Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
This is not the recap I had planned on writing. I adore Runner’s World, that is clearly no secret around here. I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences with them and their races. But the post I’m about to write isn’t just about the Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half marathon, it’s about what I’m unfortunately going to assume is the reality of the majority of races out there.
Now, let me preface this recap …and rant, I’ll go ahead and warn you that I’m going to bust out the soapbox…with the following stats: I’m not a slow runner. I’m certainly no elite, but my half marathon PR is a 1:40:xx. I’ve run a 21:00 5K, and hell, the morning before this race I ran a 24:xx minute 5K. I’m not headed to the Olympics, but I’m certainly a regular in the front half, if not sometimes the top 10% of races. I can hold my own, and I’m fortunate that it comes pretty easy to me (i.e. I don’t train like I should). My finishing time for the Heartbreak Hill Half marathon was a 3:31 (more on why below). I finished 3065 th out of 3074 runners. I was 9 people away from being the very last finisher (chip time, not physically, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter). I know what it’s like to be at the very front of the pack, and now I know what it’s like to be at the very back. And it’s not the same race at all. And for people who pay the exact same entry fee, who run the exact same distance, and who stay within the allotted finishing time and pace, to not have the same experience as the front of the pack makes me really sad, and honestly kind of angry. But let’s start from the beginning.
The second I woke up Sunday morning I knew I was in trouble. I was covered in sweat, my throat was sore, I couldn’t stop coughing, and my stomach was turning. It was only 5:45 am but the sun was already glaring. I immediately started panicking: feeling like hell before a half marathon is never a good sign. But not being one to quit (in other words, I’m far too stubborn) I got out of bed and started getting ready. I yelled over to Katy & Theodora’s room asking “MOM, can I take cold medicine before a half marathon? Because I already did.” I worried about my liver and my kidneys, but knew I was hydrated and there was no other way I was going to get out of bed without some sort of medicine in me, so I took the risk. All of the girls assured me I’d be OK, so I bucked up and finished getting ready. The entire way to the start line, I put on a happy face, but I had a horrible feeling. 13.1 miles isn’t a daunting task for me, but this morning I was fearful. (Though you probably couldn’t tell by this pre race photo)
Everyone had their own plan for the half marathon, but a handful of bloggers decided they were going to take it easy, and hover in the 2:00 – 2:15 corral. That worked for me, so I lined up with them. I don’t remember much about the starting corral, other than it was crowded (in a good way, what a great turnout for the inaugural race!), and before long we were running. I immediately fell behind. I was surprisingly OK with that. There are times when I can turn off my inner-competitive self and just get work done.
Or so I thought.
The first mile was so hard, but I attributed it to the fact that it was the first mile, and sometimes you just have to suffer through it before your legs warm up and you fall into a comfortable stride. This unfortunately never happened. At about a mile and a half I started getting dizzy. The sun was already pounding on me, and everything just hurt. For once in my life, the smart motherly part of my brain took over. Instead of harping on myself to suck it up and “STFU”, I started reminding myself that this was only a race. I was sick, there was no denying it, and running 13.1 miles was just a stupid idea. Why risk getting sicker? Why risk something even worse? I resolved to myself that I would make it the next half mile to the medic tent at mile 2 and pull myself from the race. And it would be OK.
So when I reached the medic tent, I calmly walked up to it. A kind man with a medic vest on looked at me and said “Can I help you?” to which I burst in to tears. Full. On. Sob. I wasn’t expecting the emotions any more than the poor medic was. He looked panicked as he said “are you OK?”, and I replied through tears “my boyfriends mom…she has the flu…and I’ve been sick since Wednesday…I might have it too…and I don’t feel good…and I have kids to take care of…and I know I shouldn’t do anything stupid….BUT I’VE NEVER DROPPED OUT BEFORE (sob sob sob)”.
The poor man sat me down, handed me a water bottle, and assured me that I was doing the right thing. It was ONLY a race and there would be plenty more in the future. Better to live to race another day. All true words. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I should quit. He told me I could get a ride back, but if I felt up to it, we were only about 3/4 of a mile from the campus, so I could walk back. I said I would walk. I took my bib off, thanked him and started heading back, defeated. I could not get over how emotional I felt. I knew I was doing the smart thing, but it was such a kick to not only my ego, but the weekend as a whole.
I immediately called Geoff, but he was still sleeping (it was only 7:something in the morning). So I did what social-media-lites do best: I got on facebook and posted a status update. “DNF. Feeling like an asshole for crying but I can’t stop crying. ” I had made it about a half mile, when all of a sudden I heard someone call my name. I looked up. It was Larisa and her friend Melanie. She asked me what was wrong. I told her between tears that I felt awful so I pulled myself from the race. In her motherly tone she told me to get out there, we were going to walk. I hemmed and hawed about how I didn’t want to ruin their race, but I really could not run. She said she didn’t care. She told me to put my bib back on and walk about a mile. If I still felt awful, THEN I could quit. Larisa has this fantastic aura about her: very authoritative, very motherly, and very fun. I had just met her, but I trusted her, so I did what she told me. I stepped back onto the road to a round of applause and “You go, girl!” cheers. This whole exchange happened in front of a huge crowd and I immediately felt incredibly embarrassed. But I un-quit the race.
And so we walked. Very leisurely at first, but picking up the pace as I started to feel a little better. We started talking, started laughing, and started acting silly. Melanie was battling a knee injury so walking was most definitely the only pace for us. Larisa and Melanie told me I could run on if I wanted to, but I knew that it was a bad idea, I’d only start feeling crappy again. I would walk, and I was OK with that. And so the three of us, we had FUN at the back of the pack. We did this:
And this: (fast forward to 1:35)
And while WE had fun at the back of the pack…the back of the pack was NOT fun. As the race dwindled on, the supporters were all but gone. There was no one cheering for those of us at the back of the pack (there were about 50-100 of us bringing up the rear). The volunteers started to dwindle as well. At one point we came to a questionable turn and had no idea if we were heading in the right direction…and there was no one there to tell us which way to go. A group of us hovered around while one went to scout further up the course (it was a blind corner, so you couldn’t easily see other runners up ahead).
At another point, a woman came barreling down the street in her car. The course was closed, but there were no volunteers or police officers around to stop her. Many runners yelled at her to slow down and tell her she was on a closed course, but sadly all she did was yell back. How dare we walk /run on her streets. (sarcasm) We came to a few corners where bands were packing up. No music, no cheering, just packing up their instruments. Every single cameraman we came across told us to “run” for the picture. I finally started telling them “No, I’m not running this race, I’m walking it. For a reason.” I wasn’t’ going to fake it, and at the same time, their tone was not motivating, it was almost insulting, as if we were doing something wrong. We had to stop at many an intersection to wait at least a minute or more while officers let traffic go by. We were reminded that this was not a closed course, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many intersections the lead…or even mid of pack runners…had to stop and wait at.
During the last few miles, course officials were packing up cones and directing us to sidewalks. Keep in mind, we were still WELL within the limits: as stated in the official race guide “The half marathon finish line will be open for 3 hours and 30 minutes after the race start. Runners who are traveling with a clock time of 3 hours and 30 minutes or longer will be asked to move to the sidewalk to complete the race”. I initially crossed the starting line 30 seconds after the actual start of the race, and finished with a chip time of 3:31…thus I can assure you that somewhere around 2:50-3:00 after the race start, they were already packing up. (It should also be noted that my overall pace was indeed below 16:00/miles on average, however my finishing stats show longer as it takes into account the time I spent in the med tent, and walking back towards the start.)
