Thank You: From the Front of the Pack, To the Back

*Guest post*

The time has come for me to finally say thanks, to thank a lot of people I’ve been meaning to thank but haven’t had the courage. I want to say thanks for all the inspiration I got from the runners I’ve seen and talked with, but that I’ve never run with. Specifically, the people who doubted themselves in word, but inspired me through work.

This is my confession of thanks, from one runner in the front of the pack, to the runners in the back.

(Photo credit: Drew Reynolds http://www.drewreynolds.com)

(Photo credit: Drew Reynolds http://www.drewreynolds.com)

This year was my second year training for the Chicago Marathon with Chicago Endurance Sports (“CES,” as we call it), an awesome group of people that run year-round training for all manner of races. And when I say all races, I mean it: they have groups for people just beginning running to complete their first 5K and for experienced athletes training to complete full Ironman distances. The biggest groups are those training to run the Chicago Marathon. After the wonderful experience I had last year, I decided to sign up to serve as a pace group leader.

What an experience it has been. And it has made me so thankful.

The CES participants were always so friendly and chatty. But there was always one question I’d dread. “What pace group are you?”

When people would ask me this, I’d cringe inside. Not because I was embarrassed — far from it. The runners I have had the privilege of joining on their journey to the marathon are, to a person, amazing people who have been an absolute joy and an inspiration to get to know and to train with through all of our ups and downs.

I’d cringe at the question because, so often, I knew where the conversation would go after I said my pace group (it was the fastest pace group offered, with long runs somewhere around 7:30 minutes per mile — though usually faster — while also logging the most mileage).

Not always, but far, far too often, the questioner would immediately make some form of self-deprecating comment. “I’ll never be that fast!” or “It’s going to take me over six hours to finish, I bet that seems pathetic to you.” Or, the absolute worst, “I bet you hardly consider me a runner.” I heard so many flavors of these sentiments.

I’d say some reassuring words about us all being in it together and 26.2 miles being the same distance no matter how long you spent covering it. But I’d cringe inside for the sole reason that I knew, yet again, I wouldn’t be brave enough to say what I really wanted to say to that person.

But, it’s never too late. So I’ll hide behind this keyboard and say it here:

You inspire me. You: the self-doubter, the first-time-marathoner, the run-walk runner. You, the “I’ve never been athletic,” the “I don’t even know if I’ll be able to finish,” the “I’m not at my goal weight yet,” runner. Every single one of you that I met. You inspire me.

And this is why.

I’m not as humble as I should be, but I’m humble enough to know that a whole lot of my success in running is unearned. I didn’t do anything to “earn” being born with a high metabolism, a skinny little frame, tiny hips and big quads, lungs and muscles that process oxygen more efficiently than most. All of this contributes greatly to my “success” (as most define it) in running, but I didn’t earn any of it. It just is.

And I know all too well that the vast majority of people, myself very much included, gravitate toward activities that they’re naturally gifted doing. Positive reinforcement is powerful. While I get a lot of innate joy out of running, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to my vanity and say that I enjoy being competitive, chasing age group wins (even overall wins in local races), and all the cheers and adulation that come with finishing in the front of the pack.

So the reason the people who would talk down to themselves inspire me more than anyone else is that I know the weakness that’s in myself. And it is not in them. I may talk strength, but I know the weakness that’s in me.

They don’t know it, but they are stronger than I am. Because while their words were muttering of their own doubts, their actions were shouting of their power.

And I wasn’t brave enough to tell them.

I honestly doubt whether I would have the dedication to run marathons at all if I were in their shoes. Some mornings, getting out the door in time for the long run is about all I can muster. Would I have the strength to get up a half an hour earlier on weekend mornings to start with the run-walk groups, knowing that I’d be out doing my long run after many of the other groups, including the groups that started a full half an hour later, would be done and back home with their families and enjoying their weekends? I know how much time I sacrifice from my family for my training. And the people who would denigrate their own sacrifice to me were sacrificing more than I.

And I wasn’t brave enough to tell them.

I honestly doubt whether I would spend the time and effort on running if “all” I got from it was the internal satisfaction, if it wasn’t something  I was naturally (undeservedly) gifted at, if I couldn’t race to beat the field but instead was “just” racing to beat my own limitations, to outrun my own doubts. And the people who would downplay their own accomplishments to me were accomplishing so much more than I was, and they didn’t know it.

And I wasn’t brave enough to tell them.

I honestly doubt whether I would lace up and run if it wasn’t something that everyone always, innately, believed I could do. If I wasn’t the kind of person that people would take one look at and say “he looks like a runner,” or “I bet he’s fast.” It is the most natural thing in the world to do what everyone expects you to be capable of doing. But doing what no one (not even one’s self) thought possible is an entirely different level of achievement. And so people who were doing exactly what I was doing, with no one’s expectations to push them along, would compliment me for doing what everyone had always believed I could do. They were sprinting up a hill, while commending me for jogging down it.

