It Was Bound to Happen  By Donna Bays

I usually don’t get excited about race t-shirts or trophies, but dangit, I really want one of those Varmint Half Marathon Sheep. The awards for the Varmint are stuffed sheep. A baby sheep for third place in your age group . . . a BIG sheep if you win it! But as the following story will tell, I have a long way to go before I can nab a sheep. . .

By now, you folks know my general theme . . .

                    I'm a slow runner, my goal is to finish, my hope is that I'm not last, I run
                    the race, there's always at least one person that I'm able to beat, the
                    good guy always wins, the Princess marries the Prince, blah, blah blah.

Well, as the title suggests, the fairy tale has crashed and burned . . . I came in last!

It happened on June 9, 2007 at the Varmint Half Marathon in Burkes Garden, Virginia. I have read that Burkes Garden was Vanderbilt's first choice as the site to build his home. But, after not being able to negotiate a deal with the landowners he moved on to his second choice of Asheville. Burkes Garden is the highest valley in Virginia, is part of the Appalachian Trail and needless to say, it is absolutely gorgeous.

There are two events at the Varmint; a 5K and a half marathon. Both races start at the same time with the 5K folks turning around about 1.5 miles out. I must have been in last place from the very beginning and just didn't realize it because of all the 5K activity swirling around me. At the two mile marker, a very pleasant volunteer said the words that popped my fairy tale bubble. As she handed me a cup of water she said, "Are you the last runner, dear?" What? The last runner? At that moment I sensed how eerily quiet it was around me. I completely stopped and turned around. No one else was in sight. I looked at her and replied, "Well, I guess I am."

The first few miles were a steady climb up a ridge. Before this race, my strategy for hills had been to turn around and run the other way. But that was not an option for this day. As I was huff'n and puff'n with the sweat pouring off of me, I finally dropped my head and began praying out loud (one of the benefits of being last . . . no one around to think you're crazy) requesting some heavenly assistance to finish the race. Within a few minutes, a big farm truck pulled up beside me. It was the race volunteer with the job of picking up the mile markers. He slowed down and told me that he would be staying close by for the rest of the race and if I needed anything at all just to let him know. Wow, how nice! At this point I relaxed a bit and began enjoying the day.

At mile ten I had a glimmer of hope of not being last. During the entire race a couple of women were running together about a quarter of a mile ahead of me. Sometimes when I would top a hill I could see them down the road. At mile ten I topped a hill and saw the two women passing someone walking. Wahoo, someone to pass! The excitement was short lived, she quit somewhere around mile eleven. Heck, for all I know she could have been a local resident just out for a morning walk. Oh well.

Donnay Bays
Donna towards the finish of the race.
At the twelve mile marker there was a crowd of volunteers and a police officer. The volunteers were all cheering for me, telling me I was doing great, that I was just about there. I smiled at them and said "Yep, I can almost see the finish line." The police officer was leaning up against his car. He stood up and smiled at me and said, "Well, let's go find it." I'm here to tell you that having a police car on your heels puts a bit of spring back in your step. My eight year old son, Reese, ran the last half mile or so with me. He looked back at the police car and said, "Momma, are you trying to out run the law?" I love running with him. I think laughing and joking around is the perfect way to finish a race, whether you're in last place or not.

My final time was 2:42, not the slowest in Varmint history, but the slowest that particular day. Instead of being referred to as "last place", I think I prefer the title of "Final Finisher".

After finishing the race I saw the volunteer who offered me assistance. I walked over to him to introduce myself and to thank him for his kindness. I asked him his name. He said, "Nice to meet you, Donna. I'm Deacon." I don't know if many of you have a Baptist background or not, but as I walked away from Deacon I lifted my face up toward the beautiful blue sky and said (out loud, again) "Real funny, Lord. Real funny."