Playing the winner

Annabelle van Nieuwkoop Read, 'Washing up is good for you' author, on the joy of coming last

Annabelle van Nieuwkoop Read, drama therapist and one of our authors, shares her story of playing with the idea of what it means to win.

Annabelle is serious about play. Read more of her thoughts and ideas in the chapter ‘Meaningful messabout’ which can be found in our book ‘Washing up is good for you.’

Here’s Annabelle’s story:

“My legs feel heavy, my feet are hurting and my heart is pounding. I am pretty convinced I am about to collapse. I am 1km into a 10km run and I want to give up already. I look behind myself and can see that there are only a handful of people behind me.

What have I got myself into?

I want to casually run off the track. No one will notice and I can just stop myself from going through this humiliation. It feels like one of the most stupid things I have ever got myself into.

In May of this year I took on the challenge of a charity run for cancer.

Why?

I felt determined to do something for this cause because cancer is affecting so many people around me.

I am not a runner, so I am definitely not a 10km runner! This was going to be a challenge but, it wasn’t ever going to be as challenging as fighting cancer so, I set my mind to it. I trained hard and actually learnt to like running. I raised a pretty good amount of money too. By the end of August I was on track to run this 10km within a good time. I felt really chuffed with myself. Would I make this run in the one-hour goal I had set myself?

No.

Why?

Eleven weeks before the race I had a cycle accident leaving me with a concussion. Because of the accident I couldn’t train for a month. I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be running. I felt like I had let a lot of people down.

I do not give up on things very easily so I pushed myself to get out running again.

I quickly found out that I would not be running 10km within one hour. It would be an achievement if I reached the finish line. I managed to get a few runs in before the big day. I did not feel ready but I knew my mind would not let me down. I knew that once I started running that I would never give up. I will finish this race.

I am 2km into this 10km run. After letting my thoughts slip back through these memories of the last few months my mind is back on the run. I decide that there is no way I am giving up now.

By this point I am holding last place and the young girl cycling at the back of the run is firmly next to me. I give myself two choices:

  • You can be annoyed and frustrated about the prospect of coming in last or,
  • You can embrace this experience with pride.

I make the conscious decision to start enjoying the benefits of being in last place.

I start playing with the idea that I am actually the winner.

To every person or crowd that I pass I cheer, “I am the winner!”. To every child I pass I say, “you learn the most from coming last”. It feels wonderful. I am 100% present in the experience of running.

I know that my husband and children will be at the 4thkm mark. I wonder what they will be thinking about me holding the last place position.

I know that my son (five years old) will not have a care in the world about me being last. I can hear him from a distance shouting, “Go go mummy.”

I also know that my husband will be overwhelmed with pride. He will probably not even notice that I am running in last place.

I know that my seven-year-old daughter however will hate it. She strives to win everything and hates loosing.

From a distance, I start imagining that I am cheering with my son “the looser is the winner”. I cheer this with pride as I run past my family. In that single moment I am teaching my daughter some of the most important life lessons I can.

I feel boosted by my family and it goes well between 4km-7km.

For all this time I can see others in the run about 100 meters in front of me. That keeps me going.

From 7km they disappear and it is down to my own mind and my newfound friend to help me through this.

People are kind to the person holding last place. I get some of the best support I have ever experienced. I pass crowds of strangers cheering me on and encouraging me. The entire time I cheer back “I am the winner.”

I hear a little voice say to his parents “why is that lady saying that she is the winner when she is last?” I feel so pleased to hear the mothers answer, “she is the winner because she is taking part.”

I am approaching the 8km mark and I can see a little boy running toward me. It is my very own little bubble of positive energy. My son. He shouts out “mummy I am so proud of you let’s run together”. I run with him and again call out to my daughter “look at me I am winning.” She gives me a huge smile and I know I am the winner in so many ways.

The last 2km feel like I pulling myself through a tornado. I am constantly telling myself that I am the winner. There are not many people at this point. A muddy field and a lot of cows who do not respond to my cheering!

I am so grateful for the voice coming from the girl on the bike telling me I am doing well and to keep going. She is struggling to cycle through the mud.

Just before the 9km mark I can see someone jumping up and down screaming my name. I suddenly realise it is a friend of mine. I have never been happier to see her face. I start shouting “look at me I am winning, look I am winning!” and she gets it because this girl really gets me and joins in “yes look at you, you are winning!”

That was the boost I need and the last 1km go fast. I run to the finish and of course my mini fan club are waiting. I feel a tap on my leg and my daughter holds up a trophy inscribed “best mum.” She looks at me with a big smile and says, “Mum you won this. “

I look down at her and say “I played being the winner today and it felt great. “