The finish line fascination

The finish line fascination

Given the effort involved in completion of tasks or events of significance, there is, not surprisingly, a corresponding fascination with finish lines. We like to cross them, we like to tick them off on lists written methodically in diaries, and once we have done so, many of us are propelled to find new, more challenging ones to cross. We seek them out, avoid their existence, or develop anxiety as we envisage their proximity. Some thrive on them, and others abhor them. No doubt, Mrs Laura Anderson, Mrs Ross and Mrs Wallis have been ruminating about half-marathon finish lines for months leading up to their run on the weekend, and a significant number of our staff must also ‘think finish lines’ on a weekly basis when they front up for their Park Run fix. Yes, many of us love a good finish. I also admit to an interest in how others approach finish lines – whether they approach them at all, how they approach them, and how they approach the crossing of them. How does the finish line appear to a marathon runner; a one-hundred metre sprinter or a student sitting an exam? Does it loom large in their consciousness, or is it merely a necessary endpoint?

That whilst legs propel us forward in any race (metaphoric or otherwise), it is our hearts that keep us pushing toward the finish line. And this thought can be extrapolated to any number of situations in school, and in life beyond the school gates. Even my gym instructor used a similar analogy in Friday’s bike class when she said, ‘It won’t be your legs that stop your effort; it will be your head’ (and there I had been thinking that it was the 5.30am start that was prohibiting my full engagement). Pain researchers argue that the difference between an elite athlete who wins and one who doesn’t is about perceptions of pain, rather than physiological limitations (Hutchinson, 2018): [it is] ‘the brain that applies the brakes before the heart, lungs or muscles fail.’ Research has pushed physiologists to conclude that, to a much greater degree than suspected, limits exist in our head (ibid, 2018). According to Tim Noakes, author of The Lore of Running ‘the brain is the ultimate determinant of performance.’

This is illustrated, according to Noakes, in the story of twenty-one-year-old Kenyan, Samuel Wanjiru, who won the gold medal in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, running only his third 42.195-kilometre event. With five kilometres to go and the finish line in sight, Wanjiru purportedly kicked for home with the pace of a 1500-metre runner and the attitude of a veteran athlete. However, his finish at the Chicago Marathon in 2010 was considered his finest race, or at least his finest finish. Less than fit, and not even given a chance by pundits, Wanjiru sprang a demoralising sprint on a small rise with less than 500 metres to run. His manager at the time, Federico Rosa, stated that Wanjiru had ‘won with his mind’ (Rice, 2012).

I positioned myself at the finish line at Friday’s Athletics carnival; watching each crossing with great interest. I even stared down the tunnel of the 100 metre track lined with spectators and wondered how that view appeared for each runner. It can seem a long way, away – or all too close. Yes, I admit to loving a good Athletics Carnival (and the Fairholme one is always exceptional). I love seeing students challenging themselves in a different context. I love the 600-metre race as much as the Open girls’ 100-metre sprint. The PCG relay, Boarder v Daygirl relay and Year 12 tug-of-war are highlights too – herewith is the most spectacular feeling of camaraderie. Whilst the finish line matters, the collaborative effort matters so much more. No doubt our brave staff runners would attest to this, too.

When our debaters took part in their semi final at Downlands College on Wednesday night they too negotiated a finish line, albeit one dictated by topic, time and debate etiquette. Each girl knew that in four or eight minutes she must convince the adjudicators, that her argument was robustly constructed, articulately phrased and more convincing than her opponents’. When the final bell sounded, the finish line had been crossed and there was no opportunity for recourse. You can’t change a result by reliving the experience, and you can’t successfully argue the toss with the umpire or referee after the final whistle has blown – although, I admit that I have seen a lot of that unfortunate behaviour over time. You can, nonetheless, learn a lot about yourself before and after an event; mental preparation is as important as skill preparation. It can be the defining difference: mental toughness can be a stronger propellant ‘on the day’ than performer expertise.

With a Musical pending, eisteddfodau concluding, and QCS looming, there have been, and are, many finish lines in sight. How we approach them matters; how we reflect upon them afterwards matters a great deal, too. These events require enormous participant energy (be that as an organiser, coach, conductor or performer). They are exhilarating, high-adrenaline experiences for those involved. They deserve both our preparation and our deeper reflection upon conclusion. Yet, it can be said about any great race that whilst legs propel us forward, it is our hearts that keep us pushing toward the finish. May we all retain the requisite perspective to see these next events to fruition, to cross the finish line at our best – knowing that psychological and physical rehearsal and practice, with some degree of discomfort, pain and distress actually make for an easier run across the line that matters.

It is said that Wanjiru ‘won the race with his mind’…


Hutchinson, A. (2018). Why are elite athletes able to speed up when they see the finish line?

Rice, X. (2012). The New Yorker. ‘Finish Line: an Olympic marathon champion’s tragic weakness.’