But What If I Finish Last? (Guest Post)

We all have fears about trying something new.  Nowhere is the fear of having a poor result more present than in sport. No one wants to see their name at the bottom of the list of results.

I am an avid follower of Robin Sharma, who is a great proponent of facing your fears.  He says, “Run towards your fears.  Embrace them.  On the other side of your greatest fears lives your greatest life.”

Although I’ve participated in endurance sports my entire life – running, cycling and cross-country skiing, 2008 was my introduction to the sport of duathlon.  Duathlon is like triathlon, but without the swimming, so it is a run-bike-run competition.

After a fairly successful first season in local races, I discovered that the Canadian Duathlon National Championships were being held in Montreal (only about a 7 hour drive away from where I live).

I also found out that if I competed there, I would stand a good chance of qualifying for the Age-Group World Championships in North Carolina the next year.  But the problem was, I knew the competition would be far better than me.

Did I really want to drive 7 hours to take part in a race that I knew deep down, I had zero chance of doing well in?  Intense fear and negative self-talk almost prevented me from taking part, but  I participated anyway and came, you guessed it, dead last in my age group.  But I still did well enough that I managed to qualify for Worlds the next year.

You’d think that the elation of qualifying for Worlds would be enough to set aside any future fears, but it actually only compounded it. At the World Championships, not only was I out of my league but our required uniform was made of red spandex.  Stretchy red bike shorts on me….not my favourite look!

Worlds NC 2008

Race day came and so did the rain.  I adjusted my goal to “not crashing on the bike, and not being last”.  In the end, I missed my time goal and was second last in my age group, but it just didn’t matter…. I was able to compete at the international level, which is something I never imagined possible in my younger years.

When I hear friends use the fear of finishing last as a reason to not enter a competition, I say to them, what is so bad about finishing last?  Is it embarrassment?  Concern over what other people will think?  What to say when people ask you how you finished?

It may be helpful to have your answer already prepared in your mind, such as

  • I achieved my time goal
  • I ran according to my plan of alternating running and walking
  • I had a wonderful time outside on a beautiful day
  • I loved helping to raise money for a great cause
  • I spent a great morning outside with my friends
  • I tried something for the first time in my life and I loved it!

And what if you do finish last?  What if someone makes a negative comment to you about that?

Ask yourself, Why are they saying this?  What does this comment say about them and their mindset?  Do not let their negative comments take away from your achievement.

Fast forward to 2016, and I am now attempting to regain my fitness after several years of life upheaval.  Just last weekend, I again finished last.  This time it was not just last in my age group, but last overall.  I was actually in last place within the first 10 metres of the race, and I held on to that place for the next 3 hrs and 18 minutes… but that’s a story for another blog post.

Bracebridge Duathlon, August 7th…. I would like to say I was finishing ahead of the guys in the picture below, but they were in the triathlon that started after the duathlon!

Bracebridge 2016

You will never know what you are truly capable of, until you try.  Sign up for that event, use the fear to motivate you to train, stand on the starting line and know that you are pursuing something awesome. Focus on how proud you will be when you finish your first competition.  When you cross that finish line, absorb the cheers of the crowd and be grateful for what you have just accomplished.  Do not let the fear of finishing last prevent you from experiencing some of the great events that are out there.

9 thoughts on “But What If I Finish Last? (Guest Post)

  1. I love this. I think we are so ruled by fear so often, without really thinking about whether there is anything to really be afraid of.

    In the last few years I’ve had some relatively minor but devastating to my fitness health issues. Last year I trained for an Olympic-length triathlon using an “unfit beginner” plan. I knew very well I was likely to come in last. I spent a lot of the summer thinking about what that meant to me. It finally struck me that I was okay with it. I was out there because I like having the fitness it takes to do a tri of this length. It occurred to me during the swim that “I chose to do hard things.” That made me feel really proud of myself. That’s why I was there. Not to win. That has become my mantra.

    I came in next-to-last, 3 minutes in front of a local celebrity, which made it all the more fun to talk about (I am in a club with her coach–I don’t expect I’ll beat her this year!). I expect I’ll be a little faster this year, but last year I was 10 minutes behind the person in front of me and even if I shave 20 minutes off, I am very likely to still be in contention for last. I don’t care. I have been using a harder plan this year, and I feel really good for the first time in several years. I expect I will feel a lot better afterward than I did last time!

    I also kind of feel like, well, someone has to be last, why not me? I’m a “process” rather than “product” triathlete. I’m doing it for the fitness more than for times. I like having a reason to get out and do stuff. I also feel like I’m better equipped to handle it.

    Also, I might adopt the strategy of some members of my tri club. When they come in last, they get cake. They just choose to treat it as something to celebrate, because why not?

  2. I love this. I’m often near the bottom and I hate that I let it take aaay from my experience of an event. Your post really speaks to me. Thank you. And congrats. Bracebridge is a tough course!

  3. Love this post! I’m let fear hold onto me too much in my life. I’m glad to hear that you pushed past your own worries and finished the race. To me, it doesn’t matter what rank I get, as long as I finish whatever I have set out to do and feel good about it in the end. Thank you for this wonderful post & I hope you continue competing!

  4. my very first foot race (a 10k) I came in dead last. I didn’t know I was last until I got to the finish line and realized the ambulance was following me because I was the final person on the course. Hilariously- I was the only one in my age group and I won a 1st place trophy at that race. Imagine my surprise when they called my name. With that as my introduction to racing I’ve never thought about doing poorly again. Finishing means winning.

  5. You are such an example. I am challenging myself with running and boxing and preparing for a half marathon but what you did is so impressive and inspiring.

  6. Well said.

    I was a competitive runner throughout my youth. A good one. But when I look back on my competitive running career now, the race which I am most proud of, the race which did the most to shape me as a young athlete and still has a positive impact on my life now, 30 years later, is the one race in which I finished dead last.

    You cannot finish last unless you finish the race, and finishing is always something to be proud of.

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind words! Sorry for the delay in responding…. I’m new here and didn’t realize these comments were here!

  8. Love this post. I remember doing my first du and repeating “finish, don’t finish last” over and over. A few injuries later, I was doing a race with the mantra “just f’in finish!”. Last place is better than no place. We need to remind ourselves, as you pointed out, to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the fact of our fitness to compete at all. Thanks for capturing it so well!

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