At one point, a passerby asked a police officer if there was a race going on. He replied there was, earlier, but it was already over. But it wasn’t over…there were still a good 100+ of us out there. Now I personally didn’t care. I was out there to finish what I started. I could have finished significantly faster, but didn’t want to take the risk. I was having a bad day, it happens. But some of these people around me, they were busting their asses. They were RUNNING. Granted they were running slowly, but their effort was no short of a 10 out of 10. They were pushing to the best of their capabilities…but it seemed their effort didn’t matter to the race as a whole. If anything, I’d say some of these people are pushing and struggling even harder than some of their counterparts in the front half of the race.
At one point after we finished, Larisa asked two of the women who finished right behind us how they felt about the whole situation, to which one woman replied “Honestly, I don’t know any different.” My heart hurt hearing her say that. I told her my story. I told her that I wasn’t trying to brag, but I’m a faster runner, and the experience I have and the experience she has at the exact same race are not the same. I told her while I experience huge crowds full of screaming spectators making me feel like I’m a kick ass person, she experiences silence and feeling like she is an inconvenience to the staff and the locals. And it’s not right.
Now, I’m sure I’m going to have countless readers and internet-elites saying “well if they don’t want that experience, they should run faster.” And to that, I will call bullshit. If a race states a specific pace guideline and finish time cutoff, then anyone who stays within those limits deserves to be there, 6 minute mile pace or 16 minute mile pace. Everyone pays the same entry fee. Everyone covers the same distance. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of those athletes deserves to have the same experience…to have the cheering, and the bands playing, and the volunteers not standing around looking bored and ready to go home.
I also realize that everyone runs for their own reasons. Finishing is not about medals or cheerleaders, it’s about the personal accomplishment. But the difference between running the race in the front half compared to the very back…it was night and day. It almost didn’t feel like a race at all, instead just a slightly more crowded group training run.
We finished our race. Thankfully, there was still a great finish line crowd out, and the emcee was still doing a great job announcing everyone coming in. In fact, we danced the last 100 yards to the finish line, it was hilarious, and I’m highly anticipating those finish line photos. I am forever indebted to Larisa and Melanie, they made sure I finished what I started and that I finished safely.
Thankfully, there were plenty of volunteers handing out medals, and tons of food left over.
I don’t want this to be a post blaming Runners World nor the Heartbreak Hill Half Festival staff. If anything , this race was fantastically executed, from course marking to the weekend events (read more about it here and here) . I would absolutely, 100% recommend this race series to anyone.
Unfortunately what I learned this weekend is that the experience I had is often the norm for back of the packers. I can’t help but think about what an eye opening experience this was for me; from now on I will be sticking around to the very end to cheer everyone in, every time I possibly can.
So in closing: Race directors: if you state a specific finish time, then you need to ensure the race continues, completely, for the entire duration of that specified time. Everyone who follows the rules and maintains the designated pace deserves the same experience, no exceptions.
Volunteers: I know you are tired. We are so grateful to have you come out to help us do what we love! But please, don’t make the back of the pack feel like they are an inconvenience. I assure you that 99% of them are doing the best that they can.
Spectators: if you can, consider sticking around until the very end. You have no idea what a difference you might make for some of those in the back.
Front of the Packers: Congrats on your race! I know you are tired as well. But if you can…consider sticking around to cheer on ALL of your fellow runners. I assure you they will appreciate it.
Back of the Packers: One foot in front of the other. Keep being your kick-ass selves. I truly admire you.
Click HERE for part one and HERE for part two of my Runners World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon Festival weekend.
6/12/14 Update: Runner’s World Responds
Disclaimer: Runner’s World provided me with accommodations, race entry, and the blogger experience at no charge to me. All opinions stated are my own.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.
This has always been my experience at a race. There was no one at the finish when we finished our first RTO. The second we made better time, but the party was wrapping up when wee arrive. Band already left and they were packing up the booths. I’d love to be a fast runner, but have trouble breaking an 11 min mile. Thanks for writing this, because I think most runners take speed for granted and forget those of us who cannot keep up.
It makes me sad to hear that, Damon, especially at something as huge as a relay, your accomplishment SHOULD be celebrated. From now on, I’m sticking around as long as possible at every finish line, cowbell in hand!
This has almost always been my experience too. I finished my first full marathon 30 minutes before it officially closed, but at the finish were a total of 5 people: one to hand me a medal, two medics who congratulated me and made sure I wasn’t going to collapse, the photographer, and my husband. I had to find my own race blanket (it was 40 degrees out) and water, food, etc. Everyone else was busy packing up the finish line. 30 minutes before the end! There were multiple aid stations where I had to pour my own water, after finding the cups myself. One food station had packed up completely and had no food. I finished my first marathon feeling like I had completely inconvenienced them all by being so slow. It did not make me feel welcome or like I had just done something awesome….
Oh well, I’ve done another since (WDW Marathon) and it was the exact opposite, they made every single finisher feel like they had just done something completely awesome, which we had! (and I was even slower in that one, having sprained my ankle just beforehand!)
This has always been my experience too. Heck, I did one half that never clearly had a stated finish time, instead they had several different finish times on their website (I know, we looked while still on the course. We even finished a good 23 minutes before one of the stated finish times and I can still clearly see them re-rolling the timing mat out as we came around the last corner.
Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie
What an eye openeing post! I am not a fast runner at all but have only done 5ks where I’m always somewhere middle-ish and there’s still crowds around. That’s sad to think people don’t get the race experience they signed up for.
Thank you for this post! During my first and only marathon experience, I had psyched myself up for the energy jellybeans at mile 22 – only to get there and find out they were all gone. Not only was it a blow to me mentally since I was so looking forward to them, it was a case where I really needed the energy. I know that I was told to never rely on what’s on the course – but for me, I was a little hurt since I felt like I was being punished for not being an elite runner. At the end of the day, what mattered was I finished – and that’s always an accomplishment no matter the speed.
Kim Z – yesimslow.blogspot.com
Congrats on your marathon, Kimberly! Agreed…your accomplishment can never be taken away from you!
Larisa Dixon (@0to26point2)
It was very eye opening. I am usually the middle of the pack as well. I felt a lot of those people were pushing just as had and not harder than I have in some races. What was crazy is that they were still so up beat and friendly. They had ran a great race. I’m so glad you took my authoritive demands and continued;) we had a blast and have the pics and video to prove it;) love ya girly. NOLA next?
You are right, they were so awesome and so positive. Like that 80 year old man, my new hero! NOLA for sure, do I have to bring my own shot glass or will they provide me one? 😉 <3 you!!!
Larisa Dixon (@0to26point2)
You don’t need a shot glass in NOLA, they provide the bottle!!! Lol
Extremely well written and informative! Although I almost always cheer once I finish, and have many friends towards the back of the pack, I wouldn’t have expected some of the things you mentioned.
I completely agree with you – everyone pays the same entry fee and they should get the same race (so long as they are doing so in accordance with the race finishing times listed). End of story.
Thank you for writing this.
Thanks for reading, super speedy Greg 😉 Hope you are well, friend!