And I wasn’t brave enough to tell them.

Until today.

Today’s the day that I finally say it. While I may be running in the front of the pack, the runners that inspire me most are the runners at the back.

The people who were quickest to put themselves down to me were the people who I am most inspired to run with.

People who were running their first marathon and truly doubting whether they could finish. People who have struggled at times in their life with their weight and who decide to enter races despite not yet being at their goal weight. People who never thought of themselves as athletes, to say nothing of having other people praise them for their athleticism. People who train their heart and soul out with the goal of finishing before the course closes, so they can be recorded as an “official” finisher by the powers that be.

So, from behind the safety of this keyboard, I’m finally brave enough to say it. I’ve heard the words coming out of your mouths doubting yourselves during your training. But while you were saying those things about yourself, I couldn’t hear what you were saying because your actions were speaking so much louder.

I saw, week in and week out, the way you cheered each other through every run. I saw the way you would look so worried at the beginning of the run, and as the run would go on and on, even as you grew more tired physically, you’d be stronger and stronger spiritually. There would be more joy in your faces as you’d conquered yet another week of “this is the longest I’ve ever run in my life.”

And on the Sunday of the Chicago Marathon, whether you had a great day or a bad day, whether you met your goal time or didn’t, whether you finished your first marathon or just took another step on your journey to when you will finish your first marathon: I saw you out there, and your courage and passion and accomplishment and strength moved me to tears. Literal tears. You inspire me. Thank you so much for your inspiration.

In the days and weeks and years ahead, you’ll be out there running and I will too, and we’ll cross paths. I’ll be running my pace while you’re running yours. When you see me nod in passing, know this: I’m certainly not looking down on you. I’m not even looking back at you. I’m looking up to you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Chris Willis is a husband, toddler-wrangler and dedicated runner who practices law in the remaining hours in the day. His best race distance is probably somewhere between the mile and the 5K, so naturally, he mostly runs marathons. He lives in Chicago.

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87 thoughts on “Thank You: From the Front of the Pack, To the Back

  1. Brilliant post; as someone somewhere in the middle of the pack I too am inspired by those at the front and at the back of the pack.
    The effort and hard work put in by both is inspiring in itself, and is why I love running and challenging myself.

    Like

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  4. Hi. Thanks for this post.
    I have completed 5 half marathons ‘in the back’ (walk/run) with my ultimate goal to finally run a whole half marathon. I tore my plantar plate and had to quit walking and running for a year (and gained back some weight I had lost). I am now recovered and basically starting over. This morning I did 5 miles of intervals and they were very slow. I was feeling like people are probably laughing at you as you ‘run’ by them. Your post helped me re-center my thinking back to what’s important to me: finishing what I start, no matter the time or what I THINK others think. We are all on our own journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, this is just what I needed as my first marathon is a couple weeks away and doubts try to creep in. I was sidelined by injury during my first attempt to 26.2, and the fear of history repeating itself looms in the back of my mind. I find myself doubting the power of my imperfect body, but then I realize how fortunate I am to be on the path to accomplish a dream I had once placed in the “I never could” category. And this was just what I needed to read. I plan to carry this with me as I enter the corral on race day. Thank YOU.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Big sloppy tears. 🙂 Good grief. That surprised me. I didn’t expect this at all.

    Phew.

    I’m glad you repeated it many times because I think it took me until the very end for it to sink in. I’m usually in the back. I run a half marathon somewhere between 2:45-3 hours. My first half was a virtual, by myself, and I finished in 3:15. It was so depressing. I was amazed I had run that far but I felt bitter because I had these expectations.. Then I realized it was going to take a long time before I was faster.

    Then I started entering real races and it was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was doing it. I had NEVER been athletic. I was an intellectual, artist (so I was labeled and told) and couldn’t imagine myself as anything close to an athlete. But I have this dream to run a marathon. I can’t shake it. So I started running and I just.. don’t want to stop. It was cool what I was doing but I didn’t feel .. I don’t know. I just couldn’t accept anyone’s compliments. Because when they congratulated me I said, “Well, I’m not very fast and once you get past this mile number it’s not so bad,” etc.. I always had a reason to not accept. I’m proud to do it because I think it’s an incredible experience but not because I’m particularly good at it. Always a reason to downplay my accomplishment.

    Nothing really felt commendable. Until, this post.
    NOW I get it. I understand why people think it’s amazing even though I’m pretty darn slow.

    I don’t have a runners body. Huge thighs. HUGE. Size 14. 50 lbs overweight.

