Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cheering for the Last Finisher

Read a single entry of an individual blogger, and you get a recap of one day, one project, one vacation....

Read a year or two's worth of entries in chronological order, and you get a window into a life.

Several months ago, someone shared a blog called "Runs for Cookies" with me, and even though I have never been significantly overweight, I was immediately drawn in by the voice of Katie, who lost 100 pounds and developed a love for running in the process.

Katie's blog features a weekly Motivational Monday post, with reader-submitted stories about races run and medals won--often by people who never believed they could walk a block, let alone run a marathon.

Today, I followed a link to the blog of one of Katie's Monday successes--another Katie who writes a blog called "Forty, Fit and Fabulous?"

I ended up reading all of this other Katie's entries, just as I had with runsforcookies Katie, and her posts from 2011 to early 2015 tell a story of pain and despair, determination and success, a story that develops not linearly but in the roller-coaster fashion experienced by so many people who battle obesity.

But reading these entries also opened my eyes to a runners' world subculture that I have largely ignored--the back of the pack.

I have always been active but didn't begin running until I was in my late 40s. When I did, I was one of those lucky people who was successful almost immediately. I won my age group in my first 5K and spent the next several years running away from a bad marriage and toward recognition as one of Delaware's top age-group runners.

I'm pretty sure I never deliberately snubbed any of the back-of-the-pack runners, but I also didn't give much thought to the people whose age-group place was 23 out of 24 or 49 out of 50, let alone to that very last person to cross the finish line.

It wasn't until I read Katie #2's blog that I learned some people actually decide whether or not to enter a race based on whether they can cover the distance before the course closes.

There was one time a few years ago that I actually paid attention to the guy finishing last. It was a July 4th 5K that I had talked Doug into walking. I finished running the 3.1 miles and waited for Doug to come across the line about 20 minutes later. It was an out-and-back course, and we had both seen a very obese man walking out as we were coming back. We both wondered whether he would even be able to complete the entire distance, given his weight and the extreme heat and humidity of a Delaware summer, so we got some water and waited at the finish line.

An hour had gone by when we saw him coming down the street. Everyone began to cheer for him as he finished and sat down on the curb to recover.  Someone got him some water, and we all waited to make sure he was OK before we left--waving to him and calling out, "good job."

After reading Katie #2's blog, I realized that I want to do more of that.  It's great to finish in the top 10 or 20 percent of the field, and at 62, I'm pretty proud that I can still do that.

But the people in the bottom 10 or 20 percent have lots to be proud of too--maybe more than I do because they've worked so hard just to get there.

Thanks, Katie and Katie, for helping me see that there's more to the weekend 5K than just the awards for the top finishers. 


  1. I think it takes much more guts and determination to run a race you know you aren't going to win. Appreciate reading your thoughts on this.

  2. I agree, Rita, and I have developed new admiration for those who have to fight every inch of the way just to finish.