Thank you so much for posting this. I myself am a back of the pack runner (my half PR is 2:57:xx) and I finished the Heartbreak Hill Half in 3:18:xx because of the heat, sun and hills. There was one point when I was at about mile 9 that they had the cones so close to the edge of the road to start to let cars into both lanes that I had trouble running because the only space I had was on the awkward side part of the road. I remember thinking to myself that it was so unfair because I was well ahead of the time limits – and it is something I plan to provide feedback on if given the opportunity. I really appreciate you providing your perspective on our experience though, as someone who has not experienced it before, hopefully it will give others some insight they may not have ever had. I have met some of the nicest most supportive people in the back of the pack, but there is a whole slew of issues that we deal with even though we are trying our hardest.
Congrats on your finish Becca! It was indeed hot out there, especially ON Heartbreak Hill! I’m hoping they ask for feedback as well, but that said, I know some people who know some people 😉 so I will make sure they see your comments. Keep on running! <3
Larisa Dixon (@0to26point2)
I remember that cone area, it was not safe. I’m so glad that you finished the race and keep running. Most of the time the race directors don’t even realize this stuff is happening. Heather and I are ready to help change that. Keep running and always remember to smile;)
I’m glad you finished the half and you’re right, this definitely gives more insight into those at the back of races. Like you, I usually finish somewhere in the top 20% so I’ve always had aid, didn’t have to wait for traffic, etc. Even a more competitive race or bigger race, there are always enough people around so that traffic was stopped, etc (I don’t understand this, regardless of where you are the police or volunteers see you coming and can stop the traffic in time so you wouldn’t have to wait, right?).
I too think the race should keep everything open until the last person finishes, such as aid stations, etc. I guess you might not need quite as many volunteers at the aid stations when the majority of runners have passed, but at least have some people there and have them encouraging people on the course… especially a large race that is probably pretty expensive. Everyone pays that same entry fee and deserves a good experience.
I hope you feel better soon and don’t have the flu… yikes. Glad you had your friends with you to keep you company as well.
Thank you Amy! I’m flu free..still feeling icky but it could be WAY worse.
A well thought-out piece on a subject a lot of us don’t have much exposure to. My wife tends to be on the slower end of the spectrum, which means I’m often there cheering on runners towards the back of the pack, but I’ll admit I don’t go out of my way to do it otherwise. It’s definitely worth hanging around for a bit more to make sure everyone gets the same experience. What really bugs me about spectators though is when they stand silent as large crowds of racers go by because they are waiting for one specific person to cheer for and don’t cheer for anyone else.
Completely agree on races following their own rules when it comes to time limits and not packing up before then. When we ran Falmouth a couple years ago, my wife was pretty far back in the pack. When she finished, they had already broken down the water station at the finish, meaning she had a pretty lengthy walk in some brutal heat just to get water after a 7 mile race. Not. Cool.
I hope some RDs take note of this! I’m in touch with one of the people in charge of social media for RW and the race and would be happy to pass along these thoughts if you’d like!
No water on a hot day is more than just an issue of making everyone feel equal, it is a huge safety issue! Yikes! Thanks for reading Michael. I love the RW social media team, and hope they don’t hate me after this post!! 😉
I am not as fast as you. More like a 2:15ish half. But that usually puts me right in the middle.
However, I stopped to walk a race once because I had too or I would not have made it and experienced the same things you did, it was really eye opening!
Thank you for sharing! I have had some or all of these things happen during every half that I have done. I will never be in the front of any pack, but nearly always towards the back, but I finish. I completely agree that if they say a course will be open a certain length of time, they should honor it. Also, they should honor it from the point the final wave is released (as that is where the slowest runners are).
I have learned after doing 6 halfs that it is necessary to be strategic about the races to enhance my race day experience. A couple things I do:
1. I check the finish times of the year before to see if there were a number of people who would finish at or slower than me.
2. I run races where there is a corresponding full, so that there is a crowd at the finish, (even if they are watching the elite full marathoners finish).
3. I almost always carry my own energy and water, because I can’t guarantee the stations will be staffed or have any by the time I get to them (and I’ve also been at races that the post-race food was all gone).
I hope some race directors read this and understand that I am (and many of us are) out there working hard and pushing ourselves too, it’s just at a slower pace.
I am also a time checker. I have a limit. If 20 people or more did not finish around my time or slower I will not do a race if it is a small local. I also agree and I carry all my own supplies. My Camelbak has saved my butt. I have friends that finish in 2:30 (An hour faster then me) and at local races have had no water or snacks and no medals left at the finish. I don’t even want to go there.
Emily Sandford (@authemmie)
The only half I did, I KNEW I would be slow, so I had asked the race director if that was okay and he assured me they’d be there until the last person finished, despite time. And for the most part, it was. There was a police officer who trailed us at the back of the pack and made sure we were safe on the roads. The signage was still up. And the finish line was still there when we crossed. But it was quiet the last hour of the race. No one but my friends who were with me going at my turtle pace to give me a high 5. Empty volunteer tables with some cups of water. Crossing the finish line to near silence after working really hard was pretty disappointing, but I understood. I was thankful for the runners on the course the first couple of hours that were super encouraging and cheering me on as they saw me going out while they were coming back. It’s a real different experience than being in the main pack, but as the one woman mentioned – you don’t know any different.
Heather Runs Thirteen Point One
It’s disheartening to hear that the back of the packers received that kind of treatment. I am usually a back of the pack person (PR half marathon time of 3:04), and have experienced some of these issues. However, usually at the races, there are still plenty of volunteers and they are upbeat and cheering, which I really appreciate. One major complaint is that sometimes the cameramen are gone, so I won’t have many pictures. There usually aren’t too many spectators left (minus those waiting for people like me), but the runners that have finished and are walking by the course often cheer as well.
That cone issue sounds very unsafe, and that the traffic controllers would make the runners wait so long so that cars could go by – seems rude. I understand that they may need to stop you for a moment to clear up congestion, but for over a minute+ seems drastic. I’d say you guys would have finished even sooner if you didn’t have to stop for things like that. Sorry you weren’t feeling well, but congrats on powering through and finishing with friends and a smile!
Thank you for the comment, Heather! Yeah the safety issue is certainly the biggest concern. I’m hoping the RD will take note for next year.
You just made me cry, Heather. It sucks being in the back of the pack, but I always remind myself that I’m lapping everyone on the couch. I’ll get faster over time, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a top 10% or even middle-of-the-pack finisher. Nonetheless, I will continue to the best I possibly can on race day. Thanks for your kind words about us turtle racers!
<3 Keep at it, Krista. Remember, a mile is a mile, no matter how fast or slow!
Thank you so much for posting this. I cried as I read it. I am not a runner, but my wife is, and she is new to it. She gives her absolute ALL for every race and pushes beyond her limits, but she is not a fast runner, and unfortunately what you described is what she has at nearly every race. I myself stand there, watching the intensity and cheers for the runners who, say at a 5K, stream in between 15 and 35 min race times. Then suddenly most of the crowd is gone. In a matter of minutes the spectators dwindle to a handful. The MCs are less enthusiastic, bands leave, booths packed up. At her first 10 miler I was the last one standing to cheer (and she was NOT the final athlete, so I am sad for those behind her) and the food tents were packed up before then! Not even a single banana!! It was devastating for her, to have accomplished this HUGE personal goal, and to come in to the Finish with nothing. She was absolutely within the race time guidelines a well. It makes me angry and frustrated.
I cheer with all of my might, for every athlete passing me. I get so angry at people who just stand there texting or watching. My hands sting at the end from so much clapping but if these athletes can get out on a course and give it their all then who am I to complain about clapping for that long?! They have earned it and deserve it!
I appreciate you writing this so very much.
I am sorry to hear that you had such a difficult day, and I can’t imagine doing a half marathon with the flu. I hope you have been able to rest and heal!
