You might be familiar with the concept of sandbagging, or when a runner falsely states she’s slower than she actually is so that she can blow away the competition during a race. A good way to think of bottom feeding is the opposite of that; it’s deliberately finding a race with slow competition in order to get an award.
I am an unabashed and proud bottom feeder. It was my husband who introduced me to this concept. When we first started racing 5Ks with my husband he would assiduously pour over data to see what he would need for an age group award or better. I couldn’t believe he cared so much about “cheap trinkets!” I was sure his behavior stemmed from a lack of participation in sports and competitive activities in his childhood. I haughtily told him that I felt no need for external motivation and that the intrinsic motivation of pushing myself was enough because I had plenty of medals, ribbons, and trophies from my childhood.
Then he pointed out to me that I could win an age group award at a small race with a sub 25:00 5K, and I lost the hoity-toity attitude! Once I won my first age group award, I was hooked and began obsessively perusing various sites to find a small 5K with a slow field where I could win another. I became an unabashed and proud bottom feeder.
Curious? Perhaps you’re interested in winning your first AG award? Read on!
Admitting that you’re a bottom feeder might seem disgraceful or even pathetic, but it’s not! Many runners do this. I can’t tell you the number of times I met a runner who traveled for over an hour because she was sure that she’d be able to place in a particular 5K. Even elites and sub-elites will strategically pick races with slower competition for a confidence booster during racing season.
Based upon my experience with bottom feeding, I discovered there are a few considerations to make when evaluating whether you have a good chance in getting an age group award or better.
- Small field: The smaller the field, the better your chances are for winning because there’s less competition; the same principle applies for an age group award.
- Slow field: Look at results from prior races to see the times of the winners. If last year’s winners ran a time that you could run, then you have a great chance of getting an award!
- Inaugural race: Inaugural races are great for bottom feeding because not many runners know about these races, so there isn’t as much competition.
- A small, poorly advertised race
- Multiple local races on the same day: Competition is going to be split among different races. You need to find the race where the fast runners won’t be at.
- A running festival with two (or more) distances (for example, a 5K and a 10K): Sign up for the shorter distance because the speed monsters always sign up for the longer one.
While I do appreciate running for all the intrinsic and non-material benefits it gives me, it’s always nice to get a little external reinforcement from a win once in a while!
Who else is a bottom feeder? What do you think of the practice? If you haven’t tried it, would you?