I have been running for several years now. Seven to be exact. In those seven years my pace has stayed about the same. Turtle speed. I have always been one of the back of the pack runners. Well except when I run a Disney or an Rock N Roll race. Those races I become a middle of the pack runner simply because of the thousands of people that run those races. It’s not due to the lack of trying to improve because I have. I build up but then I get an injury. An ACL injury, stress fracture in my foot to my latest one, a concussion and soft tissue damage after my car accident. I keep going though. My pace is comfy at a 12-13 minute mile, sometimes it is a bit faster but sometimes it is slower. My 8 year old daughter is a faster runner than I am but I am fine with that. After all, a mile is a mile, it is the same distance no matter your pace.
It has been a while since I did a race where I ended up in the back of the pack. I paced a recent half marathon, I was the sweeper pacing the 4 hour half marathon group and all of my back of the pack memories came rushing back. When you are running it is easy to forget about those behind you unless you are the one in the back. I also wonder if race directors truly consider those that are slower. I understand that race directors pay for roads to be shut down and some course support and then there are all the volunteers and that is why many have course limits. That is understandable, completely. My issue is that everything offered on the course and afterwards should be the same for the first runner to the last runner, especially if that runner finishes within the course limits.
Simple things like moving barricades before the final runners have even finished crossing the street. Then there are the various aid tables. There should be plenty of water, gatorade, snacks and/or gels for every runner. I have watched in disbelief as water was being dumped as I was less than a tenth of a mile from the water stop. My first half marathon they ran out of gels and gatorade. Then there is the finish line where there is post race nutrition or more so lack of. It seems in that regard, many times faster runners just take what they want forgetting those behind them. Then again maybe race directors just don’t supply enough for everyone? When it comes to after marathon festivals, that final runner should be able to get food or have a beer, whatever is being offered, when they finish. Instead many times awards and entertainment have been done and over and those who had set up are either in the process of packing up to leave or have already done so. Heck, even race photos are lacking for the back of the pack. I have scoured over hundreds of photos from the race I just paced and there was not a single photo of the back of the pack of the half marathon. It wasn’t until we were nearly finished I was able to get the girls I was pacing to a photographer, yet based on the pictures I have seen there were many, many more photographers and news crews in various areas. You would think you wouldn’t have to worry about those things especially with a set course limit but you do. After all you are putting down the same money for a race that all of those who finished ahead of you did. Why would your race be any different than theirs?
I am sure there are those out there who think I should stop the whining and just work on my pace and try to get faster, like I haven’t done that and continue to do that already. That anyone in the back of the pack should use these factors to push themselves to work harder so they don’t end up in the back. Despite the media highlighting a couple back of the pack runners runners that were helped to the finish line those back of the packers are largely ignored and forgotten about.
Those in the back of the pack are there for a multitude of reasons but they are giving it all that they have. Many of those in the back are taking great strides to change their health. They have had that wake up call that change needs to happen. They may be running in support of a great cause. They may be running for those that cannot. Others in the back are overcoming something or working to get back to where they once were. They could be coming back from a car accident, major surgery or an injury. Maybe they just fought cancer and kicked it’s ass. I will tell you first hand it can be harder than you think it will be. My first 5k after my car accident my leg went numb and I stopped running and walked. I didn’t want to stop, I wasn’t giving up. A girl I paced was having issues with her back and her hope was just to be able to finish before her back began to spasm. Everybody has a story and their own reason why they run. The fact is they got up and off their couch and they are out there. That is all that matters. They may walk their half marathon but that is fine. They are still doing it. Don’t judge them for coming in last and don’t allow their race to be any different than those who finished way ahead of them. Give them the same race. They deserve it.