Where is Emily Post When I Need Her?

This blog is intended to elicit comments and opinion – please chime in!
A few years ago, I ran a one mile race with Wayne Kevin.  I wasn’t really training at all at the time, so it was a fairly dismal effort on my part.  Poorly trained or not, some primal brain cells deep in my brain kicked in at the end and I blew past one or two competitors within a few feet of the finish line.  Maybe it was my imagination, but one of the finish line volunteers, who has extensive running experience and my deep respect, seemed disapproving that I would pass the other runner(s) so close to the end.
One year, the Tallahassee Democrat published a picture of Wayne Kevin and his friend, Alex, appearing to be neck-and-neck at the finish of the Red Hills Kids Triathlon.  Wayne had been taking his sweet time on the mile run until Alex started gaining ground on him.  Then it was an all out sprint to the finish; the picture shows each boy struggling with all his might to reach the tape first.  Arms pumping, legs churning, as much machismo as a couple of boys could muster!  Of course, Wayne had started in an earlier wave than Alex, so regardless of all that finish line bravado, Wayne’s finish time was still minutes slower than Alex’s.  But for that moment when Wayne thought he had a race to win, he mustered up reserves that had been completely dormant until a competitor showed up!  In my mind, that had always been a “too little too late” situation; if Wayne had been running his own race, and focusing his own mind, he would not have wound up in such a nail biter of a finish (but it did make a great newspaper photo!). 
More recently, the topic of finish line etiquette came up in a conversation between a friend and me.  I commented that in a recent race, I had sprinted to the finish with another runner, that I felt justified because we had been competing somewhat evenly throughout the race, but still worried that I had broken some finish line etiquette “rule.”  My friend then said, “Well, maybe that explains what another runner said to me today when I passed her right before the finish.”  The other runner’s expression hadn’t exactly been “good job”!
When I got home that day, I sent an email to one of my running guru friends, asking if there is a “finish line etiquette” or some “no pass zone” once you are close to the line.  His response:

It’s more a matter of resentment and hurt feelings to be passed near the finish. I see it at every race. Actually there is some strategy involved. You don’t want to make your bid too early, if you do, the victim has a chance to recover and perhaps hold you off. That said, it’s kind of tacky to roar by within a few feet of the chute.

I thanked the guru, shared the information with my friend, and thought I had put the issue to bed. 

Until (drum roll please), I was the passee at last night’s St. George Island Summer Sizzler Race.  Compared to last year, I really felt better about my endurance in this race, and at the splits, I thought I was easily going to come in under 40:00 (and yes, the “big” goal is to come in under 30:00, but the oppressive heat put many of us into survival mode!).  When I was at 39:39 at the 3 mile mark, 40:00 was out of reach (darn it!).  I was trying to put my all into getting across the finish line when footsteps came pounding up behind me and a runner I don’t recall seeing all race came sprinting up beside me.  Crap!  By the time I mentally registered that runner’s presence, I did not apply enough “oomph” to cross the line first and heard one of the finish line volunteers point out the color of her shirt for the volunteers up the line to know who had come in ahead of who.  The humorous thing was that this runner kept up at full speed through the line, making the strippers’ job a challenge.  I was feeling all the things the guru discussed above (resentment, hurt feelings) in conjunction with solidarity with the finish line crew, whose job is fun but not easy. 

This runner deserves the place ahead of me because she fairly and squarely got to the line a nanosecond before me.  And although the results aren’t out, we probably finished in exactly the same time.  It still irked me, though, and led to me wanting to explore the “finish line etiquette question” in more depth.  Believe it or not, when you google the question there’s not a lot out there. 

The spouse of a twitter friend, who is a runner, had several observations:
1) It depends on the race and your level of competitiveness,
2) apply the golden rule,
3) gauge people you’re running near/with to see they’d welcome push for finish, and
4) many races are timed so the finish spot is not important

What do you think?

I’ll “run” into you next week readers, but I’m not sure if I’ll run “past” you, especially if we’re within five feet of the finish line!

6 thoughts on “Where is Emily Post When I Need Her?

  1. Well this is interesting to read. I've also wondered about this myself. I also have my fair share of being passed near the finish line of many races.

    I believe that ultimately it is a race! A lot of it is about race strategy. Many of my early races I would start too hard and pass many of those runners who eventually would catch up and beat me at the end. It just happened to be very close to the finish chute. I have learned better pacing and try to save a little kick for the finish to hopefully prevent that bad taste of being beaten by a couple feet. I think it is also good, regardless of your skill level or competitiveness to finish strong near the end of a race and if this means flying by someone so-be-it. Just my take.

  2. I want to make sure and credit Fred Deckert for his input (he was and is my guru!). In addition, I wanted to share this quote, which I intended to include but forgot b/c I was all caught up in whining: “Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” William Faulkner pk

  3. I absolutely agree with Cole, Paula! I've worked MANY finish lines, including those in conjunction with high school and college XC races where kids sometimes finish 3 abreast at a full sprint. If you've got something left, use it! If the volunteers in the finish line have some issue with how people finish, they shouldn't be working the finish line. It's not the finish line personnel's job to judge finishers; we just time, push, strip, string & hand out cards, congrats & encouragement. Fred & I are very good friends & I respect his opinion, but I wonder what his wife, Margarete, who was an elite runner back in the day, would say…

    Great blog…I enjoyed reading it, as always!


  4. My own Golden Rule in that situation is “Smoke as many folks as possible coming to the line and, in turn, be expecting them to try and smoke you.” I guess I'm lucky that in all my years of running, I've never gotten anything but some variation on “Good job…you got me” and a smile from fellow runners I've passed down the stretch. That's what you'll get if you nip me at the line.

    BTW, I found your blog via DailyMile. Greetings from just north of the Gnat Line. : )

  5. It's definitely a race and you SHOULD race it. Anyone who gets upset isn't realizing that. I've been passed a few times at the end and it's a little disconcerting, but I've also passed people. That's what a race is all about – doing YOUR very best.

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