I have finished in two races last. Dead last. As in there was no one else behind me.
The first time was a 5k, and it was my own doing. The race actually started on time, and I was not. Of course, with this race, the post ceremony activities were being held in another location two blocks away. When I crossed the line, there were two volunteers and the timing company. After crying to my mother, I moved on and remembered the common saying "You lapped everyone on the couch."
While my lateness was to blame for the 5k, the second last place finish was because I did not take the simple route. A little history..I love St Pat's Day so almost any race that celebrates it, I am there. My runniversity is actually the STL St Pat's Race. So for that month, I planned three St Pat's themed weekends which increased in distances: 5k, 8k, and then a 10k. I never finished a 10k race before, but with my half marathon training, I knew I could do it.
This race had three options: 10k, 5k, and the 1 Mile Fun Run. Could I have taken the simple route of a 5K? Absolutely! But what sense of accomplishment do I have? I know I am not going to the be the fastest runner out there, but I am going to beat myself and continue to know I can accomplish the impossible. The race started out with the 10K getting a 10 minute start so the 5k group passed me after the first mile. When I got to the spilt in the route for the two different groups, I knew at that moment I was going to be last. 3.5 miles left to go, and I knew I was going to finish last in all three races.
I reflect back on that moment and have to wonder "what made me continue?" I do not know one person who says "I strive to be last" or "I hope to lose". You could say it was because I paid the entry fee, but I think it was the fact I wanted to prove myself that I could do it. There are moments in everyone's journey of change in which we can retreat back to the comfort level (the 5K), but your victory will not be as great.
As I ran/walk the route, I ran into one of the remaining cheer groups who did not leave the course. A group of junior high 4H girls who were wearing pink and had a significant amount of streamers. For each runner, they would cheering them on running beside them. Seeing what they were doing, I made sure to have a "dance break" with them to celebrate me hitting the 4 mile. According to them, I was the only runner who stopped to have fun. The route was structured that I passed them one more time in which at that point, 4 of the girls met me and ran 0.25 miles with me. During that portion, they asked me about the half marathon training for in which I mentioned in our first interaction. I wanted to run the rest of the race with them.
I can continue on about all of the negative of finishing last: got lost on the route, two police cars following me to ensure my safety, and then the finish line already being torn down when I crossed. But if I focused on the negative, I will forget about those girls. They did not forget about me as they found me afterwards to talk to me, take pictures, and celebrate my accomplishment while the elite runners where getting their awards.
To those girls, I won the race and was their champion!
I am glad I finished last. I am glad I did not take the easy route. If I focused on my personal record or perfect pace, I may have missed out on the impact those girls had on me one morning in March. We must never forget as athletes on our journey, our power to inspire is not to be taken likely. Personal records only matter to us; not to those who would have never dreamed of doing what we are doing.
Don't take the simple route. Inspire. Finish Last.