Sunday, September 2, 2012

What It Feels Like To Come In Dead Last

It's hard to describe what I was feeling when I logged into the Wendy's Kids Half Marathon website a couple of days before the race, saw a link to the list of participants, and then realized that there were only 112 people pre-registered for this race.  Worse, I was the oldest female - by almost 10 years - registered for the half marathon.  This did not bode well.

The reason I'd logged onto that website was to double-check the start time for the race.  I vaguely recalled not seeing a time limit for the race when I registered several months ago.  I thought I'd check back to see if this information had been added.  It hadn't.

So when I walked over to the little park on the river Friday evening to pick up my race packet, I asked one of the folks wearing a bright yellow "race staff" shirt what the time limit would be on the race.  The reply:  2 1/2 hours and then the course closes.

"What??  You mean to tell me that I need to cross the finish line in 2 1/2 hours or less to be considered a finisher?"  They assured me that, no, the time limit was only for purposes of reopening the streets to traffic.  They would keep the finish line open, but move it up onto the sidewalk, for as long as they needed to, until the last participant came in.

Having a really bad feeling about this, I tossed and turned all night worrying.  If I'd known how tiny this race was and how short the duration, I wouldn't have registered.  But when I told the head honcho what my expected finish time would be, I had his assurances that they would keep that clock running for me.  You see, I am old and slow.  Even running - not walking - all 13.1 miles of a half marathon, my finish time is around 2:45-2:50.  And this is a good time, often putting me in the top half to top third of the pack for my age group.   I actually finished in the top 10% of my gender/age group of more than 110 women in the Flying Pig Half Marathon in 2010.  But compare my time to runners even just 5 years younger than me, and I'll be in the bottom of the pack.  Getting old is hell.

Saturday morning, when I walked over to the start line, I could see just how small and low-key this race was going to be.  The "crowd" of runners was tiny.  My old running club sometimes had more runners show up for a Saturday morning long run.  I got there just minutes before the start and when the air horn went off signaling the start, the pack took off like it was shot from a cannon.  Within a mile the route took a right turn and I soon lost sight of all but a couple of speed-walking older men. 

I struggled to hang on to these two guys but slowly, ever-so slowly, they left me behind until, with all of the left and right turns on the course, I could no longer see them ahead of me.  The race course was two identical loops and it wasn't until these two guys reached the turnaround point and passed me the other way did I see just how far ahead of me they were...maybe a minute or two ahead of me at the first turn, and maybe three or four minutes ahead of me at the second turn.  They knew I was close behind at the start, so greeted me with encouragement each time we passed. 

This was as plain and simple a race as it can get.  Traffic control was non-existent once we got out of the downtown area.  There were no spectators.  There was no entertainment along the course.  Just us runners and the occasional barking dog behind a house along the course.

Just to rub in the fact that I am a slow runner, the head of the pack came charging toward me well before I reached that first turnaround point.  Worse...the lead runner came up behind me and passed me on his second loop when I was only about 3/4 of the way around my first loop.   Depressing.

When I got to about mile 11, a police car pulled up next to me to tell me the streets were now officially open to traffic and I would need to move onto the sidewalk.  I was now on my own.  No volunteers at the corners to point the way.  No more water station at mile 12.  They'd packed up and left.  Thankfully I'd reached the one at mile 10 - the turnaround point - and realizing they'd soon be closing the course, I sucked down a PowerBar gel and chased it with water.  My last water on the course.

Well...the road guards and the water station crews may have all packed it in.  But not me.  I kept at it, kept putting one foot in front of the other.  I was determined to finish this race no matter the fact that I was the last one out there on the course, the last to cross the finish line.

There was a woman standing on one of the corners along the route, her bicycle leaning against a tree, taking photographs of the runners.  We passed her on each of the out and back legs of the race.  When I reached her for the last time, she said a few encouraging words and then said she'd ride in alongside me to the finish line.  I'm sure, since she had a walkie-talkie clipped to her belt, that it was to report my status and to make sure I stayed on the course and didn't short-circuit the route, but I was glad for the company as I covered these last 2 or so miles to the finish. 

When I took the last turn and was now just 0.2 mile from the finish line - straight ahead and in view - I heard her key her walkie-talkie to say I was on the last approach.  This cued everyone up who'd been standing around at the finish line waiting for me, and they gave me a rousing cheer as I crossed the finish line.  Sheesh!! 
Finisher's Medal.
A little disappointed that it's the same medal given to
half marathon finishers and 10K finishers.
Think I'll get it engraved on the back to say
the date, the race, and my finishing time.

I thanked the staff for waiting for me, as they hovered over me offering Gatorade, water, animal crackers, pretzels, watermelon, pancakes.  The two speed-walking men really weren't that far ahead of me and one of them was still there at the finish, drinking water and eating a slice of watermelon.  We congratulated each other on our finishes and I headed for the hotel to get showered, dressed and go in search of lunch. 

The lesson I learned from this - and one that I kind of already knew from a previous half marathon - is not to sign up for an event that is not a combined full marathon/half marathon race - or at the very least, look for a really large half-marathon event with a 4 hour limit that will attract older, slower runners as well as walkers.  When you've got thousands of runners doing 26 miles, you've got thousands of runners coming in well after you do and a 3 hour finish time doesn't seem so pathetic.

Well, anyway....despite the demoralizing finish, I did indeed finish.  I have now added state #9 to my collection.  Here's what my 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:


  1. Who gives a ferret's fundament if you were last? For my two-cents, you finished in about 1/3rd of the time it would take me and, more importantly, you were there. IMHO, you're a hero for doing this...and for supporting those kids.

  2. You started it and you finished it. Be proud. Think of how many people want to do that or can't or are too scared, but you are out participating. I say good job.

    You are one of my inspirations for my 5k next week, and I thank you.

  3. Keep in mind your objective is to run in all 50 states, which is quite an accomplishment in itself, much bigger than a single event. This like going to Fort Kaskasia in Illinois, simply to get the state for the NPT.

    Your success here far exceeds coming in last.


    1. Thanks, Willie! I've got to just keep my eye on the prize. I can't believe you remembered that Ft. Kaskaskia stamp!