    I’m terrified of the marathon. The half feels like the perfect distance. But I signed up for the Honolulu Marathon at the beginning of the year. I feel insane but I’ve always wanted to run that far and that’s a beautiful place and no time limit so at least it takes away my fear of not completing in time.

    But this post.. you filled me with so much. I don’t even know. Something that was missing. You’re right; it is damn difficult to go after something not even *I* think I can do.. but that’s why I do it. Instead of listening to the voices in my head I just.. see if I can. Because that voice is a spectator; outside of the arena, judging. It is not in the arena. I am in it.

    and though I don’t run in Chicago and I’ve never run the Chicago Marathon.. you’re in the arena, too and we’re in it together.

    Right on, friend. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • April Lee, since my response to this article, I have run the Honolulu Marathon. I’d walked it twice before, but 2015 was my first time running it. It’s a terrific race with lots of people, many of whom are in costume or otherwise goofing around. It’s a good time with on-course entertainment here and there.

      It’s the perfect way to start your marathon endeavors, whether you’re one and done or get hooked. There will be plenty of people walking the whole thing, so whatever your running pace by the time you do it, you won’t be out there alone.

      Best wishes on running the race you want to run. Bring your camera!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Somebody send this man a BOTP turtle t-shirt. I have a feeling he would surely treasure it. Thank you – you make people smile and I think that there are probably a lot of front of the packers that may shyly think some of the same things you do. You are a bridge.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for your support. I’m a back of the pack runner and probably always will be. Sure I dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, but I know that’s a dream that will probably never happen. I’ve run 18 half marathons, and every single time I am thankful I made it; I didn’t get swept; I didn’t give up. Having finished dead last once, and within the top 15 last finishers at many smaller local races, I’ve experienced the lack of excitement from staff, volunteers, etc. I’ve also been at races where the last water stops of a half marathon ran out of water (or dumped it in some cases) because the race was almost over. I’ve also been personally told I shouldn’t be running a half marathon if I think 5 water stations isn’t enough. I’ve been told I shouldn’t run a race if I have to ask if there is a time cutoff. I’ve been asked what’s the point in running a race if I have to stop and walk some of it. Even my parents ask what time did I get, which I feel ashamed to share even though I know their intention is to be supportive. We feel ashamed because there are so many people out there that think what we do is not inspiring or honorable, but an inconvenience – or worse, wannabes. But the first time I crossed the finish line at my very first 5k, I felt incredible. I felt like I could accomplish anything. That’s what keeps me going. Thank you for seeing us and our accomplishment the way we see ourselves – or at least the way we once saw ourselves before others made us feel otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Selena, thank you for this post. As a long-time back of the pack “runner” (actually racewalker but that’s not the point) I have experienced all the issues you mention.
      Now after doing 35 Half Marathons and 10 Full Marathons between 2005 and 2015 I’m working hard to get myself back in shape to finish a 5K next month. Was given an extra challenge July 2, 2015 when they diagnosed me with pancreatic cancer, Stage 4 and said 4-6 months without treatment.
      Been in a clinical trial at Johns Hopkins since August, going to FINISH that 5K! Feel so much better being out for some exercise that slow bothers me a LOT less.

      Like

    • Ms. Devore: Thank you so much for sharing your story, and I’m so glad that you liked what I wrote. I really want to impress upon you how much my viewpoint is not at all a minority viewpoint. So many runners that I train and race with (and some much faster than me) have pulled me aside and offered some version of “Thanks for writing that: I’d always wanted to say something like that but I didn’t know how.” Sure, there are jerks out there. The rude and hurtful comments stay with us the longest, and they are so easily and casually (sometimes unintentionally, other times, sadly, not) tossed off. Most of the time, those folks are middling runners who want to make themselves feel more accomplished by insulting people they are only marginally faster than. Please know: you are not an inconvenience. You are not a wannabe. You are a runner, and you should never be made to feel ashamed of that. If anyone ever gives you shit about walking during a race, tell them it’s a tribute to Bill Rodgers. He’s a guy who ran a marathon in 1975 in a shirt he pulled out of a trash can and lettered himself with marker; he stopped during the race to drink water and once to tie his shoes. It just so happened that it was the Boston Marathon, and he won it in 2:09:55. Including the walking. (And the shoes were a prototype pair from this new company in Oregon called Nike, and they were sent to him by the first paid employee, Steve Prefontaine.) If Bill Rodgers can walk in a race, you sure as hell shouldn’t feel ashamed doing the same. You’re a runner, and that in and of itself is amazing. Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on I RUN California and commented:
    Amazing! Worth the re-blog because this sentiment never gets old.

