You can’t win ‘em all.
But it’s important to remember — the guy who finishes in last place at a race has still done the same amount of work as the guy who finishes first.
Take it from me. I came in dead last at the 2020 Fall Bulldog Run. And it wasn’t easy.
Now, it’s not entirely my fault that I finished last. I volunteered to be the official race ‘sweeper’ — the person who follows behind the last runner, making sure that all participants safely finish the course, providing assistance and cheerleading to those who find themselves struggling.
However, I volunteered for this job because I knew that I would finish dead last regardless.
But that’s our little secret.
My poor physical condition for the race is partially my own fault - and partially just bad luck. I’m a bit heavier than what I should be these days, due to stress eating stuffed-crust pizza and brownies like they’ve been going out of style since COVID-19 rocked my world this past spring.
Plus there was Halloween. Halloween equals my favorite fall snack — peanuts and candy corn. I may have overindulged a tad. And by ‘tad,’ I mean that I’ve been inhaling them by the gallon for the entirety of October and November.
So instead of my sleek racing body, these days I look more like a puffy penguin. My running buddy Juanita tells me that my running form is beyond hilarious - instead of ‘running,’ she says I ‘woggle’ —walk/jog/waddle. I’m sure there’s some jiggle in there somewhere, too, with my extra poundage bounding around.
In addition to the extra fluff that is slowing me down, I’m also recovering from a common running injury: Achilles tendonitis. I blame summer boredom. I had nothing to do, but run on my treadmill whilst watching reruns of the Real Housewives on my big screen TV all day. I felt fabulous about my mileage — until my ankles and heels didn’t.
These days my ankles constantly try to lock up on me tighter than a steel drum. All I can do to walk is teeter-totter from side to side until they pop free. This only further accentuates my penguin-like appearance as I attempt to jog, no doubt.
Thus, I didn’t have much ‘run’ in my system for the Bulldog Run. There would be no sports glory for me at this race. No runner’s high. No new PRs. Just me. Woggling at the back of the pack.
I thought this would mean my race day would be easy, since my only official job would be to run slower than all the folks in front of me. Boy, was I wrong.
No matter how slowly you run - a challenging course is still a challenging course. And the Fall Bulldog course is definitely challenging. It’s nothing but a never ending series of steep hills along the River Walk and county roads west of Trinidad. The drops in between give a runner a chance to catch their breath, just barely, before huffing and puffing up another hard climb.
As if that wasn’t challenging enough, on race day we were under a high wind warning. A relentless headwind made it almost impossible to catch my breath as I woggled behind the back-of-the-pack runners. One mile in, I could feel my heart thudding loudly against my sternum as my lungs screamed for air.
As I struggled to keep my runners within sight, I thought to myself — geez, this is HARD!
But I watched the back-of-the-pack runners in front of me. They didn’t stop. Even on the challenging up hills with a 40 mile-per-hour headwind screaming in their faces they plowed forward. With grit, with determination, if they could do it; I could do it. We just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And so we did.
Our running form may not have been as graceful as the gazelles who finished in first place. And that’s OK. Sometimes, just having the courage to show up and run a race on a cold, windy November day when it would have been easier to stay in bed is a win. Sometimes, just showing up and choosing to participate in life when the world feels crazy and chaotic is a win. Sometimes, refusing to stop when it feels like the universe is doing its best to scream in our face and push us backwards is a win.
I applaud the folks who show up. Who run the race. Who show grit. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it takes to cross the finish line.
And we did.