I appreciate YOU for cheering for EVERYONE! Thank you for being so selfless! Please give your wife a high five from me, and tell her to keep up the amazing work!
I will give her one as she goes past me running LOL 🙂
I am a slow runner. I always finish in the back of the pack and have experienced this many times. I actually almost quit running after one local race! I was the last one in and it was my first uphill hard race. I was very overweight and running a 5k felt like I had been running for days. When I approached the finish, people were standing around talking and my husband was the only one who paid attention and clapped as I finished. No one cared. Food was all gone and the race results had already been posted and I wasn’t even on the sheet. That hurt me so much emotionally I almost gave up running for good. Instead I just stopped racing for the rest of the year because I didn’t want to go through that again. I’ve started racing again but that experience still haunts me. 🙁
NEVER QUIT. You are doing amazing things, regardless of those people at the finish line. Believe me, you are inspiring more people than you’ll ever know <3
Thank you Heather…. <3
Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?!
Great post – thanks for the detailed recap of your experience and I am so glad you wrote it up. I remember signing up for the MS150 bike ride from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie, a 2-day ride. I was 50lbs heavier and not in shape and didn’t know how to train. But I did it. And when I reached the finish line (not the tlast person but the last person was RIGHT behind me!), they were packing up. I got my medal and had to get right on a bus back to the start. I was still so glad I did it, but it was definitely a different experience compared to what I get now as a fit person who races a lot in the middle or “front half”.
Truly an eye opening read. I’m a mid to upper half of the pack runner and really didn’t know things like this happen in the late stages of a race. You need to post this in a few race review and send it to RW so they are aware of it. Running races should be all-inclusive, the experience should be the same from the first to last person.
Great post! Important that people understand this. Thanks for writing it!
This is pretty much all of my race experiences, too. When I ran my first (Philly, 2012), the water tables were broken down before I hit mile 9. Thank God for my Nathan belt. When I ran my second (Pittsburgh, 2013), they had no food left at the finish (and I was STARVING). When I ran my third (Copenhagen, 2013), by the time I hit mile FIVE they had broken down road barriers. Grant it, I KNEW I wouldn’t finish CPH in “time” but up until mile 5, I was still on pace to finish “in time.” I almost hopped on the train and went home. I refilled my handheld at mile 7, which was a good thing since there weren’t any more water tables left. I ended up being the next to last person to finish. Had to stop at traffic lights. Finish line was being disassembled. The only people left were the medics, the race guy on the bike that followed me 8 miles, and my family. There isn’t a single race photo of me.
Thankfully, Philly & PGH are marathons too, so the finish was still busy. It’s totally different, which is terrible, especially since I LOVE the spectators and race atmosphere at the beginning. It’s why I love races. But by the midpoint, you end up all alone. But in the end, whether or not there’s a crowd left or a banana or a photo, we back of packers finished, and that’s the most important part.
Jennifer @ Running on Lentils
I volunteered at the Pgh Marathon this year, and there was a definitely a big concern of running out of food. They said that in 2013 they had put goodie bags at the start of the chute and early finishers filled up the bags instead of just taking a few things so that food wasn’t left over for the late finishers. I think the marathon folks felt really bad about that because this year the goodie bags were at the end so that runners only picked up what they could carry in their hands so there would be enough left for everyone. I think they also requested a lot more food because there was so much left over at the end (the Food Bank was coming to pick it up). I’m sorry that happened to you in 2013, but I hope it’s some consolation to know that they fixed it for 2014.
It definitely does! I was supposed to run this year, but didn’t, but I’m glad they figured it out. I was starvingg by the time I finished, and all I got was a little bottle of water and a cup. (Thankfully, the boyfriend quickly whisked me off to red robin for lunch, though!)
John @ run. geek. run(disney)
Being from the back of the pack, a completer not a competer, I’ve seen some of this. I haven’t run for long (just over a year) so it’s still limited. Frankly, not having spectators on the course isn’t huge to me. I’m used to it, I don’t expect people to be there for that long. It’s great when they are there and feels great, but not a requirement.
However the issues with volunteers, the course, etc, are just not acceptable. You have a minimum pace for a reason. That’s the requirement, and all deserve to race the race while maintaining that. Yes, volunteers may not be the cheeriest at that time, but they’re people. They may have been grumps at the beginning for all I know. As long as they’re there, I appreciate them. If they’re cheering and happy, that hugely improves the race.
But not having the volunteers, cones being taken up, that’s just unacceptable to me. For that, the fault does go on those in charge. You just can’t have or let that happen.
Agreed, John! It most definitely is a safety issue. And I agree as well that you can’t let other people – be it volunteers or spectators – make or break the race for you. But I can say that for me, it is an AMAZING experience to run through huge crowds of cheering enthusiastic spectators. I just feel that should be available for everyone. Thank you for your comment!
I’m on the verge of tears right now. Thank you for writing this! I’ve tried multiple times to write my thoughts on this, but you’ve done it much more eloquently than I ever have. I’m a mid-pack runner, but I’ve certainly had some races where I was at the back – at the beginning of my running “career” especially. But I also work for a charity that has everyone from front-of-the-pack to all the way back-of-the-pack. When we’re working at an event, my colleagues and fellow volunteers are usually the only ones left cheering at the end of the race (cowbell blisters are a serious thing, let me tell you, haha!) and it breaks my heart that those participants aren’t getting the same benefits as those who are faster. Worse, like you said, sometimes they’re looked down upon and that makes me so angry. (I think I probably cheer louder for these people – seeing the smiles on their faces is incredible.) Anyway, just wanted to say THANK YOU for sharing.
Thank you Kara! I’ve had a cowbell blister, you are right, they are no joke! Keep on cheering & running, I appreciate you!
I love you. That is all.
Larisa Dixon (@0to26point2)
I love both of you;) XOXOXO
This portion: “Now, I’m sure I’m going to have countless readers and internet-elites saying “well if they don’t want that experience, they should run faster.” And to that, I will call bullshit.”
I would like to comment on that specifically… it isn’t as simple as they should run faster. I am a consistent 11min/mi runner (sometimes, I can work it down to 9:40 min/mi when doing a 5k) and I work hard to be that…. so I agree when you call bullshit and I just thought I would throw it out there… doesn’t mean i am the slowest but i know that people would call bullshit on the statement of “just run faster” for many reasons; and anyone who has busted ass to get as fast as they have presently would also call bullshit. 🙂
Thanks for posting this. I enjoyed the read.
Absolutely, 100%! Who knows what someone else’s circumstance are. Maybe there are physical reasons they can’t run faster. Maybe there are emotional reasons. Maybe, they just don’t WANT to…and if they are still within the pace limit, then they can do whatever they please! Sadly over the years I’ve seen some real negativity regarding pacing, finishers, etc, so I felt the need to throw in the “bullshit” comment. In my opinion, I’d rather see someone take 5 hours to finish a half marathon than to never attempt it at all, or stay at home on the couch! I wish everyone would see the good! Thank you for your comment! 🙂
To spectators, I would say that it’s even MORE important that you’re around for the second half of the pack. In many races, the early finishers may not be local (especially on the case of big money races) and/or they’re seasoned runners for whom this is not their first – or even third – race.
Get that extra half hour of sleep, arrive after traffic is a bit closer to normal, and cheer on those slower runners, who are more likely to be either new to the distance, injured or recovering, going slower to support a friend, or (like me!), at the age where we’re slowing down a bit each year.
