DFL: the same for elite as BOTP?

Of course the first article I turned to when I opened the July issue of Runner’s World was Dead Freaking Last.

Because it’s every new runner’s fear. I’m not a new runner anymore, but it’s also every slow runner’s fear — and I am a slow runner. It took years to lose that fear, to enter smaller races where I have a real chance of being DFL.

Of course I still don’t want to be DFL, and to date I haven’t been, but now I will enter races even if there’s a chance of being DFL. Which doesn’t stop me from studying the previous year’s results for that race & soothing myself with the fact that I probably won’t be DFL.

I expected to be blown away by this article. I expected to find my tribe.

And then it happened: some of the stories were about elite runners.

Of course elite runners have the same emotions any runner has. They may be born with the right physique & talent (or not), but they have to work hard and overcome many obstacles.

I get that.

And it still didn’t sit right with me. It just didn’t. I have my flame retardant suit on so feel free to go ahead and tell me that of course elite runners belonged in this article and it’s just a case of sour grapes on my part.

But . . . do elite runners have the experience of doing everything “right” and still find themselves stuck at a 13 mm for a long run pace? Do they run races where the awards are being given out while they’re still running the race? Do they come up to a water table on a hot day only to find there’s no water left – maybe even no table & volunteers left?

The editor’s letter referenced the experience and blog post of Heather Gannoe about her back of the pack experience in the 2014 Heartbreak Hill Half; I ran that race. I’m pretty darn sure I actually saw Heather cross the finish line. I remember the girls dancing across the finish line as we began making our way back to our hotel.

Except Heather is not a slow runner, she just had a very bad day & race.

The RW article is an inspiring article with many stories I’d never heard before. I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s a difference between being a runner who has a bad day and one that routinely brings up the back of the pack. Our experiences are just different, in a good and a bad way.

I once walked a half with a friend who was injured. The same half I’d run the year before. Obviously it took us quite a bit longer than it took me the previous year – even though the previous year that race was my very first half & I think actually does still stand as my worse finishing time (running).

And it was a different race even for me! Sometimes there really is a party going on back there! Or as I’ve heard people say, a race is like a mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

So don’t get me wrong, I get it: any runner is effected, for good or bad, by being DFL. Any runner struggles & triumphs.

I think what bothered me about this article was that I live at the BOTP (and occasionally the middle). Elite runners are usually just visiting.

Did you read that article? What do you think?

Thursdays are for thinking out loud

18 thoughts on “DFL: the same for elite as BOTP?

  1. Well said. I thought the same thing, even though I don’t race much.
    By the way, I have come in DFL. It was at a 5K at my husband’s school, my first year running, and I was at least twenty years older than any other racer. I just wanted to finish. I did.


  2. I quit reading RW for a variety of reasons, even though I still subscribe. WTH? I think you nailed it with your statement the elites are just visiting. Have you heard about the woman who goes to marathons (or halfs) for the sole purpose of coming in last. She says she chooses to be last so no one else will have to experience DFL. That woman is inspiring!!!


    1. I’ve heard of that in tris, but not rd races. Funny, I have a friend who isn’t really an avid runner, but she was DFL in a small race this weekend. Yeah, sometimes I really have trouble communicating my point so I’m glad you got it. 🙂


  3. I haven’t read my issue of RW yet. But I don’t think it’s fair to put the elites in the BOTP at all. Like you said, they’re there because of a bad day. Most BOTP runners are there because they run slow consistently. I spectated a race because of injury and at the start line, it was fun to watch each wave take off. The front waves, the elites, were so serious and focused. As the waves got down to the BOTP, there was definitely more of a party atmosphere. As a middle of the packer, that was fun to see!


  4. I agree with Wendy. I spectated a half when I was injured and it was fun to see the winners & those at the back. Both were inspiring. You don’t get to experience that when you run a race.


  5. I haven’t read it yet, but I agree with you. I think it is different when you are routinely at the back of the pack…like I am. I thank you again for walking with me. It helped a lot.


  6. I totally agree with what you wrote. The worst is being at the back because you are doing your best. Your fear that the race is over and they are already handing out awards but you are still on the road is a real one. It keeps me from racing.


  7. I didn’t get to read the article. I have had the fear before for real. I am not very fast, but can usually manage a 10 min. pace. I showed up at a small 15K race and it was hard core. I started in the back and it wasn’t but 4 minutes, and no one was in sight, the whole pack! I took a deep breath and just did the best I could. I found out at the end I wasn’t last but I was close. I was glad i had some miles to tell myself it’s okay as long as I finish and do my best.
    i also had a small half marathon I had a bad day in and I was almost last, but I figured if they weren’t sweeping me off the course just suck it up and go. I bet an elite hasn’t felt that lol It’s funny both times I had almost no one in sight for awhile, no one to laugh with!


    1. See, to me, you’re fast. For short races I can manage 10:30-11:30, but I’m much slower for halfs & have had a few where I’m even slower than normal. In a half, usually, I know I won’t be last unless something goes really wrong (and it could!) because there are usually walkers.


  8. This is a great post. I think it would be good if we could all have the experience of running in different parts of the pack just to understand what it’s like. I like seeing the winners come in and I enjoyed running nearer the back than usual in my last half – it was great fun and a very different atmosphere.


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