Many newer runners are afraid of signing up for their first race because they fear finishing last. Heck, I’ve been running 20 years and it still crosses my mind at the start line of nearly every race I do.
I’m not afraid of it anymore, but the long-held idea still bounces around in my brain.
I can tell you from first-hand experience: Nothing bad happens to you even if you do finish last. This isn’t The Running Man. I have finished races last. I have finished races next to last. Me and the guy in charge of the timing machine are probably the only ones who noticed.
Spectators don’t care and other runners are too focused on their own race experience to notice.
You still finish. You get the shirt and the medal and the post-race goodies (correction: you usually get the goodies, but more on that later).
But my saying that doesn’t make the fear go away.
Fear of Finishing Last: Setting Your Mind At Ease
So how do you get over the fear of finishing last?
Consider What ‘Success’ Looks Like To You Before You Start
Before your race, maybe even before you register, consider what you want to see happen on race day.
What would a ‘successful’ race day look like to you?
It is irrelevant what a random stranger would consider success or what the elites would deem successful.
You. What do you, knowing where you are in your running life, knowing what you have already accomplished and what you are capable of: What is your best-case scenario?
Is it a 25 minute 5K? A 45 minute 5K? Just crossing the finish line?
Define for yourself what a successful race will be ahead of time. Before the hoopla and the crowds and race energy kick in. Defining your own success will make it easier to declare a race victory, regardless of what place you finish.
No Comparisons Allowed
Even if you do finish last, that says nothing about you or your race experience. You still finished, which is more than all the people who didn’t have the courage to run or race in the first place.
Maybe they are faster than you to cross the finish line, but that says nothing about you. Your finish place only says how you measured up to a bunch of strangers on a random weekend. That measure is utterly irrelevant in every way.
‘Personal Records’ are called personal for a reason.
Like my second grade teacher always said: keep your eyes on your own paper.
Yeah, But Still…
But what if you are still worried about finishing last?
Maybe you know it doesn’t matter, and you’ll be proud of any finish, but still…
The non-running equivalent to this still happens to me when I take yoga classes. I know not to compare myself to the uber-skinny pretzel-girls in class, and it really doesn’t bother me that I can barely touch my toes.
I still don’t want to be reminded that I am the least flexible girl in class.
Plan Ahead When Selecting Your Race
If you still don’t want to finish last, review your race options before you register. Select a race that:
- Encourages walkers
- Has a designated last runner
- Has awards for being last. This is a newer trend that I fully embrace
- Has a longer race going on at the same time. If you are doing a 5k and there is a marathon going on at the same time, even if you finish last in your race, you won’t be the last one crossing the finish line
Review Course Time Limits
Make sure the race you are considering keeps the course open for a time that is realistic for you. If this is your first race, you may not know exactly what your finish time may be, but use your training times to get an idea of where you will end up.
This is something all runners should do. There is a local trail marathon that I would love to do, but the course is only open for 6 hours. It’s a pretty hilly course, and I’m pretty sure I can’t do that particular course in that timeframe. Since I don’t want the added stressors on race day, that race is off the table for me.
One Area Where It Can Matter If You Finish Last 🙁
Ok, there is one area where it can legitimately suck to be slow and/or last: the post-race food and goodies.
Most races have more than enough food to go around and this isn’t an issue, but sometimes a combination of poor race planning and greedy runners lead to nothing being left for the slower runners at the end.
I recently did a race where due to the number of race day sign-ups, they’d run out of medals by the time I finished. I’ll still get one mailed to me, but it’s just not the same.
When I first started running there was a bakery that supplied these terrible wheat-raisin rolls to every run in the area. I’m sure they were very healthy, but they tasted like sawdust. For years, nearly every race I did had run out of good food (the chips and the bananas), but they always had those rolls left.
One race I did ran out of water at the finish. I still get mad thinking about the faster finishers walking around with a bottle of water in each hand and one under each arm – no wonder they ran out by the time I finished.
Have snacks and water in your car and even in this worst case scenario, you’ll be fine.
Don’t let a fear of being last stop you from running a race you really want to do.
Go out there and embrace racing, whatever speed you may be.