When we enter that first organized run, many of us hear an inner voice, “I’m afraid I’ll come in last.” Most of us don’t. The fear fades, for awhile. Years—or even decades—later, the age-group awards tarnish, and personal bests vanish into the past. As we face the reality of aging, the question of finishing last arises again. It has recently done so for me.
In September 2010, I volunteered for the Sweathouse Half Marathon. The final feet pulled in almost two hours behind the first ones. As the clock passed 2:45 and headed for 3:00, the finishers spaced out…five, ten minutes apart. At 3:20, we welcomed the last person with all the enthusiasm available to a pod of five tired volunteers. Most of the finish line food had been stowed. Awards had been presented, and the other entrants were enjoying beer and pizza next door. I really wanted to hand that last person something special. I wanted to present a large bouquet of flowers and some chocolate. The last person in had, in significant ways, achieved more than anyone else in the race.
The last person had the courage to start. Whether it was his first race or her 21st, they lined up at dawn knowing that they would be on the course alone after the first mile. They could envision a tired and impatient finish line crew, the empty parking lot. They lined up anyway.
The last person had the persistence to continue as she saw the slower runners pull out of sight. She was asked by course monitors, with a tone of concern, “Are you OK?” She found three lonely cups of water at the aid station. The batteries on the MP3 faded, and she could hear the ego’s insufferable chatter: “What were you thinking? You must be crazy! You don’t belong here. You’re going to be LAST!
The last person had the commitment to finish. She was offered a ride. It would be a favor to everyone else. This is so embarrassing. But I have a goal. I can do it. And I will.
Someday soon, I will finish last for the first time. It will be a milestone. I’m scared, but in some ways I am anxious to get it behind me. It’s the price I pay for loving to run (and to mix it with walking), for wanting to set big goals, to keep my body healthy, and to maintain a love of life.
In 2011 we have initiated a Run Wild Missoula award for the Last Best Finisher. The award has its own special medal. It sends the message that courage, persistence, and commitment are a cause for celebration, at whatever speed.Go well,
Leader of the Back
Recipients of the Last Best Finisher Award for the Superfun(d) Run 10K in 2011.Contact Pam Gardiner if you are interested in the Last Best Finisher Award for your race.