    Like

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  11. Reblogged this on The Tri Road and commented:
    Monday motivation. I stumbled across this today and thought it was worth sharing. 🙂

    Like

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  14. Reblogged this on Not Fast Just Fabulous and commented:
    I live in the back of the pack, it’s like a Mullet… party in the back.

    #foreverteammullet

    And finally some appreciation from the front of the pack!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you Chris. As a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor with a scarred lung from radiation treatments (I don’t have 100% lung function anymore) I have no worries about being a pack leader! In my late 20’s I could do nine minute miles without even bothering to practice, and would almost place at the little 10K races I used to do. Nowadays it’s all about the inspiration, getting out there and sticking with it with my Team in Training teammates. Many many thanks from a 7+ hour MCM’er.

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  16. Chris I have tears in my eyes. Wonderful thing you ‘ve done here…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you so very much for motivating me and making feel worthy of being called a runner. Your words brought me to tears. In 2 weeks I am going to “run” my second marathon and I will be in the back again. I am slow. Last year I finished in 5:43. I was told by a stranger at that first marathon that I don’t look like a runner. People tell me my pace doesnt make me a runner. I am questioned why I bother running a marathon again if I don’t expect to improve. I struggle to explain that is why I do it. Because it isn’t easy for me. I often make the mistake of talking down about myself and my running. You make me realize I should be proud of how far I have come. I ran my first mile at age 52, 3years ago. I may never win a race but I feel like a winner today and will take that to my marathon. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Mr. Willis, before I get into the meat of my post, I may or may not have facebook stalked you and sent you a message before I realized I could leave a comment here.
    I felt the most intrinsic of needs to reach out to you to say “THANK YOU”. My journey as a runner hasn’t been pretty (or fast), nor has it been easy. I still can’t run as far and as fast as I’d like to. And even though this was written six months ago, it moves me so much still.
    Thank you so much for your kind words. I know better, but I feel like you were writing specifically about me.
    Thank you again,
    Ian Fontaine

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I can’t even form the words to share how much your thoughts mean to me. Kind of weird that the words of a total stranger can move me so much. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thank you so much for this. It made me cry while reading. I consider myself a runner, barely, while some ppl claim I’m just a “jogger”. I’m very slow, definitely a back-of-the-pack-er. It’s nice to hear such nice things from an elite runner for once. So many things overheard at races from the leaders of the pack are derogatory. Thank you again. I’m continually amazed at how supportive most of the running community is.

    Like

  21. Chris, thank you for this lovely message. This is one of the reasons I love running because while we are all different and we have different paces and bodies and goals, most runners look to each other as inspiring and sharing love of the same endeavor, the act of running. thank you.

    Like

  22. Pingback: Remembering To Be Proud of What I Can Do, Not Ashamed of What I Can’t

  23. As I posted on my personal Facebook page when I shared this, this made my eyes leak.

    I’m back of the pack most of the time, whether in a race or a group workout. It’s nice to feel valued as a fellow runner by those who are faster, leaner, or been doing it longer.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a heart-felt article.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. This is awesome. Thank you! I love to watch the front of the pack as they wiz by me when the course overlaps. Everyone who is out there is a runner! Thanks for your honesty and your support.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. A bit late but I wanted to chime in. After years of being put down about my weight, I finally crumbled and accepted my body as what it was destined to be: a short 5’3″ gal who was easily 50 pounds overweight. In my late twenties, I saw a picture of my 110 lb “overweight” self and was brought to tears, not because I wanted to be that weight but because of how bullying distorted my body image and self esteem. I began running last year and went from huffing after 30 seconds of running to participating in the Chicago Women’s Half 6 months later. Since then, I have run three half marathons and am committing myself to running the Chicago Marathon this year. I was on the fence about training with CES for fear of not being that ‘gazelle’ or for wasting my pacer’s time but this made me feel so much more welcome . So thank you for this post and perhaps I’ll meet you in June!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Linda, thank you so much for your comment, and congratulations on all your running successes thus far. CES is such a wonderful group of people: I know you won’t regret training with them. And please, come introduce yourself! I’d love to meet you.

      Like

    • Hope you will find CES to be as wonderfully supportive and fun as it has for me and so many others! You will definitely be prepared for the marathon if you stick with us! Good luck! ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

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  28. Reblogged this on Athena Triathlete and commented:
    As I’m about to do the hardest endurance event of my life (Ironman Arizona 2014) I think this is the best blog I’ve ever read. THIS GUY GETS IT. From the back of the pack… THANK YOU.

    Like

  29. I have been so incredibly touched by all of the people who have reached out to me to share their stories after reading this post, whether in comments or in direct e-mails. I never imagined the overwhelming response that writing this would generate, and every single person has been so kind and thankful. The response to this has really been amazing and has provided me with so many inspiring stories to carry with me in my heart on my runs. Runners really are an amazing group. Thanks again to you all!

