Enjoying the View from the Back of the Pack.

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Make peace with your speed. A full 85% of the field is done and heading out for brunch by the time my feet hit the finish line.

There’s a popular phrase: “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.” While it’s true in a lot of cases, and can be quite motivational for some, there are times when you need to just toss it out the window. I am a confirmed BOP’er. Seven road races and a tri under my belt since I started training in August of 2005, and I average in the bottom 15% of finishers. Yes, you did read that right. A full 85% of the field is done and heading out for brunch by the time my feet hit the finish line.

Does this bother me? Actually, no.

First, there has to be a back of the pack. Statistically, there’s just no way around it. Yet another reason to despise math if you were looking for one.

Second, I am definitely getting my money’s worth out of the race registration fees. My first tri was a sprint – the top 13 finishers were done in under an hour. Me? I got an hour and forty two minutes worth of exercise and entertainment out of it for the same price, and they still had orange sodas left for me at the finish line. Heck, I got to see folks finishing the bike leg while I engaged in a wrestling match with my wetsuit in transition. The faster folks missed that, and I can’t help but think when you’re finishing the bike leg, it MUST be entertaining to watch someone who is ready to cut herself out of her wetsuit if only there were a pair of scissors handy. I wouldn’t have seen the gentleman on crutches on the inbound side of the run and been able to cheer for him as I was on the outbound side. I like the fact that I can be slightly UNfocused enough to be able to take in everything else that is going on around me so I can tell people what a tri or a 10 mile race or a half marathon is like later. I want the entire experience that race day brings, and I get it.

Being a member of the back of the pack is actually quite liberating. I don’t have to obsess over how to shave another 5 or 10 seconds here and there. It doesn’t mean I’m not working to improve my speed, form and endurance in my training, but if this is the level I stay at forever, that’s really OK. Why? Because my primary motivator is to be able to say, “Hey, I did that and I had a great time!” After my first tri, no one asked me, “So where did you place in your age group?” If all I worried about was my time and pushing myself to the brink of collapse in every race, I’d be utterly miserable. I might be faster, but I wouldn’t be able to say I had fun, and I certainly wouldn’t have race pictures that look like this:

Also – the back of the pack brings people into a sport that might otherwise be too intimidated to try it. Can you imagine contemplating a triathlon if all you saw were the results of the top 10% or 15% of the finishers? For the Virginia Run Sprint Tri this year, those were people who finished in less than an hour and nine minutes. But someone looking at the bottom of the results list and seeing people coming in just under two hours, and then the mother and daughter that finished together in two hours and twenty four minutes, they may see that and think, “You know, I might be able to do that after all.”

My primary goals for every race are always the same. Finish before they close the course, and finish happy – anything else is really just a bonus. Finishing last or near last doesn’t diminish the accomplishment. Even for my two “A” races this year, those are still the first goals – they are not “A” races because I feel I must perform at my absolute best time, but simply because they mean the most to me to be able to say, “I did it.”

If I die tomorrow, my obituary will not have my last race time in it. It will say, “runner and triathlete.”

– Photograph by Jenny Ruley Photography, 2006, www.jenneyruleyphotography.com

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