I watched the NYC Marathon last weekend and marveled over the record breaking elites. I watched Mary Keitany soar through the first 20 miles with a lead of one to two minutes. I expected Geoffrey Mutai to win AND set a new course record- this was his duty. He did it in Boston so he had to do the same thing in New York. I tracked people I knew from my local running club online. I also tracked the Chilean miner, Edison Pena. I tracked Apolo Anton Ohno and Mario Lopez and gushed over their negative splits in this race. (Yeah, I know they had pacers, but that's still impressive.)
I looked at photos people posted on facebook after the marathon. I saw the pride and perseverance that is standard issue to complete this distance whether you are an experienced elite or a first timer.
But right now, I'm more impressed by those at the very very back of the pack. Those who were the last to cross the finish line.
As an "average" runner who has been racing for long enough now, I tend to forget about the people that are so far behind me that even I could lap them on a good day, depending on the distance. While blog-hopping, I stumbled across a couple of blogs by people who went into detail about finishing dead last.
And while there may be no special medal and no prize money for the person who is last, I am finding myself exponentially impressed by them- they are uniquely revered in a way that the leading elites will never be in my mind. No one wants to be last. No one says "I'm going to do my best to come in last." Those who are last are resigned to and at peace with being at the very back of the pack, but no one is eager for last place. I have watched junior high school track meets and found myself most intrigued by the kid who consistently finishes last, but gives the race everything he's got time and time again.
There is something about that kind of heart- to consciously put aside the concern for what others might think, see, feel about you and just freakin' go. To bear in mind that your efforts are just as significant and valuable as any stealthy fast athlete. To feel the sense of accomplishment. I hope that these last place athletes know that stepping up to the start is as much a victory as crossing the finish.
I tried to search the results page of the NYC Marathon to see who came in last. It seems that it can't be done if you don't know that person's name or bib number. But I have seen many cross the finish at many races of varying distances long after everyone else- during that time when everyone else stopped watching and cheering and has already headed home or to the awards ceremony or post race party. Sometimes the race marshals are already gone and the water and post race food is depleted or (worse!!!) put away.
It takes balls to be last. Bigger balls than it takes to be first, I believe. So if you're last, you have my awe and respect. You've won your race in a unique way that many will never understand. May you not always be last, but may you always remember and appreciate what it took to stand at the start knowing that you might be last and how it built you. Last place takes courage and strength and might. Last place is the greatest testament of "I'm not giving up, no matter what." Keep at it.