Last Isn’t Losing

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.05.15 PMOn New Year’s Eve, I ran my last race in 2015.  What better way to ring out a year of running than toeing the start line one last time?  I opted for the 10K distance instead of the 5K because I am back in training for a marathon.  The 10K race started about 10 minutes after the 5K.  I watched the 5K runners take off and then made my way over to the start line.  Looking around, I noticed that there were significantly fewer of us running the 10K.

When the 10K race got going, a lot of runners were passing me.  I got a bit flustered because I was worried that I would come in last.  At one point in the race, we had an out-and-back loop so I was able to see the number of runners behind me.  I relaxed when I saw there were quite a few.  Unless something catastrophic happened, I was not going to finish last.  I ultimately ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.

Finishing last in a race is one of the biggest fears of any runner, especially newbies.  At any race, a handful of people will be standing around waiting for the last runner to finish.  Instead of arriving to cheering crowds, the last runner can be greeted with sighs of relief from race officials and volunteers who couldn’t leave until they crossed the finish line.  I can’t imagine how embarrassing that might feel.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately after seeing news reports about the woman who was the last person to finish the New York City Marathon.  I think she got more headlines than the runners who won.  Sala Cyril, a 38-year-old Brooklyn teacher, was the last person to cross the finish line.  She finished with a time of 8 hours, 28 minutes and 24 seconds.  The race officials and volunteers were there to applaud her finish but the huge crowds that welcomed the winners were long gone.  Regardless, Sala was on top of the world.  After months of training and hard work, she had achieved her goal of finishing the marathon.  Sala might have been the last to finish but she received the same medal as the runners who finished hours before her.

Mainly Marathons is a race series that recognizes not only the first person to finish one of their races but also the person who finishes last.  They realize finishing a marathon is a big deal for anyone.  The runner who finishes last in one of their races receives a special award – the Mainly Marathons Caboose.  I wonder if people battle it out to be last just so they can win one of those special cabooses.

My friend Buzz did the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Savannah with me.  It was only her second half marathon and she was worried about finishing.   She was disappointed to see that she was assigned to corral 22, the last corral.  Buzz later told me that the only thing behind her were the garbage trucks picking up the trash along the course.  She showed me a picture to prove it.  Despite being at the end of the line, Buzz kept her eyes focused on where she was headed.  Although she was diverted when the race was canceled, she had passed other runners and walkers along the way.  Buzz proved that starting out last doesn’t mean you will finish last.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.02.58 PMI heard this catch phrase a few years ago from some people who were training for a triathlon.  Their coach had told them this at the start of their training season.  I think about it frequently when I am running:

Dead Freaking Last (DFL) beats Did Not Finish (DNF) beats Did Not Start (DNS)

The person who finishes last achieves more than the person who can’t finish.  And the person who starts but can’t finish is doing more than the person who didn’t even get to the start line.  Being last is not the worst thing that can happen to you.  It shows that despite the challenge, that person made it.

We are all running our own race.  When I head to the start line of any race, the only thing I am competing against is myself.  For many people the risk of being last is enough to keep them from even starting.  Last doesn’t mean you are a loser.  The loser is the person who never had the courage to try in the first place.

I love this Nike commercial that shows what my friend, Buzz, might have felt in the back of the pack, bringing up the rear.  No matter what, you just need to keep going.