All racers LOVE your enthusiasm, but lots of the slower ones really NEED it. They may not be sure that they can actually finish, and your cheers help them to believe.
Can I get an AMEN? Thank you, @bethsez!
Amen. Amen. Amen.
My first (and currently only) marathon experience was just like this. I was well within the 7 hour limit imposed and yet I had police officers repeatedly come up and yell at us to get off the road because they were opening it up. There were many stations that had been abandoned (at least they managed to leave food and drink behind!) and it was quite sad to see barely a handful of people when I finally crossed the finish line. Thanks for sharing this and reminding people that the first and last place-finishers are equally awesome!
Amen, sister! For various reasons (not the least of which was stomach issues) I was also in the back of the pack at this race. Wish my daughter and I had seen and joined your group 🙂
First- you rocked your race. You didn’t quit. I love it.
Second- THANK YOU for saying all that you did! I am a back of the packer and mostly stick to runDisney races for this very reason: they don’t leave us behind. They celebrate the slower folks just as much as the faster ones. I am slightly TERRIFIED to run most other races because I hear this happens all too often. Yes- Disney costs me more, but at least I feel like they want me on the course. I
really hope your words go viral and other race directors take note. If they are going to keep a course open for 3.5-4 hours, they need to keep it ALL open for the entire time. It could make a huge difference in someones confidence to have that support- especially at the end.
Fantastic blog post. I’m typically keeping an 11-12 min/mile pace. For most 5Ks, this affords me the benefit of being in the middle of the pack, but for all the longer races I do – half/full marathons, triathlons, etc – I am pretty consistently in the back of the pack. Some races have been fantastic about making sure every person that crosses the finish line has had full support. Others have had abandoned aid stations, have taken down finish lines, etc (again, despite being within their time limits). One century bike ride I did (yep, I’m a slow cyclist too) had the nerve of asking “why did it take so long to finish? did you get a lot of flats?”. Um, no, sorry, I’m just slow, haha. This is a great blog post that shows what many back-of-the-packers experience!
This was great and I had many of the same thoughts when I walked a half last year with an injured friend. I feel like the back of the packers are the most courageous ones out there – they don’t quit and just keep going!! Last year while cheering for the Disney World marathon, I had planned on going in after I cheered for my husband in the middle of the pack but couldn’t leave! I was more inspired by those finishing last than I ever have been by the elites. In fact, it was the most motivating thing I’ve ever seen. Great words. Thank you.
Charlene Ragsdale (@CRagsdale)
Sorry you were sick! 🙁 I ran the back of the back, on purpose (and I am front of the pack runner, like you) with Sarah Reinertsen. It was a unique experience to say the least and one that I believe all runners should see. Nice meeting you and hope our paths cross, again.
It’s funny, I saw you guys when I was leaving the med tent! It was nice meeting you too!
I think you should point the finger at the race organizers. What kind of organization leaves its course unattended before cutoff time with a hundred racers still on the course? That’s crappy treatment of the racers and pisses me off. If you only want to support racer through a certain finishing time, then do so. But don’t have/let your volunteers just *leave* before the race is over. This story makes me leery of running big-name races (and certainly anything sponsored by RW), and grateful for all my local, supportive, friendly races that will see every runner through to the finish.
I’m not sure any volunteers actually left…but there were certain places where it felt there should have been volunteers but there weren’t (like the point where we weren’t sure where we were going, or where traffic was trying to turn ON to the course). Either way though, it is something I will definitely point out to the organizers. I will say that everything else about this race was fantastic, far better than many other big name races I have run. This was a first time event, and so I for one will indeed give them the benefit of the doubt and hope they will make it right for the back of the packers next year. Thanks for your comment Robyn! 🙂
Well written and reasoned. All of this is why I’ve given up big races. Sticking to small local races. A few friends and I considered this one, and that is as far as it got, we are all burnt out on the hoopla of big races, glad we took a pass.
I am usually around the middle of the pack in my races, but I have finished near the end in some – most notably in my first full…where I didn’t see another runner for the last 6 miles thanks to an oddly staked out route. Water tables were packing up, spectators vanished…it was lonely and terrible and nearly did me in. Unfortunately – these things only stay open as long as the volunteers are willing to stay. And the rules only give a FINISH LINE closure – what happens on the route is a whole ‘nother beast. Thank you for writing about your experience at the back. It can be and usually IS far more fun than up with the speedies…but it can also be a pretty lonely and disheartening place. Those who finish last deserve the support so much more than anyone else on that route.
THANK YOU FOR THIS POST!!!
I’m hear because I saw a link on Dani’s “Weight off your shoulders” Facebook page.
I still walk/run 5ks. I’m definitely a back of the pack person and have had this experience at other races (luckily Runners World was great for the 5K runners).
It’s my biggest pet peeve when a course opens to traffic before the race is over (per it’s own specifications).
I get it – I’m still slow. But gosh darn it – I’m lapping everyone who’s still in bed. 😉
And I had my reason for walking the 5K- a pregnant woman who was walking the course wanted company & I was happy to be there!
Extremely well written. When I ran the BAA half last year, I had a PR of 3:06:59. They called out my name at the finish line! I had to sidestep small children in the zoo and peacocks, but there were still people cheering.
We may be slow, but we still run. I didn’t know of the heartbreak half, but now I am not sure I would do it because I am a back of the pack person.
This past weekend, I walked a local 5k that also had a tri attached to it. I was in the back of the pack (7 people finished behind me) and they ran out of medals before I finished. The MC had stopped announcing names of people finishing the 5k. Now, I’m 7 months pregnant and it was a very hilly 5k, so I’m pretty damn proud I finished at all. What pissed me off the most was that there was no apology issued by the RD for running out of medals. I had pre-registered, too, so my spot had already been saved. It upsets me that back-of-the-packers are treated like crap. We still get out there and go and give it our all. Why are we treated so different? Thank you for your post on this!
I’m guessing the lack of medals was due to day-of signups. One of my local organizers counts out T-shirts before a race to make sure everyone pre-registered gets one. Sounds like the organizers need to do the same with medals.
The other reason for medal shortages are bandits. This is something that makes me seethe.
I’ve run a fair amount of half marathons (and 10ks and 5ks and so on), and to date my best time is a 3:19 for the half. I’m not fast, but I get there. You are describing just about every single race I run. In fact, I was talking to another blogger about it a few weeks ago and she was so surprised at the difference in experiences she had me write a guest blog “from the back of the pack”. I’m sorry you had a disappointing race, but thank you for bringing attention to the fact that it isn’t the same race at all for the entire field. I’ve had water stations close on me (dangerous!), the course itself has shut down, they have run out of medals, the food and post-race support is gone, and then there’s the demoralization of hearing people say “You can finish! I promise!”. I know I can finish, thank you, this is just the speed I go. Here’s my back-of-the-pack blog posting: http://runthegreatwidesomewhere.com/2014/05/06/rundisney-perspectives-back-pack/
Thank you for posting this! It’s true, those of us at the end of races have been forgotten, and then to read your fellow runners say things like “if you can’t finish a 1/2 in less than 3 hours don’t participate” really stings. I’m signing up and doing MY best. My best is the best I can do and if I have to crawl across the line, I paid the same amount as you to participate, I trained my ass off for it and I deserve the respect of finishing.
