Why Being Last is Awesome
Earlier this week, a large group of runners passed my family and me as we were walking home from dinner at a local restaurant. As they ran by us from behind in small clusters of two to three people at a time, I looked back to see how many runners were left. In the distance, I saw a man pulling up the caboose. He was tall, dressed in black dri-fit gear and was running with solid form. Eventually he passed us, too. He was last.
As much joy as running can bring to our lives, it also can feel like it is conspiring against us at times. From heat and humidity to upset stomachs to the days where forward motion feels like a small miracle, I wondered what additional mental challenges this man was facing as he looked at the trail of runners ahead, knowing no one was behind him.
And then I immediately remembered what it feels like.
A little more than three months ago, I went to my first boot camp conditioning class since having my baby at 11 weeks postpartum. I knew I would have to modify some of the exercises and that it would probably be hard after so much time off, but I was excited to safely be able to participate again. The class begins with a half-mile warm-up run outside. For the first time in my life, I found myself at the back of the pack. Everyone was passing me, and I physically couldn’t run a second faster. At first, a sense of defeat washed over me. And then something clicked inside. I felt proud and strong. I was out there doing it when I had other choices or reasons to find an excuse not to. I was doing something that was bringing out the best in me.
This morning, I had a similar sense of despair that was immediately followed by pride. I met a group of runners at 5:30 a.m. who are currently much faster than me. One of the runners and I decided to join them for accountability, but run behind them at an easier pace. The pace she suggested was one that would normally be very easy for me. Today, at six months postpartum, it is not. As I drove to our meeting spot, I secretly wondered if I could really keep up. I hung in for 4.5 of the 7 miles before I had to let her go. My body needed a slower pace, and that is what I gave it. I was the last one in the group to finish today, but I ran 7 miles for the first time since before I was pregnant (Hello! That is like 15+ months!). Damn that’s awesome.
The world judges everything on speed and performance, and we follow suit, judging ourselves equally harshly at times. But effort and accomplishment come in many forms.
As I looked at the man running past us last night, I watched him run by with awe. This guy is awesome, I thought. He is doing something that is hard. He is conquering a challenging run in 99 percent humidity. He is moving forward without someone from the group right at his side. This guy is getting better every time he goes out there and tries. Being at the back of the pack isn’t about being slow. It’s about being someone who takes on challenging things and doesn’t give up when they get hard. It was him last night and me this morning.
Embracing where we are in our journeys is easier said than done, but trying to find the bright spots after a challenging run before breaking ourselves down for the barriers is an important change in perspective.
Thank you runner in black rounding up the pack yesterday for reminding me that every time we get out there and try, we’re accomplishing a small victory.
If you want to read a great article on back of the pack running, I love this piece from my friend Smitha: Memories from a Back of the Pack Runner.