If you’ve been running for long enough and in a big enough variety of events, you have possibly come last or near to last once or twice. Perhaps you were having an off day. Or an injury mid-event ruined your plans. Maybe you were running with someone else to support them and stuck to their pace. The experience will probably not have been the most positive for you. Now think about that being your reality in every event you do. Welcome to the back of the pack.
Life at the back of the pack is a very mixed bag. Sometimes it’s wonderful. The Great Ocean Road half marathon showed me that, hanging out with the most fun loving runners who were taking the event seriously but not themselves and who had time to slow down enough to enjoy the scenery and the experience. How many of those at the pointy end noticed the koalas in the trees or had the breath to say thank you to the farmer handing out jelly snakes?
However, it can also suck and it does so in a large way. Knowing that you’ve put in months of training and are pushing yourself as hard as you can nevertheless can feel woefully inadequate as you are constantly overtaken. Getting to an aid station to find they’ve run out of water/electrolyte/life giving red lollies can seriously knock your psyche. Starting a training run with a group and watching them quickly disappear off into the distance while you hang out alone with the tailrunner is demoralising. Every event or group run I contemplate has to have careful consideration given to whether I’m up for the inevitable issues and I spend a long time looking at prior results and calculating cut off times before I enter. Will I finish before they pack up? Will there be anyone else there at my pace? Will I end up out there alone on the course? Am I prepared for the assumptions (sometimes real and often imagined) – that I haven’t trained properly or that I’m a beginner runner or that I’m not trying hard enough?
I’m not in any way apologising for or embarrassed by my pace – I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and how far I’ve come. I’ve now run 7 half marathons and am close to my 100th parkrun – both milestones that bring me an immense amount of satisfaction and which I have only reached through hard work and consistency. I’m also learning to stop using the word ‘slow’ to describe my running although it’s a hard habit to break. Compared to the old me, I’m stronger, faster and far tougher than I thought I could be. No other comparisons are necessary, I know that. It’s a lot easier to remember that when I’m out on a run by myself and can be harder when surrounded by other runners. So I’ve still got some work to do.
I’m not sure that there is a grand message to this blog post – just wanted to put it out there. For those who are at the well resourced, stocked aid station end – spare a thought for the rest of us and know that a word of encouragement means a lot. I feel grateful to have runners of all speeds in my circle of running friends and appreciate the genuine cheers and congratulations from them during events.
I guess I also wrote this for those of you who haven’t entered an event, held back by fears of not fitting in, being laughed at or not completing what you’ve set out to do. Know that those are my fears too and I’m sure we’re not alone in harbouring them. Just don’t let them stop you from being the best version of you that you can be. The biggest barriers we have to overcome are those in our own minds and there are far worse things that can happen to you than coming last. Like not starting in the first place.