front of the pack runners

Fast Runners: Back Of The Back Runners Need Your Actions, Not Your Words

Recently on our Facebook page I shared a link to an article from 2014 by a front of the pack runner about the runners at the back of the pack. Here’s a very short summary:  

• This author is a hella fast near-elite runner.

• The author says if he had to run a marathon and it took him 5 or 6 hours, he probably wouldn’t bother running those races.

• Good for the people who train that hard and run that slow, they’re “endurance heroes.”

Favourite quote: “It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to cross that finish line … you train like the rest of us train.”  

(I would argue many back of the packers train harder than some people who sign up for marathons. I know a guy who didn’t train for a marathon at all, but decided to run one for a whim or a bet or something equally stupid. I think he got a better time than me… I also know he couldn’t walk the next day.)

My boyfriend brought the article up while we were on a short trail run last week, and said he thought it had a bit of a condescending tint to it. Why did this guy feel the need to list his PR times? Didn’t it kind of sound like he was pity-praising a three-legged golden retriever? (Note: my words, not his.)

Why am I writing an article about someone’s opinion from five years ago? Because as far as we’ve come, back of the pack runners are still second class citizens in Run City.

A Couple Less “A’s”

It’s refreshing to read someone actually acknowledge that yes, running is hard and some people have to put more into it to make it work for them—more time, more patience, more emotional risk. At the end of the day, they’re still every inch runners as much as those at the front of the pack.

It’s validating… but then, some parts of the article hit this message with at a slightly wrong angle.

The author writes that he probably wouldn’t bother running a marathon if it took him so long: “if you told me that I needed to go on a 20-mile run … and it was going to take me 4-6 hours, I would probably say nope, that’s just waaaaay too long!”

Maybe a couple less “a’s” in there, bud.

The Good, The Bad, and The Running Elitists

The fact is, running calls to a lot of people; we’re not all elites or gazelles but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong to us too. Personally, I feel I was meant to run, even if I’m not built to scrub any distance as fast as other people can.

Saying a speed like mine, or that of someone in an even more marginalized body, would discourage your from running doesn’t come off as a praise of strength and determination. It reads as, “good job buddy, you inspire me, but boy am I glad I’m not you!”

The writer had good intentions, which is more than I can say about some other people and their opinions.

For example, a female runner in a 2009 New York Times article who said it’s “a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours.”

She was also kind enough to add her opinion that “it used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’”

Progress is Progress No Matter How Small

Sure, the running world has come a long way since then, with athletes like Mirna Valerio, John Young, Martinus Evans and others trailblazing the way for more people who want to get into running for the love of it and don’t fit the mould.

These cultural shifts are beginning to create actual change too. Some marathons are offering longer cut off times. Many running groups are available for a wide variety of paces. The world is beginning to open up—however—the struggles are far from over.

Even today, when back of the packers push for basics like the course staying clear and for water, gels, or sports drink to be available for the duration of the race within the cut off, they’re often shut down. 

I’ve read stories from many runners who have been told to lose weight and get faster, or just stop running races entirely by front of the pack runners when they tried to advocate for these basic amenities which they paid for in their race fee like everyone else.  

So, yeah. I’ll give some points to a fast runner because he doesn’t question the right of slower runners to be out there on the course and respects our process. I’ll take or leave being “inspiring” to someone who could lap me in pretty much every distance any day of the week.

Using Your Influence To Achieve Running Equality

Faster runners, if you want to really want to advocate for the people in the back of the pack, there are a few ways to do it.

If you run a race and you hear people at the back had issues with course operations, write to the race directors and express concern—even if it doesn’t affect you, your voice can help the issue be taken seriously. 

Make a running buddy with someone slower than you. If you’re a fast runner and your friend is a slow runner occasionally, offer to go running with them. They’ll probably deny the offer because they don’t want to “slow you down.” Tell them it’s cool. Meet them at their pace. It might be a good relaxing run for you and some companionship for them.

Bonus points if you drag your back of the pack friend out to a local running group that they’ve been dying to try, but have avoided for fear of being left in the dust. Leave your ego at the door and run with them if there’s no one else their speed. Make them feel a part of something.

There’s a reason we like to call it the running community, after all.

Every action you take in solidarity with back of the pack runners doesn’t mean YOU have to slow down on your way to the finish line. It just means more people get the race finish they truly deserve, and that they feel welcome there.