The Finish Line Danger Zone

The race finish line is surreal melting pot of emotional and physical reactions which are both a conscious and subconscious response to what has preceded. Of course we all visualise the perfect finish line image: drifting across the line effortlessly with a wide grin, arms raised in victory and looking fabulous, but how often does that actually happen? I have had good and bad finishes and have to say that in the main I am really not at my best at the finish.  

It did not start well. I crossed the finish line of my first 10k and peed myself. Pelvic floor and core clearly needed some work. My first 5k; I charged across the finish line with a loud ‘fuck me! That was hard’ which is perhaps not the best thing to be shouting when surrounded by families and small children. But at least I avoided incontinence.

There have been a fair few rubber legged wobbly finishes with various people grabbing me before I hit the deck. Probably the most dramatic of these being the Volcano Marathon finish where the photographer had to grab me and I ended up on oxygen, being filmed and seeing the result go out on Reuters! In my defense it was at altitude and 30 degrees.

Another finish line phenomena is tears. Why am I crying? Happiness? Relief? Pain? Frustration? It is crazy because a finish is a finish: always an achievement.  Truth is it could be a cocktail of some or all of these things, and in many respects not that surprising given the mental and emotional investment made.

It is quite hard to summon up a smile when your face is etched with pain and the effort of getting those last few drops of gas out of the tank to get you across the line. But there are times when I have succeeded; Antarctica, the North Pole, the West Highland Way and most recently at Dunoon.

Let’s face you are not really going to look your best as you cross the line hot, sweaty, sticky and bright red, soaked to the skin, covered in ice. There are some seriously odd finish line photos. I particularly like the shot of me coming up to the finish line of the Devil of the Highlands looking like some mad poodle with its ears flying in the wind.

Apart from the risk of incontinence and swearing and collapse there are further horrors awaiting. There is the classic vomiting for example. I also once had to make a charge for the toilet pushing old ladies and small children out of the way as I barged to front of the queue.

There is however a lesson that I fail to learn, and I make the same mistake over and over again. The worst thing you can do when finishing is to just stop. Your brain has spent the last however many hours focusing on your legs and you can’t really expect it to adjust to situation normal in a matter of seconds. This is why you can sometimes feel dizzy and faint when finishing. What you, I, really need to do is stay upright and keep walking for a few minutes.

More often than not though I stop dead, my legs immediately start to hurt, and so I then either sit down or even worse lie down which actually makes the pain worse and I immediately start to stiffen up. Yes, it will still hurt but staying on your feet and walking around is what is needed. I am so disciplined in all the other aspects of my running so why not this? I honestly have no idea.

The final thing that I am supremely bad at is re-fueling. We all know that getting fluids, carbohydrates and protein in within 20 – 30 minutes of finishing is essential to kicking off our recovery. Easier said than done when you are exhausted, often nauseous and fed up of eating crap. I am getting better at this but the report would say could do better.

It looks like I still have work to do to hone and improve my finish. Things to work on: the smile, the potty mouth, losing the pained expression, staying upright and keeping tight control of my bodily functions.


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