Finishing Last

Ask any slow runner what their biggest fear is and you’ll get the same answer 99% of the time:  finishing the race last. No one wants to be the last one to cross the finish line, just a step ahead of the clean up crew.  And yet, someone always is.

Occasionally, when I have told someone (usually not a runner) that I am running the New York City marathon, they have responded with, “Awesome, I hope you win.”  I only laughed the first time someone said that, I’ve become more tactful as it has been repeated more often.  I explain that I am not trying to win this race.  Indeed, the winners will most likely be on their return flights home by the time I finish.  They will certainly be showered, changed, and having their dinner.  My goal is much simpler.  I just want to finish.  Ahead of the sweep bus, if possible, but other than that, just finish.  I do usually laugh at the lack of comprehension on their faces.  They simply can’t imagine training so hard and so long for something that I have no hope of winning.

I ran my first half marathon in January of 2010 in Jackson, MS.  As a lifelong Mississippi native, I know that our January’s are typically cool and mild.  Not so January, 2010.  The race started at 19 degrees and it began snowing about halfway through.  I am not a cold weather girl, and I was miserable.  But, something amazing happened to me that day.  I finished my first half marathon.  My time was laughable, many full marathoners finished before me, but I was hooked.  I knew that this was a journey worth taking.

As a back of the packer, I would like to share a few things I’ve come to realize about finishing last.  I will probably never win a first place medal in a race.  Or, second for that matter.  Well, unless I’m the only one running in my age group.  I love my finisher’s medals and am designing a showcase for them even now.  When I look at them, they make me smile and remember that day, that race.  The feeling of accomplishment that finishing brought.  The fun things I saw along the way, the beauty of many feet taking the same journey as mine, yet running a completely different race.  

It will take me hours to finish the NYC marathon.  More hours than some of you sleep at night.  But, can you think of a better way to see, really see, New York?  I can’t.

I fell in love with New York City many years ago on my very first visit.  I was a runner then, and I would get up really early, while the city was still asleep and it was still dark outside, lace up my shoes and head to Central Park.  I still remember how I felt as I plodded along, looking at places I had seen on TV or in the movies, took in the silent stillness of the park, admired the changing of the leaves, and gasped aloud at the skyline of the city as it rises above the park.  There was no fear, only deep appreciation.  On that same visit, I tried to get my sister to walk from Battery Park back to Manhattan after we had taken our girls to see Ground Zero and the majestic Statue of Liberty.  She made it to Soho, then she demanded we find a subway station.  I can’t wait to run some of that same journey and see New York as it is meant to be seen.

Slow runners really enjoy the journey.  We plan to continue running a long, long time.  Most often we are older runners who have realized that this journey we call life is one to be savored.  Slow sips that linger on the tongue and fill our senses to overflowing.

Now, don’t misunderstand.  Winning races is an art form.  I love to watch fast runners as they push toward their goals.   It’s what music would look like if we could see it.  Amazing.  I just know that I’ll never be one of them, and that’s perfectly fine with me.  I will probably work on my speed next year.  I’m not averse to winning.  But, I’m more intent on experiencing the journey and continuing to run for life.  And for me, that means running slowly.

So, an race day, I’ll begin at the back of the pack and end at the back of the pack.  The good thing about a race this size is that there probably will be finishers behind me.  Whether or not they are, though, no matter.  I’m doing this one for me.

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