[This dispatch comes directly from Steven. Andrea has never placed in last in a road race. Probably never will.]
I knew I was coming in last the moment we pulled into the parking lot. The race was small. 140 runners showed up to circumnavigate the narrow trail around the Boulder Reservoir, not far from where the Colorado wildfires are currently raging. I could see the other runners gathering near the starting line. The crowd looked far too fit. It turned out that a bunch of them were Olympic hopefuls and University of Colorado track stars using the race as a training run. But I didn’t know that at the time. I simply looked around for the weakest person there, and not finding him or her realized that person must therefore be me.
It has taken me a long time to write about my spectacular defeat. My instinct was to bury it, throw away my race number and pretend it never happened. That used to be an option before race results were posted on the Internet. These days it’s impossible to hide. Less than two hours after the race I received an email from a friend on the East Coast who runs marathons averaging 7:30 minute miles, “Saw the results from the 10k. Congratulations. As far as I’m concerned it’s a perfect score: 140 out of 140.”
There are other implications of being last. When you are clearly struggling to hold last place people lie to you in the most condescending way. “Almost there!” “Lookin’ good.” “Lookin’ Strong!” They say these things in a tone normally reserved for potty training toddlers.
Worse yet, by the time I crossed the finish line the food was gone and the beer tent had run dry. One of the many reasons I love Andrea is that she stood at the finish line as I crossed, holding out a beer she’d rescued before the keg tapped out.
I’ve only come in dead last once. But over the years, I’ve been passed by every conceivable brand of runner. Old people, young people, people pushing baby carriages and even one guy who weaved his way through a race juggling three brightly colored balls. People have passed me in elaborate costumes, complete with foam rubber heads that clearly make it difficult to breathe. I’ve been passed by too many children to count, all using the same, sprint then walk, sprint then walk technique that children seem to favor.
During a race in San Francisco, I was passed by a man running in red, patent leather pumps with a three-inch heel. He was not a small man and all of him was on display since his running gear consisted of nothing but the shoes and a pair of black leather shorts. This is the absolute truth. He made a late move in the last 100 meters of a 5k in Golden Gate Park and I lacked the reserves stay with him.
Through all of these experiences, I’ve never once considered giving up racing. And slowly but surely, I have gotten faster. These days I like to tell people, for geeky asthmatic Jewish boys, I’m the fastest one there is. My actual speed is still unimpressive, but within that narrow category I am king.
When I race these days, I’m still passed by runners on both sides like a Fiat trying to keep up on the Autobahn. But no matter where or how I finish, I finish. In the end, that knowledge gets me back to the starting line.
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Dear Shayne,I am very moved by your comments, and I feel preomtpd by them to dig deeper into my own behaviors and attitudes. Especially the comfort of holding on to negative images of oneself.Thanks to you.Some time back at work, our staff formed a white identity study group in preparation for offering dialogues about white identity to our students. One thing I discovered as a participant in the original group was how much difficulty I and the other white participants had in naming and owning positive attributes for whiteness. I think on the one hand, we feared being seen as politically incorrect to name positive attributes of whiteness sounded too much like white supremacy. Moreover, in addition to the ego comfort that you described about holding onto negative stereotypes, there was also a sort of ego boost in denigrating whiteness we could feel that we were good ones good white people, which made us better than other members of our group.Obviously, all this kept us caught in our egos, and did nothing to contribtute to the goal of working for racial equity and understanding. We concluded (even though we/I do not consistently act on this insight, of course) that until we were able to claim the positive things about being socialized as a WASP, we could not genuinely work to overcome the negative things that our identity creates in the world.So, when does our race/gender group meet again? I miss you folks.Love, Charles
I love your marathon story! It is inspiring that you embraced your effort rather than the outcome. (Although I like the fact that you also revel in that) I have done the Alcatraz swim 3 times, and last time I was beaten by a dog. Yes, a dog. I am overweight, 49 years old ,but that doesn’t stop me from trying. Love your diet idea. The one thing that has stopped me from eating healthier to lose weight is the repugnant idea of not being able to socialize normally with my friends. Your revolutionary idea is amazingly liberating. It has totally changed my attitude about “dieting” I will keep you posted. For now I am finding this to be a fun experiment. Best wishes on your book!