My story goes back to January, when I participated in the Arizona rock and roll half marathon. I was still holding on to my fitness from training for the 2014 Columbus marathon, and I had a great time out west. I came back pumped up about maintaining my endurance through the year I turn fifty.
“I am going to do a half marathon each month for the year to celebrate turning fifty!”
I sat down at the computer a few days after getting back from Arizona, and registered for several races. Three Creeks Metro Park half marathon in March. Earth Day half marathon at Kenyon College in April. Cap City in Columbus in May.
I couldn’t decide what to do for February, because I hate running in the ice and snow, so I decided to wait and see what February would be like. Unless you’ve blocked out the painful memory of February, it was all ice and snow and polar vortex. I decided to try something different. I found what’s called a virtual race, registered for it, printed my race number, pinned it to my shirt, and ran my 13.1 miles inside on the treadmill.
That actually went alright. It was mentally challenging, but I had a friend in the gym who periodically would walk by and cheer me on. “Ten miles Suze, you’ve got this!” It is amazing that when the legs say no more, encouragement will say keep going.
A few days after my treadmill half marathon, I got hit with a bug that brought my endurance training to a halt. I could barely get up to walk, some days. I would start to feel better, only to get hit with another round. I got so concerned, I made an appointment with my kidney doctor, and ended up getting an in-depth round of tests to make sure nothing was going wrong.
Side note: I haven’t had many of these tests in over 15 years. Do not underestimate the power of eating better, drinking water, reducing stress and exercising regularly. My kidney function tests, although I am still in stage 3 chronic kidney disease, were slightly better than they were in 1999. I smiled thinking of every time I didn’t want to go work out, but did anyway. It was making a big difference in my health.
Anyway, my doctor’s conclusion was a stubborn stomach bug. So here I was this past week, Friday evening, trying to decide whether to do my Three Creeks half marathon on Saturday. I hadn’t walked or run more than twice since the treadmill half. And the temperature forecast for Saturday morning was 14 degrees. I really hate the cold.
There is something powerful about having already signed up, though, so I decided to go. I would bundle up and run some if I could, walk as much as I needed, and quit if I didn’t feel up to finishing. I ran nice and easy for the entire first half, staying with a small group of people, including one walker. At the turnaround, I decided to walk for a mile to catch my breath, and everyone else kept going ahead of me.
It got really quiet out there. Just me and my music and my breath. When you do an “out and back” course, you can tell how many people are behind you, because you see them all when you turn around.
There weren’t any.
I thought of my first race in 2001, how terrified I had been and how determined I had been to not be last. I thought of the people standing at the water stops, freezing. It was so cold out there. They would have to wait for me. I started feeling bad, that old “I’m not worth waiting for” voice. But then something clicked over.
I thought of all the races I’d stayed at after I was done, to cheer on other runners and walkers. I love cheering and watching people’s faces light up when they see the finish line. I get choked up every time.
I thought of a picture I’d seen recently of a woman struggling to finish a race, and a policeman coming alongside her to walk with her and make sure she got through it safely.
And it clicked. Being last is an honor. And everyone waits for me because I matter as much as the person who finished first.
The little band of people at the finish line jumping up and down, cheering for me when I came around the corner, brought me to tears. They weren’t just cheering because they could go home and get warm. They knew it had been a struggle for me, and they were acknowledging my perseverance.
I came in last place. It was awesome.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt