Requests from the Back of the Pack

Lately I’ve been thinking about my status as a back of the pack runner. In my running life I’ve been an age group winner, a mid-pack runner, and now, a back of the pack runner. I feel pretty secure in my status as a back of the pack girl. I like the back of the pack. For many of you reading this blog, maintaining a pace per mile in the single digits is no big deal, but, for the rest of us, the 10+ minute milers, I have some requests.

As a back of the pack runner, the following are my notes, and some requests, of the rest of the running world.

1. Yes, I’m really running. I know that what I’m doing might look like a jog to you. In fact, you might be able to walk as fast as I’m running. But, I’m giving it all I have. I’m running. There were many times, just after my knee surgery, when I was running a 15 or 16 minute per mile pace when I felt like I was flying. Those early days, when I was running a mile at most, I felt more like a runner than I ever have. Pushing through the pain, flying along on the grass, I felt free. I was running. No pace, no walkers passing me, could convince me otherwise.

2. Please don’t lie about the pace of the group run. If the pace of your running group is 8:30 to 9, say that. Please don’t tell me that your pace is “about a 10 minute mile”. To me, the difference between a 9 minute mile and a 10 minute mile is the same as the difference between me and Shalane Flanagan. We’re both blond, about the same height, and often wearing similar outfits, but we are NOT the same. To you gazelles I can see how 9 and 10 minute miles seem the same, but to me there is a significant, and uncrossable, divide between the two. I would rather know in advance how fast you really are than to be the horribly slow girl panting at the back of the group.

3. Please don’t lie about the mileage of the intended route. And, the corollary, if you don’t know, say you don’t know. Maybe you’ve told me the correct pace of the running group – say 9:30. I know that I can maintain that about 3-4 miles. If you tell me the route is 4 miles, I know I can keep up. If you tell me the route is 4 miles and it’s really 7 miles, I’m going to be suffering and will probably have to walk, dejected, the last mile back to my car. Just like you faster runners, I like the occasional tempo or race pace workout. But, I like to know that it’s a manageable distance. I don’t like to find myself exhausted, miserable, and 3 or more miles from my car. This is especially important if you have newer runners or runners who prefer shorter distances in the group. If someone is depending on you to know the distance, please make every effort to know the distance.

4. Please don’t state the obvious, be snide, or make assumptions about my running. I get it. I’m slower than you. I can see that. Stating the obvious (i.e. “Wow, that was probably too fast for you”), being snide (“Can we push the pace a little?”), or making assumptions about my running (i.e. “Going a little slow today – hamstring?”) isn’t very nice. If you’d like to know if I’m injured, ask. If you’d like to push the pace, say so, but don’t expect me to come along with you. Further, please stop complaining about your “pathetic” race efforts that I can only dream of while I’m within earshot. If you’re disappointed by your 45 minute 10k, say so. Saying that you felt “pathetic”, “fat and slow”, or the like, isn’t very nice. I am excited you are fast. I think that’s really cool. I’m happy to support you when you do well and commiserate when you’ve had a bad race, but let’s be kind.

5. Keep the lines of running communication open. If you’re a gazelle and you’ve agreed to run with me, let’s have a chat before we start. If you’re going to wait for me at every corner, let me know. If you’re going to stick with me, let me know. If that changes, let me know. As a friend, I want my running friends to do well. The best way for us to run together and support one another is to be honest about what we need and what we’re looking forward to in the run. If that changes mid-run, don’t be afraid to talk to me about it. If you’ve been sticking with me but are feeling amazing, let me know. I am happy to let you have a great run, even if it means leaving me in your dust. Most importantly, please let me know before you take off on a speedy clip – I, and every other slower runner I know, have been abandoned on the road or in the woods, lost and without a sense of how to get home.

6. Don’t be greedy at the race party. I love that your spouse/friend/sister/child has come to the race to support you. That’s awesome. I don’t love it when there’s no food left at the post-race party and I see your 5 year old throwing out food she thought was “funny”. I don’t love it when I see you carrying away 4 cans of Coke from the race. Please take the food you can reasonably eat. Then, let the rest of us eat. I have been to too many races where the food was literally gone, or all the good stuff was gone, and had to watch friends, family, and greedy folks carrying off all the food that my entry fee paid for. If you’re unsure as to whether or not the race director has planned for friends and family to eat, ask. And please, for the love of all things running, take ONE of everything.

7. Please stop doing your cool down on the race course. We all have to cool down somewhere, but do you really need to run the exact race course backwards, carrying your 4 Cokes and chatting with your friend about how easy the race was? I’m still running out here and it’s demoralizing. Please, find a different route to cool down, or, if you must run the course backwards, cheer for me and my back of the pack friends.

And, a few special notes for race directors and volunteers.

