Analyzing the Back of the Pack
Do a Google search for “back of the pack runner,” and you’ll be met with a plethora of results. As popularity and interest in running increases and opportunities for runners expand, this term seems to be making its way to the front.
When you look a little closer at that Google search, you may see a lot of words and phrases that have negative connotations. Frustration. Shame. Nowhere near first. Doubt. Fears. Though the vast majority of articles and posts attempt to dispel those negative viewpoints runners may have about themselves or others who have a slower pace, there still seems to be some negativity associated with this term.
A few of the articles tell the tales of people who started at the back of the pack and worked their way up to the front, as though “back of the pack” is somewhere real runners want to get away from.
As someone who has struggled for years to come to terms with my pace, I’m wondering if these types of success stories give me false hope and open the door to future frustrations. Some days, I don’t even feel like I should be calling myself a “runner,” as though I’m some sort of impostor by doing so. By no means am I saying we shouldn’t celebrate successes and strive for more, after all, there are some really awesome people who do really awesome things in the running world. Rather, I want to stop discounting my own successes, just because they don’t look the same on paper as a faster runner. I want to stop questioning whether or not I should sign up for races, and I want to stop myself from worrying what other people think when they see me run.
After all, I’ve still trained. (In fact, those of us with slower paces may put in more hours of training.) I roll out of bed at 5:00 AM and pound pavement during the steamy summer mornings. I bundle up and run in the dark during freezing winter mornings, just like many faster runners do. I subscribe to running magazines, I own running books, and I read running blogs. I have so darn much gear that I don’t have much room for my everyday/work clothes in my closet, just like some faster runners do. I’ve put my body and soul into these miles, just like faster runners do. So why should it matter to me so much what my times are? Why should I treat myself as an impostor or “less than?”
I don’t have the answers for this, but I’m working through it. As more people discover they have a passion for running, regardless of pace, maybe there’ll be more company at the back of the pack. If you’re a back of the pack runner, there are communities out there. There may be running groups or organizations in your area that are friendly to all paces. Or if you’re like me and prefer online socialization, Facebook groups can be a great tool. I belong to two groups that celebrate runners of all abilities, Back of the Pack and From Fat to Finish Line. And there are all sorts of people out there redefining the image of “runner.” (Have you read anything by Mirna? She inspires me every single day!)
Most of all, if you’re a back-of-the-packer reading this, I hope you know you’re not alone. Maybe you’re already way ahead of me and have learned to fully embrace yourself as a runner regardless of your pace. Kudos! However, if you have any doubts, let me set the record straight: you are amazing. You are achieving incredible things when you put one foot in front of the other. There is and always will be a place for you in this community. If I can say that with full confidence to you, I guess I better start saying that to myself, too.