Photo credit: Jason Robillard
When you want to feel inspired, who do you observe? Maybe you turn to elite athletes. Runners who race and train for first place. Maybe you scroll to the top of your race results and admire the names you see there.
But perhaps you should do the opposite. Maybe you should scroll down to the bottom. Here are the people who were on the course twice or three times as long as the elites. These are the people who struggled.
At some point, these runners knew they were in last place. They knew there would be no glory for them. No prizes. No fanfare. They knew that when they got to the finish line, the crowds would be gone. And yet they pushed on.
Some runners drop out when they know they will not be reaching their time goals. But not these guys. For them, the race was against themselves. They faced their demons head-on and reached out from very dark places. They just didn’t know how to give up.
These are my heroes.
DFL is the acronym for Dead F-ing Last. The following three runners wear that term proudly, like a badge of honor. Not because they finished last. But because they finished.
Runner: Shelly Robillard
Distance: 50 miles
Race: Run Woodstock
Placement: Last, 8 seconds before cutoff
This was by far the toughest thing I have ever done. I used more mental mantras and pulled from a deep place I didn't know existed.
I signed up for the 50-mile race at Woodstock. There was skinny dipping on Saturday night, discarded clothing on the trail, and giggling girls in the bushes. I was awakened at 2 a.m. by a group of overzealous dancers and drinkers, and then I lay awake for two hours, willing myself to sleep.
The course on race day morning was muddy due to large amounts of rainfall. It had rained through the night and rained the first two hours of the race.
This was the type of mud that almost takes your shoe off. The few hills on the course were difficult to maneuver in the clay mixture. I was trying to hang on to trees while climbing, and I was loving it.
When I made it to the aid station, I didn't see my crew. I found out later that they missed me because I ran faster than they predicted. I headed back into the woods and eventually got to a road. I saw a sign that pointed into the woods and one that pointed left. I didn't even pause or question the signs—I jumped back into the woods. But I was supposed to turn left.
After a while, I started seeing the same things twice. Like the pair of black gloves lying in the road, and the fence on the right side. I ran out of water and was concerned that I hadn't come to the next aid station.
I knew I had made a mistake when I arrived at the same aid station I had just left. The aid station volunteer consulted his map and I learned that I wouldn't save any distance backtracking. So I went back out into woods. I had added 4 miles to the course, but I tried to put that out of my mind.
I saw a fellow runner who asked if I was on my second loop. I would be running three loops in total. I told him "No, I took a wrong turn," but I was going to keep going.
I saw other runners I had been keeping up with, but they were now on their second laps. I started to get discouraged. I had been running this loop forever and not seeing any progress. It didn't seem to end.
I started feeling nauseous and dizzy. The drink I took at the second aid station was not agreeing with me and dehydration was catching up to me. I finally made it to the next aid station and opted for water only. I had about 4 miles left to finish the first loop.
The crowd was thin at this point and I started feeling really depressed. I walked and contemplated what I was going to do. I did not feel good and I would have to run two additional 16.6-mile loops, which sounded impossible.
I couldn't will myself to run and thought about dropping. I was mad at myself for taking a wrong turn and feeling like garbage. Maybe this wasn't my race.