Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 13 Oct 2007 05:15:37 -0400

Last Supper

RUNNING COMMENTARY 697

(rerun from October 1997 RC)

You don't get many chances to have first experiences, especially not at my age. But I've had two firsts in as many years at Canmore, Alberta.

This was home to the cross-country ski events at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The town now hosts the Canadian Rockies Marathon.

In 1996, I ran last in a race for the first time. While tiptoeing through the downhill start, I glanced backward and saw only two bicyclists -- the course sweepers -- behind me.

The time spent in this position was brief but not unpleasant and not without redeeming features. The experience led to a theme for my talk on returning to Canmore a year later.

I spoke at the marathon's pre-race dinner. George Sheehan called such meals "last suppers." He said we attend them more for the communion than for the carbos.

The term last supper never fit better than here. This race is organized by and benefits CAUSE -- Christian Aid for Under-Assisted Societies Everywhere. For the first time I spoke in a church, St. Michael's Anglican.

This almost inspired me to say something Sheehanesque. But I'm less steeped in religion than George was and couldn't think of any lines from him to parrot.

The church looked out on the race finish line, so I pointed to it as "tomorrow's promised land." Beyond were the Rockies, where the race would start 500 feet higher than the finish.

Then I recounted running down the mountain in last place last year. This did lead to a Sheehan story.

In George's last race before his cancer took him off the roads, he slipped into last place. Joining him was an injured runner.

The younger man turned to George and complained, "You know, we used to be good."

George responded, "We're as good as we ever were. You're hurt and I'm ill, but we're still here, doing the best we can with what we have."

I've yet to experience finishing last in any race. My best is still better than that.

But that word "last" has become a favorite of mine. My main goal in running is to LAST -- to finish as late as possible in this race of a lifetime.

"Winning," to borrow one of George Sheehan's best lines, "is never having to say I quit."

We runners make the mistake of only looking ahead and counting how many people are faster on that day. This total can be humbling.

You also need to look back, not just at the people who are running behind you but especially at those you can't see: those who don't run and never will... those who run but don't race... those who started training for this race but didn't carry through... those who once raced better than you but no longer run at all.

You're still here, I reminded the runners in Canmore. Take pride in wherever you finish. Look at all the people you've outlasted.

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