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Thanks, this was great. I’ve always been a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, but 1.5 years ago I got hit by a car while on my bike and am still dealing with post-concussion syndrome and symptoms that get worse when my heart rate increases, and my HR is harder to control. My longest run so far has been 4 miles – I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do another Ironman or even a marathon, but a 5K is now a possibility. I sometimes struggle to accept that I might be a back-of-the-packer now instead of celebrating that I’m still alive and still making progress, but maybe my new goal should be to inspire other people who are trying to come back from illness, injury, or couch-potato-itis. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

    Liked by 2 people

  31. I’ve attempted 4 half marathons, still haven’t finished one due to various reasons. Your post brought me to tears. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Chris, Thank you for putting MY thoughts into words. My wife and I are runners. She was the person who introduced me tot running. I am the one in the front and she is the one in the back. Yet she inspires me so much. Sometimes when I tell her that she inspires me, she has a difficult time believing me, because I am faster that her. Your writing went a long way to explain why she inspires me and helped her to view her running from different and inspired perspective. Our reading of your words came a day before we are both to run the New York City Marathon. It has had a calming and motivating effect. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  33. There aren’t words to express how much I truly appreciate your words. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. From yet another back of a packer, it is so heart warming to hear this; thank you doesn’t seem enough, frankly!

    I have never run a full, but I’ve run 8 halfs. I think about a full, but it really don’t want to run 6 hours & there have been times I’ve struggled with the half!

    Running does not come naturally to me; I am not naturally athletic & yes, I struggle with my weight although right now I’m at my goal wright – but of course I’d be happy to lose more. And yeah, I was almost 50 when I ran my first half.

    Despite all that, I am competitive. You can be a and athlete & be competitive, too.

    I will never be a gazelle, but it’s nice to know that at least some gazelles like me. Again, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  35. The difference between front and back of the pack is very small and while you can fall through the field very easily pride, determination and achievement can belong to every finisher. I ran ten marathons, my first in 3:00:35 and my fastest a badly paced 2:52 that should have been under 2:50. I moaned about injury setbacks and rewrote my training program and continued my pursuit of the perfect race. Then my co-ordination began to die, I shuffled, struggled to complete routine tasks and simple activities were slow and difficult, I began a new marathon of medical test and in 2004 I was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease. Losing my running was the hardest thing to cope with because running was not just my sport but also my stress release and my celebration, running was part of me. We all have sad chapters in our story but the important part is what happens after the sad bit, I now walk better than I run and last year I walked a marathon using a walking stick. I started at the back and finished proudly under the 6 hr cut off in 5:42. I am prouder of that marathon than my faster ones, I knew what I had to do, I train hard and I executed my race plan almost perfectly. If you have done the best you can than you should be proud of your race.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. I run because my mother is a back of the pack runner. I have seen her run for so many years, train by herself, leave 30 minutes before the rest of the group, and come in after the rest of the group still smiling at her accomplishment that day. This post brought me to tears because it was like you see the inspiration that I have right in front of me. I have the most courageous example of a runner for a mother and it pushes me. I am not a front of the pack person by any means, but when I finish my long runs and know that she started before me and is still running, there is no better motivator in the world. And I have that motivator in my mother, thank you for the reminder of what a gift that is.

    Thank you for your beautiful words to express the amazing people who race the closing bell. They are truly the most dedicated runners I have ever had the privileged of knowing and running beside. You captured their heart and their spirit and their inspiration to us all.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. Thank you! As a back of the pack runner, I appreciate your kind comments, and I think I’ll go out for a run!

    Liked by 2 people

  38. I love it. As a slower runner, it really moves me when faster runners stick around to cheer us in to the finish.

    Liked by 2 people

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  40. It’s nice to see this recognized and appreciated. I can usually finish in the top 10-15% of any race I enter…but all my friends are at the back. I’ve hung out at the finish line of a race for 5 hours waiting for the last one to come in after I did the half and she did the full…there’s no place I’d rather be and no group of people I’d rather be with.

    It’s the effort that equalized everyone. The effort I put in running 12 minute miles in 2008 is no different than the <8 minute miles on Monday. Heck…12 was harder. I was getting my body used to the work, fighting injuries, changing form, trying to stay healthy. What I have now is a result of that effort….it was hard getting here and I see my friends putting in that effort to 'get there' and it just makes me proud of them.

    Just keep going. The journey is worth the work.