This happened to me at the very first obstacle race I ever did. The beer truck was gone, the camera crews left, the finish line clock had been turned off and was being broken down, there were no volunteers at the finish line, we got yelled at in the clean-up tent for not hurrying…. it was MISERABLE. When I contacted Columbia Muddy Buddy after the race we were told “no way that happened, we always stay until the end”. I guarantee you, I didn’t get a single picture or my damn beer. I wouldn’t have missed a beer. 🙂 They flat out didn’t know that there were four teams of muddy buddy participants still out on the course. I am addicted to obstacle races but I’ll never do another Columbia event and I always register for the earliest wave my team will allow me to.
I stood next to a jerk while I was cheering that said casually “If you can’t finish a half in 2 hours why bother?” It took everything in my power to move to another area so I didn’t take him to the ground and make him eat dirt.
Bullies in every sport but luckily the majority I know aren’t this way. 🙂 Lots of love out there especially in the back of the pack.
People who say that generally haven’t tried to do it.
Thank you from the bottom of my very slow heart. The back of the pack is the only race I know, And at the age of 64, there’s not much likelihood that I’ll ever get any faster. But I keep going, one foot in front of the other, rinse, repeat…
Congratulations to you for sticking it out. Not every race will be a PR. I’m so glad you finished (and who cares in what place). I get tired about hearing how everyone runs a race to be faster than the last time. Sometimes I just want to take it easy during a race. There should be no shame in that.
Thank you for posting this!
Heather, I’m applauding and crying and nodding along with every word you’ve written.
First, way to finish what you started, despite how much you wanted to be anywhere else but there, then. AND for being so wonderful to the folks in the back….I’d love to run (slowly) with you anytime.
Second, thank you for saying what us ‘back of the pack’ people have always thought, that there’s two different races being run, one for the fast and one for the rest. I’ve never been fast, never will be, and have run more than one race where they were rolling up the pavement right behind me, making me feel like an inconvenience rather than an athlete. Water stations abandoned or non existent, GU no longer available ’cause the first folks have it all, barricades and markers gone, leaving you wondering how to get back. At Walt Disney World the balloon with the characters for the 20th anniversary wasn’t even airborne (or visible) when we arrived at that spot. I’ve never been finished after the ‘official’ time that the course dictated yet it seems like there’s nobody but me, the tumbleweeds and the guys removing the metal barriers. Thank GOD for the volunteers who hand out the medals who take the time to congratulate and cheer and are still there making you feel like you’re part of the event.
There’s been a few races that did it ‘right’. From Rite Aid who had the marathon finish at the same time as the half, so that they ran further but came in around the same time as us (to cheering groups of family and bands and volunteers) and the Try-a-tri I just did in Binbrook ON who literally assembled a huge group to cheer in the last folks to finish.
Do I wish I could be faster? Hell yes. but it’s not going to happen. I ran 2 7 hour marathons and 3:45 half marathons (like a dozen). I’ll be here, bringing up the rear, please stay and cheer!
I love this. I finished the Big Sur Marathon dead last and even though they were taking everything down, even the finish line, there was still plenty of refreshments, cheers and staff to go around. I’m disappointed that this is not the case for Runners World Events. Yay to ALL OF THE PACK! (and congrats on your finish!!)
The charity races seem to be better at waiting for all of the runners when compared to “runners club” type events. I am not a fast runner and I want to improve my time but my kids and schedule prohibit any real training. This perpetuates my slowness, but has never completely discouraged me from running. What really sucks is finishing 2:40 in a runners club race and there is no food or drinks left, the medical tent has packed up, and the dj has quit playing. If people would like to grow running as a sport they should embrace the slow runners out there instead of turnin there nose up at them.
Courtney @ Don't Blink. Just Run.
This is awesome and I’m so glad you wrote this. As much as I feel for you having a crappy time and not feeling well, I’m glad a fast racer like you had this experience. I’ve been at the back of the pack (like waaaay back) twice this year – once was at my very first 10 mile race, also the first time I’d ever run that distance. When I crossed that finish line after 2:19, I was exhausted and could barely continue moving. I needed some calories and what did I get? A bottle of water that was in the process of being packed up. My only other option was a beer tent, but who wants that at 11am after running for over 2 hours? I couldn’t even get a half of a stale bagel or anything. The only thing still there were the tents, but everything under them had been packed up – and I wasn’t dead last either! Thank you for putting this thought into people’s minds. And kudos to you for toughing out those 13.1.
Ange @ Cowgirl Runs
Thank you so much for writing this.
I, like you, am usually in the top 10% or so of most of the races I do. Two weeks ago I ran an ultra marathon and while the course was still open, the streets were very bare and, worst of all, they had run out of water bottles and food. While the atmosphere of the race was amazing, I, too, learned that this is the norm for people finishing at the back of the pack and it made me sad for them.
Lisa (mom to marathon)
What an eye-opening experience. Thank you for sharing it.
I can so completely relate to this! I am a true middle of the packer. I was scheduled to run our local (actually the country’s largest) 25k. I have run this race many times and LOVE IT! 6 days before the race I pulled a muscle in my back…couldn’t even stand up! With the help of my chiropractor, I got myself to about 60% by race day. As you can certainly relate, I chose to run the race. I ran the first 9 miles at about a 10 minute pace (about 1:30 slower than my normal pace). At 9 miles my back said “you are done!” I contemplated dropping out. I had so much BioFreeze on I could hardly stand the smell of myself
This post gave me goosebumps. My half PR is 2:27, so while I’m not a full fledged back-of-the-packer, I’m pretty solidly in the bottom 3rd. I’ve only been running for less than 3 and I’ve completed 2 full marathons, which is more than a lot of fasties can say. 🙂 But you’re so right. I may not be fast, but I’m running with every ounce of heart, soul, and strength that I can muster. Thanks for a fantastic post, and I hope you’re feeling better!
Thank you for posting your experience at the Heartbreak Hill Half this past weekend.
I had contemplated signing up for it myself, but I also knew it was going to be a busy weekend here at home (school and scout events, etc), so I opted not to register. Sounds like I made the right choice.
I am a back of the pack runner. I wish I weren’t, but I am. I was never an athlete growing up, and trying to learn the mechanics of running without sustaining injury in my 40’s while carrying around some extra weight isn’t easy. But I try. I get out & I do my best. My best 1/2 time so far is 3:20. My last half (BAA half in October 2013), I was so sore with leg cramps, I limped over the finish line, I couldn’t even run anymore. The course was fairly empty, the signage was confusing, the volunteers were less than helpful. I crossed, got my medal, and proceeded to go to the buses that took us to the parking lot. I don’t even remember if there was water or food at the end. At the Disneyland half this past August, I ran through the debris left behind where a station had been set up to give out orange slices (there were no tables or oranges left). We hit water stations that had no cups!! Warm water (and the temps were so high, it was dangerous), or stations with no water. I finished last in a 10K race last year where the signs were down, the tables were gone, there was no water stations, and the finish line was unmanned. I ran it injured (I had suffered 3rd degree burns on my hand the night before cooking dinner.) Not one person was there to see me cross. And no one to get a medal from. I wrote to the Race Director and a medal was mailed to me. It took me a long time to be able to hang that one, because I was so disappointed.
This year has been hard for me to get my head around when it comes to running. I have a 10K in about a week and a half. My friend whom I run with has been sick this past week, and my training has been sporadic at best. I am sure that my time will be slower than it was last year. But I’m still going to go, I’m still going to do my best, and I’m still going to keep my head up high. The race next weekend is supposed to have food available for the racers — I’ve never made it across the finish line to actually get to take advantage of the perk, so I will be sure to have my cooler in my car with my own Powerade and bananas and other snacks.
