Coming in last   2 comments


In 2000, when I was 40, I ran my first 5k. My friend Martha patiently trained me for months beforehand, distracting me with her funny stories and gentle good humor while I bitched and moaned and whined and complained. The race was the Run Through History at my Antietam Battlefield (yes, it’s mine) and I came in last.

It’s kind of fun coming in last. The race crew is REALLY excited to see you. You get way more cheers than you do coming in not last but toward the end of the pack, which is where I’ve run pretty consistently ever since that first race.

I actually took a long break after that inauspicious beginning, but when I started getting close to 50 and my weight was creeping up and my energy levels were fizzling out and I realized I don’t like bicycling or pilates or yoga at home by myself but I also don’t like to drive to (or pay for) gyms and walking didn’t seem to be doing the trick, I decided to bite the bullet and get back in the game.

I did a 5k. Then I did a 10k. I did a few more. Then I got really bold (and Martha came back into my life and got me ready, bless her) and did a half marathon. That was a huge high moment for me, crossing THAT finish line. At no time did I ever lose a ton of weight or develop anything like speed. But having the tenacity to plod for 13 miles was pretty heady. I was proud of myself, and rightly so.

The ol’ man eventually jumped on the bandwagon, and he’s a natural athlete so he got really good really quickly. Before long we did our first half together, and by together I mean we were at the same race. I don’t expect anyone to keep my pace. I have had vultures circle me. No lie.

Then we got a crazy wild hair up our respective asses and decided to go for the big prize. I still can’t believe we trained all that winter of ’13-’14, not only brutal distances but brutal weather, but we did it. We ran the Gettysburg Marathon in spring of 2014. Gettysburg has a 6 1/2 hour limit which I was sure I couldn’t reach and I didn’t care. I had myself pegged for an 8 hour finish and the ‘official’ time and medal didn’t matter one little bit.

Well, until about mile 20 when, to my utter shock, I realized I had a shot of making it across the finish line in under the time. So my last 6 miles, already miserable, were even more so because I was pushing it past my comfort zone (not that there’s a comfort zone in a marathon) in order to make it.

And I did it. 2 minutes under the time, and 3rd to the last of all the finishers. Damn, that felt good. And I’m not sure anything in my life has tasted better than the carton of chocolate milk I polished off, my medal around my neck.

Survived all of that, the training and the marathon, without injury, but 6 months later in the Freedom’s Run half I ballsed up both feet, and have been coping with plantar fasciitis ever since.

It puts a crimp in your running for sure. And sets up a vicious circle of not running because your feet hurt, so you gain weight, which makes your feet hurt more, and increases the chances of re-injuring them because feet don’t like the weight/running combo, O no my precious.

I kept doing the shorter runs for a year, but the pain took a toll. I managed one more half, and then basically quit running. I’ve barely run 4 miles at a pop for the last year. I honestly can’t remember the last time I ran further than that, and mostly what I’ve done is walk, or nothing.

Lots of nothing.

So what possessed me to sign up for a 10k trail run? Trail runs are not my friend anyway. I don’t run well on trails. I trip, and sometimes fall, and for an aging fat girl falling is not fun and potentially dangerous.

I thought I’d get ready, that signing up would motivate me, but it didn’t. I got so angsty about it that I told the ol’ man I was going to switch down to a 5k, which would still be challenging. Trail runs feel like twice the distance of road runs. And that wouldn’t be bad. A 5K trail run after a year of no training would be a good start.

But then spring happened. I was so euphoric at having warm sun and cool breezes on my winter-shriveled skin that I threw caution to the wind and stayed in the 10k.

The farm where the run took place was an hour away, up in the mountains of West By Gods Virginia on a spectacular farm with naturally raised sheep and chickens,  lovely fields and woods. It was once around the course for the 5k and a simple second loop for the 10. Fairly small field, which was nice because the woods required single file, and there weren’t a lot of port-a-potties.

I started out walking at the back of the pack, got stuck behind people walking even more slowly than I (imagine that!) through the woods, then walked all the grassy bits and bumped up to my slooooow distance jog only where the well-surfaced dirt road was wide and safe. And downhill. It was challenging, but even out of shape it was a sensible plan that I could maintain.

By the time I looped around the 5k-ers, even the slow ones like me, were finishing up, and the 10k-ers were well on their way around the second loop. So I had the rather unique experience of having the entire course to myself, which was really kind of wonderful.

By then the sun was getting pretty hot, but it coaxed out the sacred intoxicating fragrance of fresh-cut hay, one of my favorite smells in the world, one that tells me the Mother is right there, immanent, present and manifest in my world. There were streams and ponds with peepers and bullfrogs. Most of the trees were only just waking up, so still traced lacework fingers against the blue blue sky. It was just me, and the mountains and fields, and some really sweet volunteers who didn’t guilt trip me for keeping them waiting.

As I topped the last hill the ol’ man was waiting for me, to cheer me across the finish line. As it came into view the announcer called my name and everyone there broke into applause. And as if that weren’t wonderful enough, a big bald eagle came soaring right overhead. Himself, giving me an attagirl.

I didn’t get a picture of him. The fellow up there is a stock photo (thank you, WordPress!) But he was every bit that spectacular. Especially since the run is to benefit the wild bird population of WV.

Heh. I am a rambler. I didn’t really start this bloggy post to talk about my run, but about the way my attitude has changed about running. I’ve never had any ambitions to win or even to be fast. But I had some sensible goals along the line- to improve my time, to work on intervals and hills, get my wind up, my heart rate down, lose some weight, get better at distance and trails. I even achieved some of them.

It seems funny to think about now, but during the marathon training David and our brother-in-law Michael, who did the marathon with us, were doing a long run, somewhere in the 20 mile range, but it was my short week. I did a sweet 7 miler around Sharpsburg, and every step was happy. It felt SO good do ‘only’ 7 miles after the increasingly long ones I’d been doing. I remember thinking ‘7 miles will never seem long again.’

Well, I was wrong about that. Also about one of those silly parameters I set for myself that I’d never do a mile slower than 15 minutes, and do at least one half marathon a year.

Goals are great. I don’t know how one improves without ’em. But I’m not in a goalie place right now. My run today was the run I needed to do today, and it might not be the run that’s right for me next week. I’d still like to work back up to halfies again. But at a weight that’s a top end for me and hinky feet, who knows?

Today’s time was 16 minutes and 44 seconds per mile. I came in last. And I loved it. I’m no longer in a place where I beat myself up for it. While I’d love to be slim and fit and fast, what I am is someone who at 58 with a big round belly and bad feet can still lump along for 6 miles. Today that’s plenty good enough.










Posted April 15, 2018 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

2 responses to “Coming in last

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  1. Inspiring. I’ve tried running and could never get it to stick so I am awed by your story. I love the message of hope, self-respect (care/love), and tenacity!

  2. thank you, deb!

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