    Races are like Mullets…serious business in the front, a party in the back.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. thank you thank you thank you! This was amazing. It brought tears to my eyes. As one who was not gifted with a runners body and typically never ran a day in her life before January 1, 2014 at the age of almost 46, thank you for noticing how hard I’ve worked and the time I’ve dedicated to my training. I’ve successfully completed my first half marathon (rock and roll on 9/21) and came in at 2:48. And it was exhilarating. Tears and all. So thank you for your support and this article for all of back of the packers.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. This post made my day. Thank you. Seriously, thank you so much for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  43. You are truly a class act and I thank you from the bottom of my 13 min mile run/walk back of the pack heart!!

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Awesome article Chris and I applaud you for this. I am a mid level runner that served 26 years in the military but started running after I retired (45 races in 28 months). I now train (not for money) and encourage others for the joy of seeing them change their lives, I run an 8 min/mile 10K and am pushing to complete my 2nd marathon in May 2015 in 4 hours…thank you for this encouragement.

    Liked by 2 people

  45. I am another back of the pack runner and appreciate the comments. I am filled with self doubt with every run as I see my friends running awesome times and knowing that they crossing that finish line when I’m still at the halfway point. Your words have inspired me to keep fighting the good fight and continue to have fun doing it!

    Liked by 2 people

  46. Thank you for this post, still in tears from it. My husband, decided to to do a full Iron Man for his 50th birthday year. I guess I should be happy he didn’t trade me in for a younger model instead ;). He had been doing triathlons, 1/2 and full marathons, century bike rides etc. But I know the struggles it took to get to an Iron Man as a bigger, 50 yr old. I know the countless hours spent training. Even now I see the looks when people hear he is an Iron Man. He just doesn’t “look the part” But to me that means even more and speaks even more to his dedication and hard work. He will always be an Iron Man. When he finished the Iron Man I sobbed like a baby, literally sobbed uncontrollably. I was just so proud I couldn’t keep it in. Since then whenever we are at races especially ones like an Iron Man I get choked up inside when I see the back of the packers. They may not be built for the race they are doing, but they’re doing it. They’re beating the odds. They make me so proud!

    Liked by 3 people

  47. Lost 130 pounds. Got two fake hips. Bad back. 63 years old and showing it. Doing the Walt Disney half this coming January for about the 6th time, the full maybe 6 times, a bunch of triathlons, tons of road races, always almost last. I’ve had people yell SOOWIEE at me on the trails. Don’t care. I LOVE RUNNING. I watch you fast guys come at me on the out-and-backs and it takes my breath away. You are so beautiful, so lithe, so free. I wish I could fly like you. But the truth is that if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t bump their butts when they jump. Once a frog, always a frog. This frog salutes you, sir. Well said. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  48. This post made me cry big, ugly tears because while I have been running for a while (5+ years), I certainly do NOT have a 7:30min pace and never will. I am proud of my accomplishments but yes, I do doubt myself from time to time. I put one foot in front of the other and get the job done, but it might take me a little longer. I use walk breaks from the beginning, for EVERY single run. Some runs I HATE. Sometimes I wonder why the HELL I am putting my body through long run misery. But I know why, and ultimately I LOVE RUNNING, and this post- THIS POST IS ALL KINDS OF AWESOME. I am running my first full- the Austin Full Marathon on Feb 15, 2015. I will be in the middle -to-back of the pack. I am 100% certain I will finish the race- running this long has taught me that- I will NOT give up until I cross that finish line, regardless of the pace. Thank you so much for your kind words!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  49. Absolutely love this. It’s why I continue to try and encourage people who think they CAN’T to get out there and do it. The running community is beautiful and encouragement and I’m so grateful for the heart and message in this post!!

    Liked by 2 people

  50. DFL > DNF > DNS That’s one of my mantras. As a frequent last place finisher, I can tell you this blog post came as a complete surprise to me. Like many other back of the packers, I’m ignored by the fast runners or worse – overhear negative comments. It is a powerful thing to be recognized in this way by an accomplished and naturally gifted athlete. I am blessed with many talents: the intellectual and creative ones are practically effortless and I am grateful for that – but I chose running BECAUSE I have to work really hard at it. Because it is a very humbling experience for me. Everyone (fast, average, or slow) has their reasons for taking on a race and we all do our best to not let the negativity get the better of us during training and especially race day. Your kind words have been heard by many – and I will print this out and carry it with me for my next race.

    Liked by 3 people

  51. This post brought me to tears. I started running two years ago. I ran my first half marathon in January, two more in February, and then had hip surgery that sidelined me for four months. As of Sunday, I’ll have run my seventh half. I remember a crippling fear when I ran my first, having already lost 30lbs, but with so much more to go. And I was positively terrified that is be swept. I cried like a baby at the finish line, and couldn’t believe is actually gotten there. Running was the first thing I ever did that didn’t come naturally to me. And I am guilty of those same self-depricating statements. Sadly, those thoughts are often perpetuated by the way others talk about slow runners, or even the way others talk about themselves. So please know, your message was heard, and THANK YOU for helping us to realize our own value.

