in the running world.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There is absolutely nothing wrong with coming in last! There always has to be someone that finishes last, right? The Ali on the Run Podcast had an interview with the woman who came in last at last year’s NYC marathon. Her perspective was so interesting to hear and she was far from a failure! In fact the support she got made it seem like she possibly had a better experience than many other runners.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve spectated races and seen everything from the intensity of the elites to the joy of the BOTP. No matter where you are in the pack, you’re all running the same race. You get the same medal. You may as well enjoy it, right? I love this post so much, Shiastho!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is absolutely a beautiful piece of work! Every runner has their moment and their place on the course. One thing I especially love is cheering at the finish line…when I was on a marathon relay team, we were waiting for our final runner to come in so we all could finish together. It was so inspiring seeing the “slower” runners coming in…they were the ones smiling, crying, high-5’ing. The faster ones were so focused on that finish line (or their watches); they seem oblivious to the crowd around them.I often believe it’s the “slower” ones who appreciate the struggle of getting to the finish line more, and don’t take anything for granted. I know it’s the tougher races that have taught me more about my strength than the “easier” ones. Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Kim! I loved writing this post and it was so fun to look back at all my experiences. At a race I did in Pretoria a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take it nice and easy and my husband was really going to race it. And at the end, our tales were so different – I found I had appreciated so many aspects to the race and even seen and heard so many interesting things that he hadn’t!

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  6. Love this, I was 2nd from last at my first 10k and 3rd from last at my second 10k. I heard a joke somewhere that back of the packers get more value for their money because they’re on the course longer. But seriously, you and I both know that the only way to lose is not to run the race.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t tell you how much I love this post and it will no doubt inspire someone that might be on the fence about running a race because they don’t want to finish last.

    I’ve never finished last but I’ve been pretty darn close! I can tell you that while I felt a little bit of embarrassment for about 5 seconds, I quickly celebrated that finish line!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! There was one local race where I was the last person and it was perfectly fine. Someone has to be the last person after all. And you’re right, it’s often a really great, supportive environment at the back of the pack 🙂

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  9. I really love this! Coming in last is a fear of mine, and I don’t know why, but it is kind of silly when you think about it. Where I live, most races are very walker friendly, so the time limits are incredibly generous, and I know that I have stayed to cheer on all the finishers – I’m just as happy for the first person as I am for the last.

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  10. I love this! I always say to people you haven’t come last until you’ve come last and fainted across the finish line (ask me how I know!!). And you’re dead right on the inspiration front – I know I’ve got more people running marathons than one of the 3 hour boys in running club will have!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true Liz! Although I love and respect all those who can run marathons in 3 hours, because I know that’s just not me, I relate to the slower runners. When you see someone you relate to, you actually start believing that “Surely, I can do it too!”

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  11. Yes, yes, yes. Everyone’s victory counts!! When I tried to persuade my sister to run a race with me this summer (still don’t know if that’s going to happen), her first worry was “what if I come in last?”. I said that there was a slim chance that this was going to happen, but that even if, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but a personal victory to have followed through with a plan.
    I love your perspective on this!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A beautiful and well written post! Your posts have been motivating and inspiring. You should consider writing/submitting your pieces to an online magazine. 🙂 One way or another we tend to inspire others and sometimes we don’t even realize it. I love seeing the pictures with your kids! You are a beautiful and amazing role model!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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