First came the elite runners, tall, lean and barely out of breath. I applauded them, because what they were achieving was truly impressive.
Then the serious amateurs, their faces set in concentration. I applauded them, because they were doing the best they could, pushing themselves to their limits, and their best was far better than mine.
Then the main pack came. The ones running for the joy of it, not because they were necessarily any good. Parents pushing children in buggies, with the children grinning and clutching race numbers of their own. Runners with selfie sticks, taking photos of the crowd and of themselves. I applauded them because of their sheer exuberance.
Then the stragglers arrived. Those who might have over-stretched themselves by entering in the first place, or who hadn’t trained quite as much as they intended to. Those who were limping, or gasping for breath, or drenched in sweat. I applauded them because those are my people, when it comes to running. I always was a shocking distance runner. I was the one who always came in last at school, whimpering in agony at what I had just pushed myself through. The stragglers are my people, and I applauded them for it.
And then I realised that they are not my people, not any more. Since my back injury, even being among the stragglers is more than I can hope to achieve. The lady at the very back, trailed by the bicycle-riding steward signalling the last runner, was doing better than me. I would never have completed the first hundred yards. I would never be brave enough to enter myself in the first place.
The last of those runners was more accomplished, running-wise, than I can ever hope to be. She put her name down for the race, she picked up her number, and she ran. Good intentions don’t count when it comes to putting one foot in front of the other. Nor does wishing my injury away make me able to run.
Have you ever published anything? Ever completed a piece of writing? Ever put pen to paper? Then you have achieved more than the person who hasn’t.
How many people do you know who sigh wistfully at the idea of writing and then say, ‘I’d love to do that one day’? If your experience chimes with mine, then the answer to that question is ‘quite a few’. You are a writer. You’ve achieved more, in writing terms, than they have.
The race may be long or short, but you won’t get anywhere unless you put your name down for it. The person who crosses the finish line last still crosses the finish line. They still beat the person who never even bothered to enter. So pick up your pen, put one thought in front of the other, and write.