    Liked by 2 people

  52. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m a back of the pack runner and despite running for 5 years now, I’ve never gotten much faster than a 13 minute mile. I ran my first marathon on Sunday (Marine Corps) and finished a full 30 minutes slower than I imagined – averaging just under a 15 minute pace. I feel defeated and not likely to attempt another marathon.

    Nobody but the back of the pack understands how lonely it is to be back there. Even at Marine Corps which is known for having some of the best crowd support – when you are back there – you are running alone – the crowds have gone home a good hour before you get there. I remember running miles 12 and 13 and the only people left on the course were the volunteers. It was heartbreaking and felt terrible.

    So here I am 3 days after, with tears in my eyes – thank you for your encouraging words. Reading this makes me want to get out there and run again. Even if the front of the pack runners pass me twice on my long weekend runs and are home with their families long before I am.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Carrie (and others) – three words for avoiding “by yourself” at running events. TEAM IN TRAINING there will always be another teammate or Coach nearby, and they will always have a few words for you. Most of us wear our “colors” even for events when we are not raising money. You earned that shirt, wear it with pride and enjoy the Team.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Funny story about the back of the pack. I did my first marathon in Ottawa two years ago with a group of friends. At the 30 km point the photographers had setup a video camera. My friends are MUCH faster than I. When they ran past this point there were people cheering, cowbells ringing, you get the picture. When I ran through, one crow cheered for me, “caw caw caw”. It IS lonely at the back but I’ve heard it said several times that we’re the heart of the race. We keep going, one foot in front of the other.

      Liked by 2 people

  53. Thank you for this. It took me three tries, but I finally finished my first half marathon this past weekend. It took me just over 4 hours and I finished dead last. It was the happiest moment of my run/walk career thus far. I’m hoping to finish my next in 3:45…your words may be just the inspiration I need to do it!

    Liked by 3 people

  54. Thank you. This was so meaningful. I am a new runner and very much in the back of the pack. I have my first half marathon coming up I a couple weeks and my goal is to hopefully finish within 3 hours. I was spectating at the Marine Corps Marathon this past weekend and while it was wonderful to see the front runners speed by, it was inspirational to see all the other runners as well and see that they all had their own struggles they were overcoming.

    Liked by 3 people

  55. Loved this post. I’m very much a back of the packer — I have birth defects in both knees, so I walk-jog half marathons. I’m one of those people who would say that I never will be as fast as you, but I felt I should tell you that not all of us do it to look down on their own achievements — for me, I physically can’t go that fast, even if I train and try for it, because my knees will give on me. I do it because I love the experience, I love the race, I love knowing that I’m pushing my limits. So from the back of the pack to the front, we salute you.

    You folks up there inspire me because it awes me to know that a human being can, in fact, move as quickly as you do. You inspire me because you do it with such apparent ease. You inspire me because there was one run, one lonely run in my life, where I maintained an 8-minute mile, and I felt like I could fly, and my hair was streaming behind me in the breeze, and life was beautiful — and then I promptly dislocated my knee. Oops. But OH was that glorious. You get to fly every day, if you want, and knowing that people can do that is an inspiration in and of itself.

    In the end, there is a phrase which I live by. I wear it on my Bondi bands, I hold it dear to my heart, I remind people of it regularly. Your race, your pace. And all paces are equally valid. A mile will always be a mile, and whether fast or slow, we will go forth and tear those miles down together. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • Lori: I wanted to let you know that your comment, and your story, in particular, really touched my heart. “You get to fly every day, if you want….” – this just struck a chord for me, and has helped me so much to run with a heart of thankfulness every day, knowing and recognizing my blessings. Everyone knows someone who’s a faster runner, myself very much included, so it’s easy for anyone to stop appreciating their own abilities – you live with it every day, it becomes normal, &c. But when I’m having a rough run, or not feeling as fit as I want to be in a particular workout, this comment has just helped me so very much. I just remind myself that I can fly every day. I just have to want to, and I have to step outside myself and be thankful for where I am, not covetous of where I could be. Such a great lesson for everyone, regardless of their pace. Thank you so much for sharing your story and continuing to inspire.

      Liked by 1 person

  56. Thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times. Not only do you accept us, you actually are inspired by us. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.

    Liked by 3 people

  57. As a back of the packer, I want to tell you thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  58. Thank you sir. I will be running my first ever full marathon in Auckland this Sunday and I couldn’t even be more inspired by your words.

    I was 110kg when I first started running last November and since then I never stop running because I thought my two legs are the only thing I can be good at with my weight. If I can’t run, I’ll walk. I’ll walk until I reach to the finishing line.

