Call me crazy, but I love, love, love coming last. Genetically I was never built for speed and so I’ve aimed for the place in a race where there’s also only room for one special person: the spot right at the back. And as anyone who’s been there will tell you, you often get even more of a fuss made of you for that than for coming first.
However, often when people heard I’ve come last in 25 of the 108 marathons and ultras I’ve done, they offer their condolences. “At least you finished,” they say, condescendingly. Which utterly amazes me, because I don’t see myself as someone to be pitied, instead someone to be admired for her persistence!
However, such conversations have made me realise that, over the 19 years I’ve been running, I’ve cultivated a bespoke winning mindset, a way of boosting my self-belief even in races where they’d already taken down the finish line by the time I arrived. It was this attitude, and the tricks and techniques I used to sustain it, that kept me going all the way to joining the 100 Marathon Club.
Read on to discover how you too can feel fabulous no matter where in the field you find yourself…
“I feel like a winner every time I’m able to get to the startline,” says Katrina Barry, 47, from Wokingham. “The distance and time are, quite frankly, a bonus. That’s because I have Addison’s disease [a rare disorder of the adrenal glands resulting in symptoms of fatigue and muscle weakness] and, when it’s unhappy, it can sideline me and make me start my fitness journey from scratch.”
Being grateful that you can run when there are so many people who don’t have that privilege is truly humbling but also incredibly motivating and never fails to put a bad race into perspective. As the legendary US ultrarunner Pam Reed once told me: “‘I’ve seen so many people say they have to run 10 miles today. I look at it like, I GET to run 10 miles today.’ I am so grateful for the face I can still run and I never; ever take that for granted.”
As I know personally, few things beat a novelty hat or costume for turning an ordinary race into a carnival – and will always make you feel like the cat that got the cream. Ruth Cordingley, 49, from Ashford in Kent, says dressing up as the Cheshire Cat for a recent Alice in Wonderland-themed event (and going into a service station to pay for her petrol at 7am dressed like that on race day!) helped her to feel fabulous. “I’ve realised I’m not fast and I can’t run/walk great distances, but boy can I look good!” she says. “I can make the effort and, when I do, everyone appreciates it. No one saw a plodder that day. They saw a Cheshire Cat with make-up that stayed in place. Maybe it’s a shell for me to hide behind when I’m plodding, but that day I rocked!”
There’s nothing like coming to the aid of another runner to remind you of your superpowers. “Meeting someone new mid-race who’s struggling and ending up forgetting about your own race in order to focus on getting them to the finish line always makes me feel on top of the world,” says Laura Penny, 36, from Buckingham.
“We have huge and interesting medals,” says Phoenix Running’s (phoenixrunning. co.uk) Rik Vercoe. “Who can fail to feel like a winner when they’re presented with our Firebird medal, which is earned by completing our signature race series of four marathons. It’s 320mm wide, 160mm tall and 5mm thick and weighs in at almost a kilogram – yes really! We also give special medals to those who do 52 marathons in 52 weeks and award Phoenix Wings (bling for your shoes that double-up as fridge magnets) to volunteers and those who’ve run 10, 25, 50 or 100 events with us. There are also 100 Marathon Wings, 52-in-52 Wings and Night Marshal Wings (that glow in the dark), so literally everyone has the chance to be a winner!”
Saxons, Vikings and Normans running events (saxon-shore.com) have a similar approach, says co-race director Rachel Smith. “We try to make every runner, no matter how fast or slow, feel like a winner by awarding badges, trophies and hoodies for reaching different milestones, be that speed, distance or number of events, or for cake baking and helping out! At the start of every event, we make an announcement about those runners and volunteers so everyone can applaud their achievements. We make a point of not awarding trophies just for the fastest runners, as we believe in encouraging everyone to try their best and, most importantly, enjoy their running.”
Cultivating camaraderie during a run is a win-win because the best way to feel good is to do good. “I love encouraging and cheering others on during races, it’s such a special feeling,” says Anne Wright, 45, from Romford. Having a supportive running buddy or club is another way to get a taste of feel-good glory, says Kerry Surkitt, 44, from St Neots in Cambridgeshire. “My friend Jenine Cooper and I met at work and have encouraged each other every step of the way, from our first 5K to our first ultra. We eventually set up a 40-strong running group together called KJ Running Buddies. What makes us feel absolutely amazing is seeing each and every one of our ladies completing their first 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon. Nothing feels as good as being part of someone else’s achievements.”
Don’t wait to be awarded a trophy by the race organisers. Line one up for yourself after your race instead – a bottle of bubbly, new shoes, a slap-up meal (not cooked by you of course!). “I always feel like a winner as, after each race, I treat myself to a huge glass of chocolate milk,” says Tazneem Anwar, 38, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. “I absolutely adore chocolate, so anything that involves chocolate is a huge treat!”
To guarantee big cheers at the finish, make your race a party for your loved ones. “It’s an absolutely priceless moment when I see the proud faces of my two gorgeous sons, Joshua, 15, and Alex, seven, as they look at my medal and ask me about my race!” says Jacqueline Wiggins, 45, from Chard in Somerset, who’s now done 95 marathons in a bid to join the 100 Marathon Club.
If aiming for times is getting you down, think of ways you could define winning on your own terms. How about setting yourself the goal of chatting to three new people or running up all the hills and then celebrating afterwards with just as much gusto as if you’d got a PB? Or find a race where there’s a prize for something other than running fast, such as Best Costume, or, the one I love the most, coming last!