One of the most common reasons I hear for people not taking up running or entering events is that they are afraid that they will be last, hold people up or be embarrassingly slow. I completely appreciate the anxiety and emotions behind this fear. After all we were brought up to believe that the point of being in a race is to try and win, and we are competitive creatures by nature, always comparing our performance to others, and trying to avoid painting ourselves in a bad light.
However, for me, being afraid of coming last in a race or even being slow on a training run is kind of missing the point. That is because you forget to compare yourself to the people who haven’t even turned up, and also you forget the most important comparison of all. How are you doing today compared to yesterday? How are you doing this week compared to last month? How are you doing against the goals and dreams you have for yourself? In truth where you come in relation to others is far less important than how you feel in yourself, as I’m sure many a weeping Olympic Silver Medallist can testify to. Just think, 2nd best in the whole world, and yet completely gutted because they haven’t met their own personal goal.
In a way I’m lucky. I’m a well trained back-marker. Yes I could win the class cross country when I was 14 years old, but I ran many cross country league events as a teenager where I would finish in the bottom 5. This never bothered me. I hadn’t normally trained much and was happy just to make it to the finish. Routinely on a set of race results I always look for my name backwards from the last finisher. If I have more than 10 behind me I consider it a good day. Recently I’ve had up to 50 behind me in some large races, which is outstanding! As I say, comparing today with yesterday.
I have spent years of my life not taking part in sport at all, and I would prefer 1000 times to be in a race in last place than to feel trapped in inactivity on the couch. (Of course, had I thought that at the time I would have got off the couch – so it’s not quite that simple). I suppose my point is, don’t let fear and anxiety stand in your way. There is no shame in last place, even if it does happen, which it may very well not. I admire most the runners who come in last. They’ve been out the longest, often worked the hardest and frequently shown the most courage. If it was up to me I would probably award prizes by starting to count positions from last. And at least then I might finally get an Olympic medal someday!