    I started with 10km. Motivated sometimes when I met all the runners along the journey of running, when we talked about running, about the food, about the diet, about the gears, about the postures and about the fun we each other had from our running experiences. Apathy stroke me sometimes too when I was injured, exhausted, frustrated over runs that I couldn’t finished.

    But I continued running.

    Over a year of running on and off, I told myself, get motivated, keep running. And then I saw an opportunity, I signed up for my first full marathon as a charity runner in Auckland. First I was inspired by the charity cause, and I knew this would be my motivation to push myself to not saying “I am not ready yet”. Even when I am traveling around, which made it even more difficult as I need to pack and unpack every other 2 days. I keep running. I keep training.

    And in 3 more days, it would be the day. It would be the day I am waiting for. Though I had lost 15kg since last November, I am still skeptical whether I could complete it or not. But after reading this, oh boy I am going to run with my head held high this Sunday, no matter how it turned out to be, I would be proud of myself. And thanks once again for your words of encouragement.

    Thank you for believing in all of us running at the back. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  59. Thank you so much Chris. I have shared this everywhere that I can. The back of the pack has a lot of fun together but often worries about what “real runners” think of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  60. This is beautiful. I am a back of the pack runner who just completed my first marathon…about 13 minutes before the course closed. I love the people at the back because they show so much heart and determination. I have told them, and u think it gets us going. I know when people notice my effort, it Spurs me on just a little more. It’s nice to know that someone notices. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  61. Thank you Chris. I am in tears reading this. I did MCM this past Sunday and was absolutely, 100% sure I would not beat the bridge. I was poring over maps of “alternate routes” to take to somehow get 26.2 done that day whether the Marines recognized it or not. Somehow, with the help of a community, I didn’t need to take them and beat the bridge – barely. I always feel like the slowest one, I hate worrying about time limits. Over the two years I have been running I have barely gotten any faster. Running is the one thing I suck most at in the entire world. But I run anyhow. Next time I doubt myself (probably tomorrow), I’m going to remember this. And you.

    Liked by 4 people

  62. Well said. I’m a middle of the pack runner. I love going to the finish line after I finish a race to applaud the runners still coming in. 40 min, an hour to run a 5K. 6 hour marathons. My God! It takes guts and heart to do that.
    These people stick with even even when they are in pain and know they are near last. Doesn’t matter – they are going to finish!

    Liked by 3 people

    • omnirunner if you are interested we can introduce you to a large number of runners and walkers who would consider a 6 hour marathon a HUGE accomplishment. But they are having enough fun and feeling enough rewards they come back time after time.
      May take us longer, but then again just think about how much more we get to enjoy the course and spectators.

      Liked by 2 people

      • WalkingTom, I’m not Omnirunner but I would like that – to meet your people. I just completed my second marathon Sunday at 7:07:31 – this is a PR by 1:40:13 for me. It feels very lonely sometimes.

        Like

  63. I’m a back-of-pack ultra trail runner, and as I wrote in my most recent race report, the clock is my nemesis and I constantly have to worry about the cutoffs. My last race three weeks ago – I missed the final cutoff by 15 minutes, a mere 6 miles from the finish line. I was heart broken after spending 12.5 hrs/44 miles running one of my best races ever. It’s tough being at the back, but I also am blessed to find some of the toughest people back there. We sometimes feel like the forgotten ones, and your comments are very much greatly appreciated.

    Liked by 3 people

  64. As a back of the pack runner I cannot thank you enough for saying the things I only wish I could find in myself. I’m moved to tears and inspired beyond belief. You are a class act my friend. Kudos.

    Liked by 2 people

  65. As a back-of-the-pack runner and triathlete, I really appreciate you writing this. I have often told my (fast running) friends that, while they only ran for 1.5 (to finish a half) I ran for a lot longer than that (and sometimes twice that!), so I should at least get some credit for that. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  66. Thank you Chris! Having started my “running” (actually racewalking) career just after my 60th birthday, and completing my 35th Half and 10 Fulls before age 70, few know more about the back of the pack. We are really a fun group back there, with time to chat a bit and encourage one another, and NO hope of ever doing a 10 minute mile, let alone less than 7. But we slog on to the finish, and cheer you “gazelles” as you fly past.
    We are proud of you and wish you fleet feet.
    Nice to see not all of the fast guys think of us as only being in their way.

    Liked by 2 people

  67. That’s wonderful. I’m a back-of-the-pack triathlete. I appreciate being regarded as a dedicated athlete, so I thank you for your kind words.

    Liked by 3 people

  68. I’m one of those runners at the back of the pack and I thank you. I’ve speed walked two marathons and this coming Sunday, I’ll run my very first. If I finish at my goal time of 5:50 I’ll be over the moon. Your words might just help me get there.

    Liked by 3 people

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