Friday, July 24, 2015

Coming in Last

My running partner and I always held a similar approach to running races. Sometimes we even uttered it aloud when others would ask about our time goals. "I certainly won't be first, but I won't be last either." When I ran my first full marathon in 2012 my students asked if I planned on winning. I explained just finishing would be winning. I would not break the tape, nor would I shuffle in with the SAG wagon at my heels. From the first time I set foot on a track to run a heat 31 years ago to my first 5k 25 years ago to my most recent marathon I have never come in last place. This July that all changed.

I was engaged in my typical head talk. Should I run my hometown 5k or 10 miler? That was the question. Two weeks earlier I recorded my slowest EVER 5k (although I have not seen the official splits because my running partner is no doubt trying to save me from mental self-berating.) I secured third in my age division scoring a fabulous glass, but shook my head as it was an ugly accolade save the awesome glass and beauty of finishing. 

My running base had dwindled away no doubt as I was coming off a hiatus due to a nasty jaw infection that found me in the hospital on intravenous antibiotics and almost septic. 

So what to do? Which race to run? The 5k would be over (relatively) quickly. The 10miler would hold fewer in the field and would be chocked full of passing hometown haunts. I opted for this 10miler. The course would be a veritable run through my childhood. A mile in I ran past the farmhouse where my grandmother welcomed my father into the world and listened with bated breath to the radio announcer relay events of World War II.Three miles in I ran past my Uncle Phil and Aunt Lorene's house. I could picture their blue prints rolled out on my gram's coffee table when the house was just a dream. Another quarter mile down the road I was running past my Uncle Stan and Aunt Barb's house, skirted by woods in which my cousins and I played countless games of war and tag. Uncle Stan was strolling from his polebarn to the house. I drew a big breath and yelled, "Hey, isn't there a water stop here?!" A query which sent my uncle into stitches. Another half mile down the road was the house I lived in from preschool until third grade. I grinned to see it was still the "Seashell gray" color I had the honor and responsibility to pick decades ago. Just then my Uncle Stan and Aunt Barb drove past me in their pickup truck merrily beeping. They were on their way to meet my parents for the Saturday sibling breakfast. Energized by my own private horn section, I picked up my pace. My phone app announced my time and distance, and I wasn't running too shabbily. I was approaching Fremont Lake, the body of water where I grew up swimming, paddle boarding, tubing and pontoon boating. Turns out it wouldn't just be the water IN the lake that I encountered.

As I made the curve of Lake Drive the sky grew ominously gray. It was like I was running into a wind tunnel. Branches from the canopy of trees above groaned and several broke clean off and whipped into the road. A pair of runners I had been traveling along with peeked back over their shoulders at me to make sure I remained unscathed. Rapidly the gray sky spewed forth its fury with large, cold, raindrops pelting everything beneath them in a frigid spray. I ran on laughing at the joke of myself. As I made my way along the lakeshore the proprietor of Lakeside Swirl offered me sanctuary in his shop. "Thank you, I am alright. I am already wet and only have a few more miles." As I ran past the last water stop. The soggy volunteers cheered me on, "Looking good! You okay?" I laughed and responded, "I live in Vietnam rain is par for the course!"  No sooner had I uttered this than lightening split the sky in a brilliant arc. I ran on chuckling to myself. I heard a low rumbling behind me that was not thunder. It was the SAG wagon. It appeared the minivan had picked up several runners on the course behind me. The driver slowed and rolled down the window. "Lightening has been sighted on the course. Would you like a ride?"
"No sir, thank you. I would like to finish."
The driver smirked, "I kinda thought you may say that."
"I promise I will run faster." 
He laughed. Gave me the thumbs up sign and drove off to eventually scoop up the two runners in front of me.
As I promised I ran my final mile as the fastest. As I crossed the time mat the gentleman overseeing the finish line said, "And you are it! Well done!" He promptly began picking up shop as the rain was coming in sheets and the thunder and lightening was unrelenting. I had finished dead last! 
The race director came over and gave me a hug. "You did it! We picked up quite a section of the field."
"I had to finish, despite the storm. After all I do live in Vietnam."
"Although it was not advisable we figured you ARE an adult of consenting age."
Never say never, right? I was dripping wet and met some incredulous stares from fellow runners who had been plucked off the course, as I re-entered the shelter of race central. I wasn't sure if the stares were offered in admiration or with an air of, "You are a FOOL!" Either way I still found myself chuckling. 
My dry carriage/car, occupied by my kids and parents, arrived to bring me home. "So are you still glad you did it mom?" asked my daughter. "Yes. I am." I went on to relay the highlights of the race. My kids wanted to justify that REALLY their mom did not come in last because others posted a DNF. I boldly clung to my title of "dead last." Coming in last taught me that courage is required to stay the course and finish regardless of in which place one finishes. 
2 Timothy 4:7

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