The Last Shall Be First

I’m a member of the Colorado Master’s Running Association. I joined the club about four years ago and love the monthly Saturday morning races. Of course, usually I run. However, last Saturday I volunteered to staff a water station for the 10k race along a river trail. I was the only volunteer at a water table about 2½ miles into the race. My job was to fill cups of water and offer them to the runners as they passed.

Here came the leaders some twelve or thirteen minutes into the race. None of them took a cup. Nor did they acknowledge my little comments of encouragement, “good job” or “great race,” as they passed me. This was serious business.

Before long, the distance between runners was growing shorter and I was handing out water about as fast as I could grab the cups from the table. I’d madly fill more cups between each gap of runners. Then I looked down the trail a hundred yards or so and saw a crowd—the middle of the pack. I knew I couldn’t keep up and so filled water, letting them grab their own cups from the table. No one complained. Many thanked me for volunteering.

After a couple of minutes, the runners were becoming more spread out again. I had time to fill the cups and hold them out to each runner as he or she passed. Before long, I even had time to walk down the trail with my trash bag and pick up some of the litter.

The distances between the runners continued to get longer. A woman came by and stopped. Not of a body type that I’d normally associate with a runner, she was sweating profusely, removed her outer jacket, and drank down two cups of water. She commented on the nice day, thanked me and then said, “There’s one more runner behind me.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw another runner, some fifty yards up the trail. As he approached the table I held out a cup of water which he gratefully took and drank. He politely handed the cup back to me and asked, “Am I the last runner?”

I looked as far up the trail as I could see. “I think so,” I said and quickly added, “but you’re running a great race.”

He smiled and literally shuffled off down the trail. I watched and thought that he had to be 85 years old. Then it occurred to me what I’d really have liked to say to him: “No, you’re not last. In fact, you’re first, at least in my book.”

That is exactly how I felt at that moment. I watched a lot of runners that morning—of all different shapes and sizes, levels of personal fitness, running ability, and ages, each with a different story. As I packed up my table and headed for my car I was aware of my admiration for this gentleman (as well as other racers this day) and realized how inconsequential and even trivial to compare one against another.

How often do we not participate in life because we’re afraid we might look bad, not do as well as someone else, or even lose?  I have to admit that I’m pretty competitive. I like winning or at least doing well in my age group. But perhaps joy and meaning have more to do with getting out there and participating in life than always worrying about how well we’re doing compared to the next guy.

I headed home and later looked up the race results. The fastest racer finished in just over 34 minutes. This older gentleman (Kenneth, 86 years-young) finished in 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds. Definitely first in my book.


1 Comment

  1. Seth

    Loved this!


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