The other day I was talking with a fellow runner. We were both saying how we like to watch the last person finish a distance race. Of course the person who comes in last isn’t nearly as newsworthy as the guy or gal who runs through the tape. We love the winners. We get to hear their interview about how fast the course was and how good it felt to run today. Not to diminish their great feat and victory, but the people who cross the finish line first, should. They are runners.
It’s the person who comes in last though that sparks my interest and curiosity. These are people who for lack of a better term really have no business running, and for that fact running a marathon or half marathon. This year Jim and I finished the Goofy Challenge at Disney World, which consists of running the half marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday. Over the course of the weekend we took the opportunity to walk far more than run. But being relatively fit we still maintained a healthy pace well ahead of the required course pace.
As we were trudging through the back roads and service roads of Disney World we get to see and talk to lots of people. There were all of the people who had run all 18 of the Disney marathons. One of them was injured this year and was walking with the assistance of 2 canes. But he was not ready to miss number 18. There were people running in memory of cancer patients, running to remember the military, running to save their own lives. One of those guys who was running to save his own life had proudly printed on his shirt, used to be a 2 pack a day smoker, lost 50 pounds, and now I’m running my first 13.1. I find that those in the back of the pack have such compelling stories.
It is very humbling to watch someone struggle to endure during a distance event. Watching someone struggle to just finish but putting their entire heart and soul into what they are doing right at that moment, people who by taking the first step began to alter their lives.
Unlike years past, this year Jim and I stayed and watched the very last person cross the finish line during the Half Marathon. The stands were empty with the exception of a few people. The clock was nearing 4 hours and 30 minutes. A heavy man lumbered slowly towards the finish, followed by a parade of bikes signifying the last runner. He had a crowd of friends who had finished the run earlier but came back onto the course to finish the race with him. The announcer was just as energetic as if it was the first runner to cross the finish line. Mickey and Minnie Mouse were eagerly awaiting just past the finish to give a well deserved high five.
It wasn’t graceful. It wasn’t fast. There was no sprint when he saw the finish line. He just kept moving forward. And on that day in January this runner did something that he probably never imagined he would do, finish 13.1 miles.