My First Last Best Place Finish

By PAM GARDINER, Wellbuddies Coaching

A year ago, I was inspired to write an essay about the courage and effort it took for a young beginning runner to finish last in the Sweathouse Half-Marathon. One thing led to another, and Run Wild Missoula later established the Last Best Finisher Award as an option for race directors to celebrate success at the back of the pack.

As 2011 winds down and I review my own year as a runner, many outstanding memories call for celebration. One of the most recent and noteworthy of those was my first-ever experience of finishing last in a race.

The Freezer Burn, a 10-miler that advertises “headwinds in both directions,” is sponsored by the University of Montana Health and Human Performance Department. The race attracts the young, the intrepid, and the über-fit. The very name of the race is a barrier to those of us who love a warm chair in front of the Sunday morning fire.

I am not sure where I got the impulse to sign up – perhaps the example of a friend or two, or a masochistic desire to push the personal envelope. I knew from the start that I would likely finish last. This was not an event that reached out to beginners, walkers, and the elderly. Buddies in my pace range were finding better ways to spend the day.

As the day neared, the forecast called for teens. When the day dawned, it revealed a fresh new layer of snow. My preliminary “body-check” came in under 100 percent. Still, I pulled on my ice-joggers, layered up, and drove out to Frenchtown High School. I lined up at the back.

It was a beautiful day. The headwinds were light. The snow-covered scenery was lovely. I kept legendary octogenarian Bob Hayes in (distant) view for inspiration, and crossed the finish line in last place at 2:07. Tim Brooker announced my name. Friends smiled, cheered, and hugged. A volunteer handed me hot cider. I envisioned my finish as a gift to the woman just ahead of me and the couple in front of her, breathing with a sigh of relief, “At least we weren’t last.”

 Back at home, I pulled a Last Best Finisher Award out of the bag and hung it on my wall. For many slower runners, the ultimate fear is finishing last in a race. Now I know: It’s not that bad. Now that I have gotten it out of the way, I never have to fear it again. I am genuinely proud of myself for signing up, getting up, getting out of the house, and running ten miles with a mostly young, buff crowd when there were lots of warmer, easier things to do.

What is your experience with confronting the fear of public failure? How have you grown from pushing your personal envelope and doing it anyway? Would you do it again?


Do you want to join the Back of the Pack? You might like more of Pam’s posts: Galloway Training for the Back of the Pack, Back of the Pack Welcomes New Runners, and Who Will I Find at the Back of the Pack?.

  Visit the Run It / Walk It Archive.


Pam Gardiner retired from the US Forest Service in 2008, and trained as a wellness coach (doing business as Wellbuddies Coaching). She also volunteers for Run Wild Missoula, co-directing the Galloway marathon training program and developing programs that encourage slower runners and walkers at the Back of the Pack.

Pam started running in her early 50’s, and ran three marathons the year she turned 55. A decade later, she has settled on the half-marathon as her preferred distance. Pam is grateful for the diverse and inclusive community of runners and walkers in Missoula.