I entered my first 3K race July 4 in Steeleville, and I’m pretty sure it will be my last considering that’s the place I came in.
Yep, dead last, which seems like an oxymoron. I mean, I knew I was last, but I also knew I wasn’t dead because I’m pretty sure that death is less painful.
I almost didn’t come in last place, but I believe that if you can’t be first or tenth or 350th, then you should strive for dead last. Nobody remembers number 458 or number 532, but last place, that’s a place of distinction. There are only two ends in the race and if you can’t have one, take the other.
There was an old lady behind me with a few hundred feet to go. I couldn’t allow her to claim my non-victory, so I hollered back at her, “Step it up, Grandma. I want to lose this thing clean!” I thought I might have to push her over the line, and I was willing to do it even if I had to grease her walker.
Now, when I set out at the beginning of the race, I didn’t intend to lose it. I wasn’t sure I would finish it, but I didn’t intend to lose. I asked the race manager where the ambulance was parked because I wanted to make it at least that far. That way, when I collapsed, I wouldn’t be too far from the EMTs.
I started out at a pretty good pace for the first 50 yards. When I got passed by all the high school athletes, I felt no shame. But when I got passed by a woman who was seven months pregnant, I knew it wasn’t looking good.
Then I got passed by a flock of toddlers. Then I got passed by a baby in a stroller. At that point, coming in last place looked more and more achievable. There were a few people who finished the race, ran it a second time and beat me again. My fate was sealed when I got passed by two turtles in a sack race.
Maybe you’re wondering why I entered the race in the first place. Well, I got a free T-shirt. That was the main draw.
Plus, there was the peer pressure. See, we had a big family reunion the week of the Fourth and about 100 relatives showed up from all over the country. We had cousins from Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Georgia, Utah, Ohio and I’ve probably missed a couple of states.
Some of my cousins are into running and, before you know it, we had about 35 of them signed up for the race.
Well, I wanted to spend time with my cousins, and it quickly appeared that I would have to chase after them if I wanted to see them. As it turned out, I spent more time in that race than anyone. There’s no trophy for that, though.
We did win four of the trophies, including the fastest overall female. Three of my first cousins won first or second in their age groups, which is about the same age group I’m in. I guess we’re all in pretty good shape when you think about it, but my shape is more of a circle.
As my cousin, Rob, pointed out, I still beat all the people sitting on the curb.
That, by the way, was something I hadn’t counted on when I agreed to make a fool of myself. Most of the cross-country races I’ve seen were poorly attended, but not this one.
The parade was to start after the race concluded, so the streets were already lined with thousands of people. Since the parade couldn’t start till I finished, they were all cheering me on.
Or jeering me on.
As I rounded the barrel marking the midway point, I could hear a vehicle rolling slowly behind me. I wasn’t sure whether it was the ambulance on the ready or a street sweeper that was not going to stop if I fell over. You go a little faster when you believe there’s a street sweeper about to chew you up.
I look at it this way: There were about 500 people in that race who don’t even know what place they got. They might have been 32nd or 483rd. They don’t know. But I know what place I got. And nobody else had to experience the stigma of coming in last place. For those people, I stepped up by stepping back. I took one for the team.
As it turned out, our family claimed the bottom three places in the race. If I hadn’t come in last, my sister or my niece would have had to suffer the shame and indignity. I was only protecting them.
That’s my story.
My sad, sad story.
©Copyright 2013 by David Porter who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or, moreappropriately, by snail mail to this newspaper. All rights reserved.