Being a back of the pack runner can be a lonely experience, but I’m glad that you had friends with you that made the race a somewhat fun event. Thank you for your honesty in your review. It’s much appreciated.
Sorry — correction — second degree, not third degree.
I was there cheering for Disneyland half last year because I tore my calf muscle and couldn’t run. I was cheering on the right before you entered the park and I was there until the last person entered (I was wearing an obnoxious looking castle on my head). I am so sorry there wasn’t anyone at the finish line for you. I wasn’t able to make it over that way in time. Hope you have better experiences in the future.
I appreciate you writing this blog for all of us back of the pack runners! I run for myself and try to PR for myself, but like there have been times when I have wanted to cry and quit because there was no one cheering me on (usually there is a crowd at the finish, but no longer on the course). Its definitely a blow to your runner self-esteem and takes a lot of self convincing to just keep going. We aren’t all fast runners, and that IS OK! Larisa and Melanie have also been there for me, along with another friend Mandy, to help me get through my first half marathon! So thankful there are people on the courses that help each other along, and when I am closer to the middle than the back of the pack — I try to be the support to those falling behind as well! I loved your article, so beautifully and thoughtfully written!
I am a back of the packer. And I am disgustingly proud of that. I have two bad knees. Two ACL replacements where my hamstrings were used to replace the ligament takes a huge toll on my ability to run. On a good day I can average an 11 minute pace now, but at every half I have ever run (I can proudly say that’s 4), I’ve averaged about a 15-16 minute mile. I plod along, sometimes feeling upset at how slow I am but then slowly remembering how far I’ve come. Then I just celebrate for the rest of my run, probably annoying everyone around me as I high five people, dance, yell about how I can eat what I want when the race is over or about the beer at the finish line (that probably won’t be there), and drag people with me.
This article made me even prouder to be a back of the packer. You’re right that it is a totally different environment in the back of the pack. We often don’t have the outside support but every back of the packer I have ever run with or met is the most loving, supportive runner you could ever meet. And I think it really is because we are just honored to run in the footsteps of others. It takes a really strong runner (yes, we are runners) to keep plowing when everything seems to be working against you, when you have no support, or when it doesn’t even seem worth finishing. So thank you for showing just how awesome back of the packers can be and writing about it so eloquently.
In regard to the fact that races break down early although their rules state otherwise, I’ve run into that issue way too many times. I write for the Women’s Running Community and you can see here a blog I wrote about a half where I was abandoned on a course after mile 3: http://www.womensrunningcommunity.com/wrc-favorite-things/motivation/race-recaps/ouc-half-marathon-recap-a-medal-for-a-runners-heart/. It’s terrifying to be left out on a course, alone, with no water, no officers to keep you safe, and wondering whether you are on the right course. So often I feel like the race organizers forget how frightened people can become in those situations. And it drives business away. So thank you for bringing it up.
And, like others have said, many of us know no differently from what we experience and will probably not get a lot faster. So your article and recommendations mean a great deal to those of us who want to feel what it’s like to run the race you run. It means a lot to me. I dream of the day when I can come across a finish line for a half in under 3 hours, to see what it’s like to have someone other than my mom or my boyfriend there to cheer. I want to hear the cowbells and finally get the beer others get. I want to be a part of your race.
Until then, I’ll keep pushing from the back of the pack, encouraging those with me to keep going. And I’ll wait until every single runner comes in, like I do at every race.
No runner left behind.
Great read. I’m slow, and I know it. But it most certainly breaks any momentum and motivation I have when water stations/bands/volunteers are long gone when I hit mile 9 or so! **I also love that you walked the race even though you were hurting! Atta girl!
Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's
Honestly, this is my reality too. I was lucky to have a great first few races (a lot of them were to raise money for local orga that supported the blind) with great course support, taking care with the blocking of cars, though technically the races weren’t closed to cars, and overall experience. When I started training for my first half I got a rude awakening. My coach was awesome, but my first 10k was sponsored so I was on my own. It was 2 loops of a 5k and on my second loop the cops were leaving. When I got to the first water stop they were packing up. There were 4 people behind me, I told the water stop volunteers and they called the second water stop. When I got to the stop there was ONE water bottle on the ground. No table, no volunteers, nothing. When I got to the finish there was no one there the timing mat was turned off, etc… I was so upset, I saw another ambassador that was nothing but supportive and I am grateful for her in that moment. As I made my way to the finisher tent the only food was cannoli’s, the awards were being held. It was so frustrating.
On the other hand, I ran Nike Women’s (half) marathon in San Francisco and it was amazing. Many people complain about the amount of bottleneck and walkers for that race, but I almost always felt support from the volunteers and spectators. I think some races do a great job with providing this support, but Nike is extremely expensive.
I do appreciate your insight, because I do get a lot of, just run faster, comments a lot, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my thoughts.
For those of you who also do tris, Rev3 does a VERY good job for their back of the pack people (they have a finish line party for their last athlete.
I’ve had some great BOP experiences (Boston 2009 – the later you are, the drunker the college kids are), but definitely some pretty awful ones as well. My most miserable BOP story – my first ever half marathon was during my build up to my first and only marathon. I had my first 20 miler schedule for that day, and I was petrified. My husband talked me into doing a local half (New Bedford, if you’re local). I agreed after reading all of the nice stuff online about them being “walker friendly”, and seeing really achievable cutoff times. I ran a slow seven miles before the race, and was relatively near the back from the start, with a cop car cruising the back few people in circles.
Well, due to the complete lack of on-course portapotties, I was kind of desperate by mile 9 or so. Some nice locals directed me to a portapotty…. a quarter mile off the course in a local park. So I ran out there, used it, and ran back (nothing’s better towards the end of a 20 mile run than an extra half mile of running).
When I got back to the course, despite all the “walker friendly” talk and the walkers and runners still on the course, all of the cops were gone, and all of the course markings were gone. Completely. In downtown New Bedford. The only reason I found the finish line at all (since I don’t live there) is that I had run the end of the course backwards as part of my pre-race run. I ended up giving directions to many of the walkers.
I’ll never do that race again.
Thank you very much for this post. I have shared it with all of my back of the pack friends. I am normally a midpacker, but have finished DFL with friends before, and while I have never encountered this situation, almost everyone I know has at some point or another. Thanks for using your blog as a platform.
We always try to stay and cheer folks on! I used to be that back of the pack runner and I always appreciated anyone who stayed to cheer me on. I’ve only had the experience of roads re-opening or volunteers cleaning up once or twice though, and I agree-it felt crappy. I like to run back out a little to cool down and cheer folks on away from the finish line. I’m faster now and finish more toward the mid-front of the back and there is a lot more support for those runners. I definitely think race directors need to make sure they keep the course open and supported for the ENTIRE duration of the race. They know where the back of the pack groups are-radio ahead and let folks know they’re on their way! Never leave them behind! Sorry you weren’t feeling well and I hope it didn’t blossom into the full blown flu!
Ali @ Hit the Ground Running
Thank you for sharing this…Those who are being paid or have signed up to dedicate their time should be staying to the very end and should be upbeat and excited for the entire race, and race directors should be enforcing that. I’m a middle-of-the-packer (depending on the race, of course), and even I have seen people cleaning up aid stations early. If the course is still open, the volunteers and cameramen, etc, should still be out there!