1. It’s ok to cheer just as much for me as for the person who won the race. It’s good to cheer for everyone. I like it when people cheer for me. I do not like it when race volunteers stare blankly at me, look bored, or ask me “how many more behind you?”. I know I’m not going to win, but I could use the encouragement. It’s easy to cheer for the winner, but it’s also easy to cheer for someone running their first race or a new PR. You never know what someone has overcome to be running this race. They deserve the support and the cheers.

2. I am racing, too. I know I’m not going to win. That was clear to me when I registered for the race. But, I’m really racing against myself. In one race not long ago, I was having a possible PR of a race when a volunteer asked me to stop so she could let some cars by. I was dumbfounded. I know I’m not going to win, but if I’m having a great race, I’m racing. Please let me run my best possible race.

3. If you have an intended finish time at which you will reopen roads or close the course, post it on your website. This one needs no further explanation – encourage runners of all speeds by making sure we feel comfortable registering for your race.

I love my gazelle-like friends. Running with faster friends has made me a better runner. But, I still have experiences that are disappointing and difficult. We’re all runners, and one of the best things about running is supporting other runners. So, I submit to you, loyal readers, my requests from the back of the pack.

25 thoughts on “Requests from the Back of the Pack

  1. Great post. I totally agree with all your suggestions. I have to work really hard for a sub 10 minute mile pace and the fact that others consider this slow is really disheartening. Runners should support other runners no matter their pace. We are all runners.

    • Absolutely! It makes me think of this great quote: “I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” -Bart Yasso

  2. Great post. I am guilty of cooling down on the race course backwards. I never thought anything of it and cheered for runners as we did so but then at my last major race a bunch of elites were hanging around the last mile marker laughing & joking loudly obviously having finished long ago. I was in agony and so annoyed!! I feel bad admitting this but at the time I wanted to shout “Shut your pie holes!!!!” LOL.

    • Haha. I guess I never have that problem with elites – they are usually interviewed, photographed, showered, and home by the time I finish. šŸ˜‰

  3. Enjoyed your post Doctor! I’m rapidly going back down through the field these days though I can’t blame injury. A question though – do YOU stop at the end of your race and cheer those who might finish behind you? The best thing you can do to influence others behaviour is, I think, to set a good example.

    Keep up the excellent writing.

    • I absolutely do cheer on the people behind me. In fact, I stood in the finish area of my most recent race for a few minutes to wait for all the people I had met on the course to finish (much to my husband’s dismay – he kept taking my picture while I was standing there with my back to him). But, I’m not saying that everyone needs to stay and cheer on all runners behind them. Quite the contrary.

      My point is to be kind to other runners. If you’re standing on the sidelines, cheer. If you’re running back on the course, cheer. I don’t begrudge anyone who hops in their car, or hits the post race party, or wanders around the finish area, or does pretty much anything else and doesn’t cheer. But, if you’re obviously watching the race or on the race course, I think the polite thing is to give the occasional cheer to other runners. I think we all have an obligation to be supportive of one another.

      • I think you’re right. And it’s more the sub-elite runners that tend to be the most supportive. I’ve pretty much accepted that this is the case though and no longer expect much consideration from the fast boys and girls.

        You have a great programme of races there in CT!

  4. Thanks for voicing what I, as back of the pack person, have thought. I love those who take a moment to cheer for me and the rest of the finishers. Thanks to those who were encouraging even as they sped by. I have been fortunate to meet many more nice runners than not. It has kept me trying.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this post! Reading this helps me feel less alone in those times I get frustrated about being a slower runner.

  6. Definitely agree with #6 and #7. Since I know I’m a slow runner, I don’t do group runs – makes it easier on me and the group!

    Was dumbfounded that a volunteer wanted you to stop while she let cars go by but sadly, that could happen to middle of the pack runners because the volunteers sometimes don’t know better.

    Also, a 10 minute per mile pace isn’t slow at all. I average 11:30 on my half-marathons…on a good day!

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this post – brought home quite a lot of things I hadn’t really thought about and you expressed what many feel very well! I love cheering on others and, whilst I would say I’m fast enough to be ‘elite’ I do often cool down when others aren’t finished – running route back is a good idea. Unfortunately the whole ‘not sticking to the pace of a run’ happens at all speeds; my club pace runs are often with a group running ‘7:15 min miles’ and strangely as I’m struggling to keep up we get back from a 5 mile lap in under 35mins…

    • You’re definitely what I would call a “gazelle”. 7:15 is FAST! Please don’t run the course back to cool down, but, if you must, cheer for the people behind you. Thanks for being one of the nice speedy runners. šŸ™‚

  9. I am not even close to fast, hoping to break a 10 minute mile in races, but if I know I have friends behind me, I will jog back then run them in.

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  11. Great post! I agree that we should all treat each other with respect and be sensitive when we talk about paces. We are all runners out there trying our best. I just wrote a post today for new runners that emphasizes this.

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