A blog by runners. For runners.

Runner’s column: lessons learned from watching the back-of-the-pack

The finish line: lessons learned from a last place finisherThere’s an older woman who runs a lot of the local races in my area and she finishes last in every single one of them.

Her gait has disintegrated to a painful-looking, slightly hunched over half-shuffle. After one particularly cold and windy race I remember overhearing her saying she was doing OK until she ran/walked into a telephone pole. Often times I notice her official distance is less than the race itself.

But she always has a smile on her face at the finish line. And she’s one of the runners I admire the most.

Somebody has to finish last, and once the awards are done, it may still be a race but what you are running for is much more about you than how you place. There’s no difference between 20th, 150th, or 600th out of 600.

It’s my belief that the people who are struggling to get their half marathon done in under 3 hours are working harder than those who finish in half that time. Call it a cumulative effort. They likely burn more calories because they are out there for twice as long. And their determination and effort is something we can all learn from.

And perhaps most admirable – many, like the woman in my area, are smiling as they approach the finish line (or shortly there after).

I’ve written before about my reasons for running and racing. I like to go fast. I’m competitive and my running goals reflect that. 

But what I’ve gained in the four years I’ve been running is a maturity – still a work in progress – that accepts the individuality of runners. Yes, it’s called a race for a reason but who is the competition for 99 percent of those runners?

Themselves.

There’s more people running, and many of them are a slower. There’s the argument that the growth of running is coming at the cost of performance. We’re not getting to be a community of better runners, we’re just creating a bigger mob. And that mob means big business for athletic apparel companies, shoe manufacturers, and secret formula supplements.

But what were all these people doing before they found running? Maybe they had a different sport – for me it was golf – or maybe they did not have a sport at all. But somehow, they ended up on a race course, making their way to a finish line with either a great, strong stride or the best bent over half-shuffle they can manage. It may sound trite to say these people should be admired but the truth is this: when you see those last place finishers you are witnessing their journey of success and struggle – and that is no small thing.

Written by Rob Haneisen / Photo Flickr

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