that time I finished next to last in a race

Suddenly, it dawns on me.

The reason why this race is named “FINEST” is NOT because it is sponsored by the police department.  The reason this race is named finest is because it is for elite athletes.

I look around the parking lot and see bodies that are very different from mine.  Bodies that are made for elite races.  Bodies that are contorting in various stretches on stretch bars their owners have dragged out of their cars.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing as these stretch bars.  In fact, I am not even sure they are called stretch bars.

“Do you just want to go out to breakfast?”  BF asks who is here for moral support.

But I have trained for this race, and we’re here and so I decide that I’ll just do it.  I pin on my number, walk to the back of the start line, and wait for this elite race to get started.

The course is the same 5k course that police academy recruits have to complete in a time trial to become officers.  It seemed like a fun idea when I first signed up. Now, my stomach flops.

I’ve been running now, off and on, for a year or so.  I am not a fast runner, but I have good endurance.  And I have started to sign up for races because everyone around me is always training or something.  I reckon that if you are a runner, you are always trying to improve and the best way to know that you are doing better is to compare race times.

The gun goes off, and the race begins.  For the first half-mile, I hang with a few of the people in the back of the pack.  But then, it seems, everyone is ahead of me.  I know better than to look over my shoulder.  A fair amount of this course happens on grassy terrain, there is even a berm we have to scramble up, and so I want to keep my eyes in front of me.  I might be last,  I tell myself.  But I am running.  And isn’t that all that matters?

Soon enough, about ten minutes in, I am met with runners who have turned around already on this out and back course.  I feel a little self-conscious because I figure they all can see that I am really the last one and way behind everyone else.

“Doesn’t she know this race was for elites?” I figure they must be thinking.  Then, as I propel myself forward, I hear a familiar voice.

“Hey, Miss Molinary!”  I look at the young man running towards me, towards the front of the pack of the leading runners.  It is one of my former high school students, one of the all starts on the cross country team at the school where I had taught years ago.

“Looking good, Brian,” I answer and keep pushing myself forwards.

I make it up the crazy hill climb on a hill nicknamed Bubba.  I double back, just like those elite runners before me, and pass an older runner.  “Looking good,” I call to him.  “You, too,” he answers.  We are a community of two.  The non-elites in a race not meant for us.  Yet, we’ve made it our own.

When I cross the finish line, I can’t help but notice the time.  It’s my best time for a 5k yet.  I want to care but, truth be told, I am more excited that I didn’t just go out to breakfast when I saw the crowd.

The next day,  I pull up the race results.  There, I see my record time and that the one runner behind me was in his seventies.  If someone else was checking out these results, they might pity the 30 year old who barely edged out the 70-something year old runner for last place.  They might pity me.  And, yet, I feel no pity for myself.  I feel empowered for doing something that scared me, that was not me, and doing it as well as I could.


Ever do something that was such a challenge that it might not have looked like a success to anyone else but was to you?


PS: I eventually figured out that I didn’t really like running races.  Now, I only do them when they are for a cause.  Otherwise, I just like heading out my door in the morning and sorting through my thoughts.  I am far more into the journey of running than the measures.

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2 responses to “that time I finished next to last in a race”

  1. Cecile

    I was 13, it was the most non-sportive period in my life – I mean, I was really, really not sportive. Several students of my class had signed up for an orienteering race – and so had I. I crossed the finish line as last participant, by far the last one. My teacher took me apart and gently asked if I was OK with my name and position mentioned on the result list which would be displayed at school, or if I’d prefer them not to appear. Thanks, but I am perfectly fine with my position. Last one, so what? I only aimed to participate, enjoy the race, and cross the finish line, and so did I. There were so many students who did not even sign up for the race – I’ve done it. Last one? In a competition, there’s always a last one. But even the last one has accomplished something great, and I’m proud of myself.

  2. Deborah

    Rosie, I loved this post and am so happy you shared it. (I swear there is some mint tea or mojitos together in our future!) The last half-marathon I did, I was definitely a straggler. I hadn’t trained properly for the race but, being bull-headed (and not wanting to let my Very Much Younger training partner down [she had been on of my Girl Scouts], I did the race anyway. Around mile 10, I hurt a tendon or something in my right leg. But by that point, there was no way in hell I was quitting!! So, I limped the last three miles of the race and crossed the finish line almost dead last. We went to breakfast afterward . . . and I passed out over my pancakes. My friend’s father caught me before I hit the floor. Not my most shining moment!!! BUT. It was definitely a learning experience!! Thanks again for being your candid and glorious self! 🙂

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