Wednesday, November 21, 2012
What It's Like to Finish Last
Look at any race Web site and you'll see the photo of last year's winner breaking through the tape, surrounded by people cheering, timing companies carefully documenting their progress and volunteers ready to hand out bottles of water and snacks.
But what happens later on? After the crowds are gone, the signs have been removed and the volunteers are tired from an early wake up call and hours of standing outside with their best smiley face? What's left for the last runner across the finish line? I firmly believe all runners owe it themselves and the running community to find out.
When I ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last month, I wasn't there for me. Jenny enlisted my assistance to help her get across the finish line, and I got her there. She tried to warn me that I was in for a different experience. I mentioned I was looking forward to a post-race massage from one of the sponsors and that I was going to eat the fuel and snacks advertised on the course. Jenny gave me a knowing look and told me to pack my own snacks.
You see, when you're at the back of the pack, the aid stations are wiped out by the time you come along. Towards the end, aid stations are being broken down and volunteers have already fulfilled their duties. Medics get worried when they see you, knowing that much time on your feet is a strain regardless of your speed. Runners who have long since finished, showered drive past you on their way out of town.
Regardless of your race plan, you might find yourself in this position one day, too. Around mile 20, we encountered a woman who experienced knee pain, but kept going on. It's hard to keep moving forward when the mile markers have already been removed and you have no idea how much longer you'll be out there. The only thing that keeps you moving forward hours into a race is fear. The fear that all this work will be for nothing. The fear that you'll get pulled off the course with just 5K to go because you're going too slow. The fear that your gear check bag won't be there anymore because everything gets donated after so many hours. The fear that you will cross the finish line, but won't get a medal because you didn't make the time cut offs.
After more than six and a half hours of running, there is no fame. There are no prizes. There are no screaming fans (except for people telling us our tutus were awesome or that we were almost there ...liars). There's no hot food, no massages and no goody bags or champagne. There are no finisher photos, either, as we saw the photographers leaving when we rounded the corner for the last quarter mile.
All that's left is satisfaction. In yourself, in your performance and in your training. Because regardless of when you finish, you're still doing something that .001 percent of people can and have accomplished.