Recently, Runner’s World posted a little contest on Facebook where the entrants would post about the funniest time they finished last or almost last in a race. This was my entry:
It was hilarious. First I was handed a t-shirt that was two sizes too small. I was told that they don't usually get runners of my size. The race started and I quickly fell behind. After a few minutes, I had to start dodging cars because after the main pack of runners, the "closed course" was open to motorists. At some point, the on-course volunteers were released. I guess they figured I was so slow, I didn't need to rehydrate like the "real" runners. Oh, also because the course markers were taken down, I got lost!!! Nothing funnier than trying to find your way on the course. By the time I finished they'd already taken down the Finish Line, so I didn't get an official time. Also, they'd run out of medals!!!! What a hoot. They told me they'd mail me one but never did. I guess they thought that might encourage me to sign up the next year.
Almost all of this has happened to me, although not all in one race. I’ve never been in a race where they’ve taken down the finish although I have been the last person through.
Apparently, sarcasm was not what they were looking for.
After reading through a couple of entries, I narrowed in on what it seemed they were looking for. They were all essentially “The night before the 10k, I ate at a new Indian-Mexican fusion restaurant in my town and I tried the chicken curry burrito. The next day I redefined the meaning of the word ‘fartlek’” or “I had last run my local 5k two years ago and in the year I sat out, they changed the course. I ran the old course thinking I was leading the way the entire time until I turned left at Main and re-joined the new course. I ran a 5 Miler and still beat 3 people who only ran a 5k!” They didn’t want “Back of the Pack” runners; they wanted fast runners who, for whatever reason (usually scatological), were in the back. In other words, they didn’t live there, they were just visiting. And pooping in my backyard.
I’m a Back of the Pack Runner; I’ve been the last finisher in races. Finishing last isn’t fun and the people who finish last are not something to make fun of.
In an attempt to reach out to the disenfranchised, Runner’s World posted a blog a few days later where a runner wrote about going for a training run at the same park where runners were running a 24 Hour UltraMarathon (the runners ran for 24 hours straight and the runner covering the most miles tallied 155) and wondering if she “deserved” to be there. Blah blah blah, Sister Sledge music, Sugar Hill Gang, the runner accepts water from the volunteer and accepts herself in the process. Awwww.
I’ve been running with New York Road Runners since 2011 and from day 1, I knew I didn’t fit in. First, I didn’t wear the right clothes. I found a recent article titled “Don’t Be That Guy at the Race” or something like that. Apparently, I violate two cardinal rules: 1) I wear baggy shorts (the shame), 2) I tuck my t-shirt in (the horror). Everywhere around me, people were striking yoga poses. I stretch by tying my shoes. BTW, I wear the wrong shoes as well. I opt for the running sneakers with the extra cushioning instead of the sneakers that weigh 4 ounces less. I’ve never worn sneakers where each toe gets its own home and the idea of it skeeves me out. In that first race, I didn’t have a PB (peanut butter?) or PR (public relations?) or know what either meant (I perked up when I thought someone mentioned PBR though).
BTW, while I was writing this blog, the Don’t Be This Guy article was reposted on Facebook by Runner’s World. I get it Runner’s World, there’s not enough room in your world for this runner!!
Then of course, there was the other issue. My weight. I was the only O in a land full of I’s. In my last race, I followed a group of four girls who were slightly ahead of me for most of the course. I was trying to figure out why they were able to stay ahead of me when I realized that to equal my weight, one of the four girls would have to travel around the course with two of her friends on her back. I did end up finishing ahead of them for the record.
Whether I finished ahead of them or not doesn’t really matter to me. I race against myself every time. In my last race, I finished about 30 seconds per mile faster than my last time. I had an ambitious goal of 2 and a half minutes less but wasn’t able to get the training in to achieve that goal. I’ve been training hard since then and am planning on kicking ass at my next race.
Here’s a secret about Back of the Pack runners: We are trying hard. Some of us are trying harder than people who finish with times that are much faster than ours. I didn’t pick up running because it was easy. In high school and college, running was something I did before I hit someone. I would never use the word runner to describe myself. In the summer before my sophomore year of high school I was in probably the best cardio shape of my life (I ran a 6:07 mile), I made myself a mix tape to listen to called the Jogging/Walking/Crawling Mix. I didn’t even call my mixtape a Running Tape. It did have Cat Stevens on it which may have disqualified it.
There may be a couple of thousand people who register for the races I participate in but I’m only competing with myself. Did I improve my time? Was I able to push myself to run an extra lamppost or did I stop short of the mark I set for myself? Did I finish strong? In one of my first entries on the blog, I talked about how I got frustrated for being passed at the end of the Coogan’s Run. It wasn’t the other runner at all. It was me not having anything left in the tank to hold off her charge, it was me not having the pride in myself to not give in, it was me not working hard enough in the weeks coming into the race. On those days, I don’t feel much like a runner at all.
This year, I haven’t had any races that I finished thinking “I’m a Runner.” I am coming up on the Portugal Run on June 15th which is a race that I always mark off on my calendar every year. The first time I ran it, Farrington Racing showed up crazy late and were being yelled at to start the race in the next 30 seconds or our times wouldn’t count. I was wearing a heavy Under Armour long sleeve shirt and the weather was really hot. In my haste to start, I tied my shoes too tight and started losing feeling in my feet. Finally, due to drinking a dairy-based Atkins shake before the race (MILK WAS A BAD CHOICE!), I was puking in the first quarter mile. My race was actually so bad, I didn’t run Portugal the following year. I was hiding.
Last year, I had been training seriously and wanted to run the race for two reasons. First, I dedicated the race to my Dad as it was Father’s Day and my Dad has always been my best coach. Second, I had a score to settle with the race. I prepared well and ran a great race. I pushed myself every chance that I could and set PB’s for per mile pace and 5 mile time. My per mile time was 13:23.
Your time is only important because it is a way to measure how hard you’ve been preparing. If it’s a faster time than your last race, you trained well. If it’s slower, you need to work a little harder. 13:23 was a good time for me although I finished 5154 out of 5279. There wasn’t anything funny about it but I was smiling after the race. I was a runner.
So, some people are wondering why I’m writing proudly about a time that many runners would be embarrassed by. Is it that I’m an idiot? Have I gotten soft? To answer those questions, I went back to the beginning. Why did I start running again? To prove to myself that I could. To myself.
So look for me when they are about to break down the finish line. I’ll be wearing baggy shorts and a tucked in t-shirt that’s covered in sweat. I’ll be breathing hard; my muscles will be burning because I will be giving it all that I have left. If it doesn’t impress you, I don’t care.