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Full Circle: Finishing Last In A Race

Date: 
12/29/2017 - 15:14

By Cedric Jaggers
Every new year is a new thing. But the past is merely prologue to the present, so we are all one year older than we were this time last year. But why complain? Why not just enjoy what we have and what we used to have? So here is a story of the past and the present.

Back in June of 1979 Kathy ran her first 10K race. It was a small race, the Run From The Fighting Lady 10K in Mt Pleasant, SC. It started in front of the old Yorktown Aircraft Carrier and went through the nearby neighborhoods of the city. She was afraid she might not be safe on the course, since she was afraid she would be behind everyone, so I told her I would run the race with her.

I think we knew right away that she was right. We were instantly in last place and the runners ahead of us were soon out of sight, so we had the course to ourselves. The turns were marked with white powder like a lot of races were back then so we didn’t get lost. She really didn’t want to finish last, but she wanted to finish in under an hour so she was working hard. We pushed to cross the line with Kathy in 59:57 and I was one step behind her. She was really happy to finish under an hour. Kathy was second of two finishers in her age group. So Kathy didn’t finish last, but I did, and I didn’t mind. I enjoyed escorting her through her first 10K race and it was something we always remembered. Finishing last and next to last in a race.

Flash forward to 1991. We had run a lot of races in the Low Country and gotten faster, but had recently moved Up State to Rock Hill. We both had our expectations since she usually ran her 5K races in the high 21s and I was usually in the low 18s. So we signed up for our first race in Rock Hill since moving – the Great Pumpkin 5K. It was the kind of morning we both hated, warmer than usual and very humid.

But that didn’t make me think about it and run smart, oh no, I started out like I always did, i.e. too fast which thanks to what I wrote down in my running log after the race, I can tell you was 5:44.13. So wham – a terrible side stitch that never eased off. So the second mile was 6:36.67, the third mile was 6:29.79 and when the finish line came in sight I kicked like crazy (27.41) to finish in a disappointing 19:18.5, 17th out of 144 finishers, 6th in my age group.

Kathy also had a bad experience in the race as she had an asthma attack and actually passed out just after crossing the finish line. Fortunately, Ed Guettler who was doing the timing, caught her as she fell. She had run 23:29.8, 55th overall, and was first in her age group.

Why tell you all this? Neither of us can run now, due to Kathy’s Multiple Sclerosis and my foot damage from the head on car wreck back in 2013. But we do walk together, usually 2 miles every day when we can. We miss running and racing so we thought it might be nice to do the October 2017 Great Pumpkin Run for the first time in years. Since it usually takes us about 50 minutes to cover our 2 mile course, and I remembered that most 5K races only keep the finish line open for an hour, I checked with Craig Marshall, President of the Rock Hill Striders to see if they would keep the finish line open until we finished. He got the timing company to keep the finish line open for an hour and fifteen minutes (thank you Craig). So we signed up.

What’s it like to do the same race 26 years later? It was different. The newer certified course is a lasso shaped one that basically starts and finishes at the same place on the Winthrop University campus. The original course finished there too, but is not as hilly. Much better for us, and probably for the runners as well. We lined up at the very back of the crowd where we belonged so as not to get in anyone’s way. I told Kathy I would be surprised if she didn’t place and more surprised if I did. Bang, the race starter fired the gun. Started the watch (had to work to remember how to use it and get the splits) and away we went at a snail’s pace. No need to push the slightly uphill start.

We actually passed a lady about a quarter mile into the race. She was quite overweight and I think when she realized that she was in last place and couldn’t keep up with the lady walking with the cane and the guy with a foot brace on, she decided to drop out.

About 12 minutes into the race we were at least 100 feet behind the last folks we could see ahead. So around the corner comes the leader. He had already made the loop around the Coliseum and was headed home. Before the race I had picked him as the winner based on an overheard conversation with some friends who asked him if he was going to break 15 on the course, and he said he was hoping for the high 15s. That was Jonathan McGinnis and he won in 16:06, over a minute ahead of the second place finisher. So he finished before Kathy and I got to the one mile mark which clocked in for us at 19:32.6. When we got the fast (well, compared to what we usually walk) split we decided to try to break the one hour barrier.

Do you think it is hard to keep up a pace? How about running your mile 5 minutes faster than you usually do. Okay it isn’t the same but you get the idea. We really tried to hold our pace but fell off and our next mile was 18:41.3, so at 36 minutes or so we were about two thirds of the way through the race and over two thirds of the participants had already finished the race. The last mile is tough for runners and for walkers as well. The last half of it is a gradual but grueling uphill to the 3 mile mark. Then you turn left and go slightly downhill to the finish. We pushed hard in the third mile and only fell off to 18:46.9. We could see the clock and knew if we really pushed we could make it in under an hour. So we pushed, it felt like a kick we were walking so fast (okay, I’m exaggerating) but it was hard for us.

We exceeded our expectations and finished – yes! Next to last and last. Again for the first time since 1979. Both of us did it, Kathy was 162nd in 58:57 and I was a step behind her, last place 163rd in 58:59. Exactly a minute faster than we finished that 10K back in the day.

Then came the awards ceremony. Are you ready for this? We both got an award. A pumpkin, which of course was perfect for the race. Kathy was second (out of 2) and I was 3rd (out of 3) in our age group. Hey, if you live long enough you can finish last and still get an award.

But we were not doing it for awards. We did it for the memories, for the camaraderie (thanks to all of you who cheered us on, during the race and at the finish) for the sheer enjoyment and just to see if we could still do it.
When we were running 30 to 35 races per year back in the 80s we both thought we would run and race until the day we died. It wasn’t exactly a run for us but it did take us full circle. The circle of life. We all get older, if we are lucky, and all of us who do will face unexpected challenges. That’s life – as John Lennon said, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.

But life is for living. In our dreams we both still run. We hope to see you all running down the road for a good long time. Happy New Year.

Cedric Jaggers was elected to the South Carolina Runners Hall of Fame in 1992. He is the author of Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run. He lives and runs in Rock Hill, SC. He can be reached via e-mail at JaggersRun@comporium.net.

This article appeared in the January issue of Running Journal.

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