If You Had Only One Race in You …

Posted by Filed Under: Inspiration & Motivation

inspirationI’m prone to deep thinking at precisely the time I can ill afford it: When a major deadline draws near. So on the cusp of completing a big work project, I’m now wondering what it must be like to run a race that you know is your last. This thought comes courtesy of a man named Alford Claiborne, who is giving up running marathons after this year. He’s done almost 150 of them. I interviewed him this summer for an upcoming issue of Marathon and Beyond. Since then, Al’s kept me and other fans informed of his “farewell tour” highlights. He’s a hard man to read, but I sense in those e-mails a strengthening sadness as each monthly marathon approaches, then passes.

So, let me ask each of you—you who were hooked after just running your first 5k and you who’ve done the grand slam of ultras: If you had only one race left in you, how would you run it? Where would you run it?

Would you pick the race you did first? Did best? Did worst? Or some place you’d always wanted to explore? Perhaps the place where you grew up? Or where you always thought you’d grow old?

Would you make one more attempt for a personal record or Boston qualifier? Or would you take your time and soak in every step?

Would you wear a new outfit? A costume? A message on your shirt? Or would you put on that musty singlet you saved for just this occasion? You might also run naked through the streets like they do in San Francisco’s famed ING Bay to Breakers 12k each May.

Would you listen to your favorite music? Wear a GPS watch? Or would you talk to anyone within listening range and let your body pick the pace? Would you high-five everyone with an extended hand, or would you let a flood of memories be your sole (and soul) support?

Would you smile at the end? And would it be through tears?

I’d love for you all to think about it. I’d love for you all to leave a comment with what that ideal day would be like for you. I’d also love for you all to think of Alford next month as he runs his final miles in the Holualoa Tucson Marathon. Keep him in your thoughts; someday that will be you.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. warren on November 20th at 9:28 am

    For a last race, I’d certainly look at doing something scenic and memorable. Races like the Covered Bridges Half Marathon or the Cabot Trail Relay Race jump to mind.

    Does it have to be a race, though? An epic randonée, like may be Paris-Brest-Paris, or even just riding the Pacific Coast Highway or the Alaska Highway, might make for a memorable final event.

  2. Anne on November 20th at 1:23 pm

    You can certainly create your own race, but isn’t that more of like your last run? To some, it may be one in the same. [And if you attempt to run on the Al-Can*, it will be — trust me! Those trucks take out cars with one stray rock.]

    By the way, Covered Bridges Half Marathon is on my “must do” list, Warren. Great suggestion for a scenic spot.

    *Alaskan-Canadian highway

  3. Aaron Engelsrud on November 20th at 2:01 pm


    Deep indeed. Also, something I’ve given a lot of thought to lately. I recently ran the Twin Cities Marathon and while I didn’t know it at the time, it may have been my last race.

    Looking back now, I’m proud of myself and the race I ran. It was considerably slower than I had planned, more painful than I had hoped, and more fun than I could have ever imagined. If this is my last race, I’m a happy man.

    Thanks for giving me lots to think about!


  4. Jessica on November 20th at 2:25 pm

    Great deep article! I am definitely going to think about this one. ANY race could be our last race so running each one like it’s our last might be a good idea..

    However, if I KNEW it would be my last race I would not listen to music. I would probably not even wear a watch – let alone a GPS one. I’d want it to be more like a “party” and share it with close friends.

  5. Linda on November 20th at 2:54 pm

    What a wonderful post Anne! If is was running my final race I’d want to do it somewhere fun, with my sister and somewhere near the ocean. I would have to take the Garmin but I’d run with only the music in my head and the voices of those around me. I would finish with a smile on my face but I know I’d have tears in my eyes too.
    I’d also want to run it somewhere completely FLAT (me, I’m always practical)!

  6. Soozan on November 20th at 4:23 pm

    Oh Anne, Great article! I want every race to end with all of those emotions – smiles, tears, with friends and alone. How does one choose?

  7. Rob on November 20th at 11:21 pm

    Well if I had one last race in me I would want it to last as long as possible and be an epic journey. I would have to choose the Trans-America race approximately 3100 miles across the United States. What Else?

  8. IHateToast on November 21st at 11:36 pm

    oooh… i don’t know. i have read your article a few times in hopes of finding an answer and it just makes me sad.
    i don’t want to know when the end is at hand.

    very thought provoking…
    i don’t know.

    now my brain hurts.