DFL… Dead F* Last.
No one wants to come in last place at a race. The entire purpose of a race is to try to come in first. That’s what a race is, at least in theory.
But just as every race has a winner, every race has someone who comes in last. In recreational races (as opposed to Olympic events, track meets, or such) we don’t call those who don’t place in the Top 3 “losers”. After all, races can have tens of thousands of runners. That would be a lot of losers!
So why race?
If you know that you can’t possibly finish in the Top 3; indeed, you’d be lucky to finish 13,000th, why race?
Because you know that in recreational races, there are other measures of victory than placing. Maybe you won’t place in the Top 3 overall, but you could place in the Top 5 in your age group.
Even when age group wins are out of reach, you may achieve victory over your previous time at that distance.
And for some people, completing a training program, making it to the starting line, and then finishing the race is a victory over their past lifestyles, their fears, their setbacks, and doubts.
Meet one such victor:
I am honored to introduce my friend, Shereen Lorah, who recently ran her very first race after taking up running six months ago. What really impresses me is that her first race was a 10K, not a 5K. I literally ran a half marathon before I had the courage to take on a 10K.
Shereen was the final finisher at her race and graciously agreed to answer some questions for me. She and I share a passion for encouraging those who fear being DFL not to let that stop them from racing. Do it scared, is our motto!
Family: Married for 24 years. Four children, ages 20, 17, 12, and 8.
Race: Coal Cracker 10K, Shenandoah, PA
Began Running: December 27, 2016. (Note: When I asked Shereen when she took up running, I expected her to tell me a month… a range. She gave an exact date. Isn’t that just like a runner?! Love it!)
Why Did You Begin Running? Shereen’s story is familiar to many midlife runners. She was sitting on the sidelines watching her children play and her health was going into a decline. After being diagnosed as pre-diabetic, she took control of her health by exercising and focusing on nutrition and supplements. Then came a fateful phone call…
“One day in November 2016 my oldest brother called me and told me that he was planning to run a 10k in Shenandoah Pa. (He had never run a day in his life, either.) I got this nervous knot in my stomach as we talked, knowing right then that I would be doing this with him. I did not tell him that day though, because of how it scared me.”
What Sort of Training Did You Do? Shereen and I met when she joined a Facebook fitness group of which I am a member. As a brand new runner, she was looking for tips and support and I was delighted to provide ample amounts of both. Of course, it wasn’t just me. As Shereen says…
“I learned how amazing the running world is, so kind and caring. I never was looked down on and everyone was extremely supportive!”
“I started with the Couch to 5k plan. After I was finished with that I invested in a heart monitor and good shoes (as Jennifer recommended) and steadily added extra mileage every 3 days, just like the C25K had me doing. By May 9th. I had hit 6.7 miles for the first time! I kept training until race day.”
What Were Your Expectations of How the Race Would Go? “I believed I could finish… I never expected anything more than making sure I finished strong. I did not want to be carried across that line, I wanted to run across it!”
What Were You Thinking and Feeling During the Race? Shereen says that she made the classic newbie error of taking off with the bulk of the pack, even though they were running a pace that she could not sustain. Wisely, she very quickly corrected herself and ran her own race the rest of the time.
Her actual thought process will sound very familiar to other runners…
“Man I’m hot, I could really use some water…
“I need to walk this hill, but that’s ok. I want my heart to be at a safe place…
“Thank you, Lord, for getting me up that hill…
“Yuck! Road kill is so much worse when needing to run by it!
“Don’t slip on the gravel…
“I wonder if I can catch this guy in front of me?
“I can do this… one more step… just pass that yellow pole ahead and it levels out…
“Hey a little bit of shadow, yay!
“Thanks, Lord, for that wind, but against me?? Oh well, it’s air!
“I can do this! Mind over matter… one step at a time…
“One more mile down hill and I’m done!?! Didn’t seem like 6.4!”
At What Point Did You Suspect That You Could Be the Last to Finish? “I have to laugh when I think about this. After 0.4 of the first mile, I heard something behind me. I couldn’t believe that it was another runner, so I glanced over my shoulder. It was the end car, the medic bringing up the rear. It was my buddy for the rest of the race.”
How Did You Feel About That? “I seriously did not care. It would have been fun to pass up the guy right in front of me, but for my safety it was impossible. I was just happy that they let me run at such a slow pace and did not eliminate me.”
What Was it Like to Be One of the Last Racers to Be Going By the Aid Stations, Volunteers, and Spectators? “Everyone and I mean everyone was so supportive and encouraging, standing up and cheering when I went past. As I went up the last steep hill, the guy with the flag behind me told me that I was going faster than the course record for slowest time.”
How Did You Feel Upon Finishing? “It was so satisfying and fun and exciting all wrapped up into one package! I can now say I DID IT! Unexpectedly, I certainly got a lot of attention for being dead last. Volunteers were swarming me with water, congratulations, hugs, etc… They couldn’t believe it was my first race and one mentioned how good my color was!” (Well done, Shenandoah! ~ Jen)
What Would You Say to People Hesitating to Race Because They Fear Being Last? “Being last is not a bad thing at all! I might have perceived it that way before learning about the running community… Everyone is so proud of you for completing it… You can not grow if you do not go outside of your comfort zone. DO IT WITH FEAR and let that fear become your strength!
You will never regret it.”
Last Place = Final Winner
Runners tend to be competitive and competitive people tend to bemoan the “Everyone’s a winner!” trend of recent years. It’s okay for there to be winners and losers, we say. Losing teaches valuable lessons about humility and the value of hard work.
I maintain that recreational races are an exception. This is a sport where some can be competing for the big wins while at the same time others are competing against themselves.
As a finish line volunteer, I’ve watched those towards the front and middle of the pack finish and look dejected because they didn’t achieve their goals. I’ve watched those in the back of the pack finish much later and celebrate because they did.
Please do not let fear of coming in last stop you from the joy and pride of accomplishing your own goals. Every single race has last place finishers. It’s not something new and different and unique to you. Be that final winner and celebrate your victory over whatever obstacles have held you back until now.
I send you my congratulations ahead of time! And if you’ve ever finished a race much later than you would have liked (as I certainly have), please tell us about it!