Racing for last place

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Last month I entered a race with no doubt that the final position had my name written all over it, no matter how hard I tried. So why did I even bother when a last place was inevitable? Because there are so many good reasons to race, and pushing yourself to beat someone else is only one of them.

“But what if I come last?”

This is a thought that has crossed my mind more than once since I bit the bullet and decided to add the odd race to my cycling mix a few years ago. The worry that those watching will think you are hopeless when you end up at the back of the field, can make you want to skulk off before the start line to avoid what you imagine to be the looming humiliation.

What you perhaps don’t realize, however, is that spectators are more likely to think something along the lines of, “hey, look at that women out there giving it a go! Wish I could do that.” And your fellow racers? Most of them have been there, in your shoes, in your position hoping to not be last.

There is nothing wrong with striving for the excitement of being up at the pointy end of the field, but the challenge, satisfaction and enjoyment of racing doesn’t disappear when all your competitors cross the line before you do. Don’t let the fear of coming last stop you from giving racing a go, stepping up to another level, trying a new discipline or jumping back in to racing after a break.

I’ve had more fun and being prepared to give more events a shot since I turned the thought of “what if I come last?” into “so what if I come last!”

Here are some reasons you should embrace racing, no matter where you end up:

Taking on a new challenge – It’s exciting to go out and try something new and feel the sense of achievement that comes with pulling off something challenging you have never done before. So whether it is bike racing full stop or trying a new discipline, the buzz of having pushed yourself to do something for the first time will be there, no matter when you cross that finish line.

Jumping to a different level – Comfortably finishing in the front half of the pack race after race? Time to move up. To progress and improve, you have to challenge yourself by putting yourself outside your comfort zone. I walked away after the race I entered last month with an expected last place, a smile on my face and more excitement and satisfaction than I’d ever had from pulling off a better result at a less challenging event. One of the main reasons why was that I’d dared to jump up to a race level that I’d previously only watched.

Being part of it – There is something to be said for just experiencing and being part of something. Even if it’s just to be able to join the post-race banter about that fierce headwind on that last corner of the road race, the muddy climb on the cyclocross course or the rock garden in the mountain bike race.

Improving by doing – It is easy to keep thinking “I’ll do that race next year when I get a bit fitter or improve my skills a little more.” Chances are the next year rolls around all too quickly and you say the same thing again and again.

Commit to doing that new challenge and you’ll suddenly  find that needed incentive to build up the fitness. Do it and you’ll come out more experienced and you’ll know what you need to work on to improve your performance for next time.

Returning to something you love – Too often I’ve talked to people who wistfully discuss how they used to love to race but after a break due to injury, illness or children, they don’t do it anymore because they can’t compete at the level they used to.

That’s fine if not being as competitive means the fun isn’t there anymore. But if it is something that is missed and would still be enjoyable, why not just get out there and do it anyway? The satisfaction of going out there and pushing as hard as possible or the excitement of a sprint doesn’t automatically disappear if that sprint happens to be for second-last place.

Supporting women’s cycling – Of course we want our clubs and race organisers to support women’s cycling and invest their hard-to-come-by resources into putting on women’s races. But how can we expect them to keep doing it if barely anyone turns up? We need participation. By jumping in and giving it a go, you are helping build up the numbers, supporting women’s cycling and you may even inspire others to do the same.  And if there are children in your life, you are also providing a close to home example the helps normalise the involvement of women in competitive sport.

Coming last isn’t losing – Finally, finishing last doesn’t mean you have lost. Not giving it a go because you are worried about finishing at the back of the field does. The only person to lose is the one that will look back with regret and wish they had done it.

There are so many reasons to get out there and race so jump in on the comments section and let us know why you race?

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