Thank you very much for writing this blog entry. I have run sub 2 and I have run with friends to get their first sub 3. I have been a pace leader for 6hr marathon and I have often taken the time to stay and cheer all of the finishers after me as they came in. I often say that the people who run the 12-16 min mile have more endurance and stamina than runners that run faster… because it is not just physical for them… it is mental.
I say huzzah to all runners and walkers no matter their speed. They are beating those that never got off the couch.
Heather, so glad you decided to un-finish the race and were able to cross the finish line. (That’s me in my pink MCM shirt walking away from your trio at the finish line & also at the intersection photo) I did stay to cheer on some of the runners behind me. Your perspective of the back of the pack was right on target. I am not a fast runner (my half PR is 2:47) but I was having an awful race for a lot of reasons. At some point I just made peace with it, thanked God for giving me the opportunity to run/walk each day. I had some great conversations with those around me. I noticed your group & myself were kind of leap frogging the last few miles. But I came away with the same impressions as you did. In fact at the intersection right before the photo you posted I heard a police officer yell out from his car “time to take the cones down NOW”. So I started to run towards the corner & said “hey, don’t we deserve a traffic cone too, can’t you just leave them up for a little while?” He said “you heard the orders, gotta take them down”. I thought what the heck (swear words deleted here) I’m still within the limits stated. Same thing happened at my first marathon, MCM last October, I kept hearing from a group of my friends about all the pushing & shoving at the water stations. I didn’t experience any of that, instead, I had to stop and walk thru the massive piles of empty cups so I wouldn’t slip on them. And they were all out of bananas by the time I got there. I was so upset. I wanted my bananas!!! 🙂 Despite my experience on Sunday the event as a whole was very organized. Everyone was so friendly. I would recommend the races to anyone. I just wish the start/finish area was closer to the parking garage so I didn’t have to go up and down those 150 or so steps. But that’s just me. I’m just going to include running up and down steps at my local track in my training so I’ll be better prepared for that next year.
I mostly run races at Disney World and my college campus where I have the security net of closed courses. I’ve always been afraid of doing non-Disney races for the very reasons you shared as I’m usually a middle to back of the packer and worried race resources will be gone by the time I get to them. When I did my first & so far only full marathon at Disney there were only 50 finishers behind me but the remaining small amount of people & volunteers made me feel like I came in first. Your unquit term really hit home because I really struggled during that race due to extreme heat & leg cramps. I planned to call it quits at mile 20 but decided to push on despite the risk of getting swept. I’m so glad I unquit the race. This year I had the awesome experience of giving out medals during the Disney Full & I managed to stay on my feet for 7 hours straight without food, water or bathroom breaks because I didn’t want to miss a single minute. I was rewarded by seeing the first & final finisher and everyone in between. Next year I’m tackling 2 (maybe 3) non-Disney races & I’m scared to death but I plan to make the best of it & enjoy every moment. Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope you’re feeling much better now!
Sorry to hear this happened to you, but it sounds like you made the best of a potentially devastating experience. You bring up a great point too – how different a half marathon experience can be for someone who is slower. During my first and only HM thus far, I too was dealing with sickness (which later became bronchitis!) I felt well enough to run, however I was also dealing with tendonitis on the top of my foot! It crept up on me about 2 weeks before the half. Unfortunately around mile 3 it would start to tense up for a couple seconds, release, and then tense up again about a minute later. I was really afraid my foot might lock up and spasm. So to reduce the risk of further injury and having to DNF, I took it at a much slower pace than I wanted. Every time my foot tensed up I backed off a little. My time was 2:45 (course cut off time was also 3:30). The spectators and traffic cops were awesome, but really died off around mile 10. At this point I felt like I was in a wasteland because so few people were around. I missed the last complimentary post race yoga session. Everybody was packing up when I finished. But I still finished, and not dead last – there were actually still several people behind me. I’m going to make up for it this fall when I run my second half!
Nicole @ pink elephant on parade
I’ve parked myself on the race from when the frontrunners go by to when the last person passes me and I see the ebb and flow of the crowd. Spectators tend to follow THEIR runner. I think I was the only person out there who was just generically cheering people on because I live nearby and think this is a fun hobby, so once their runner passed by, so too did they. So as the runners thin out, so too do the crowds.
As a non-fast runner, I give credit to the people in the back because not only are they putting in the same effort as people in the front, but they don’t get any of the glory and in my opinion that demands a lot more respect. It’s easy to go out there and do something you know you’ll be good/decent at relative to everyone else, or you can try to explain away your “bad time” with injuries, but when you put your all into it and you have a 3:30 half time and the best you get is a semi-patronizing, “we’re all winners!” I think I can safely say those people have gone above and beyond.
Darn, I just saw your picture on one of the other posts and noticed the Balega socks. I missed out on those too (I arrived at packet pickup on Saturday at 6:00am)!!!
Jennifer LE (@runningwithpugs)
I love this post so much. Thank you so much.
I am on the slower end of the middle of the pack. I actually have anxiety about being the last one to cross the finish line, only to find that it has already been disassembled. I take great care choosing races where I am WELL within the time constraints, or where I know that it’s not a “fast’ course. So far, I’ve been lucky.
Last year, I volunteered at a local half/full marathon. My friend and I were handing out medals, and we were only supposed to be there for 3-4 hours. Well, our time to leave came and went, but there were still people on the course, and the rest of the medal distributors left. It was heartbreaking to see the race organizers start taking down things at the finish line, and we stayed for over another hour to try to personally hand medals to every single runner. When we finally had to leave (we had other things scheduled for the day), there were still 2 people out there, and the finish line was almost down. I was so sad for those runners. We were close enough to hear the director talking to some staff and the very last runner was hurting badly – he had driven by her several times and tried to convince her to get in the car and accept a ride to the finish line, but she refused. If anyone deserved a medal that day, it was her, for her determination and perseverance.
Thank you for being so transparent in this post. It brings tears to my eyes as a back of the packer this is our reality for most races. But, most of us are so used to it we do things that most others wont do. We carry our own water, pack finish line food in our checked bags and have friends and family strategically placed around the course. The first race usually shocks us until we do it again. After the second race we realize this is our reality. BUT, we persevere. We keep going and we keep signing up. We love spectators as much as everyone else and probably appreciate them more than most. We know when we sign up we aren’t wining the purse but our wining is more about starting. We aim to finish. In my running group we don’t leave anyone behind and we are our our own biggest supporters. Thank you for bringing to light this very real scenario. I appreciate how delicately and beautifully it was written. I hope you are feeling better and I’m so happy your friends were able to pull you to “unquit” your race. Great friends!! Those that push you when you feel like you don’t have anything left. Congrats on your finish.
I coach for a local training team. I get the last group before the walkers. I don’t cross the finish until all of my team (sometimes as many as 20) have crossed the finish line. I’ve spent 4:30 on a half course to get all my team across the finish. My last runner works just as hard anyone out there & all the support as the leaders.
You are amazing.
I enjoyed reading all the comments.I am a back of the packer and have only done a few 5K s (running less than a year). I was thinking about stopping running because of knee pain (arthritis) and I do not seem to be getting any faster,but I really enjoy it and have decided slow is better than not doing it at all. Like my friend said 5k is 3.1 miles in 30 min or 40 min still 3.1 miles. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing, and thanks so much to all of the commenters. Right now I’m having a big warm fuzzy for the Divas 5K in Galveston. I recently ran my first 5K there, finishing a whopping 3 minutes under the limit. Over 100 people finished after me, which still put me in the back of the pack for sure. I was so nervous about this race that I wouldn’t let my family come to cheer me on, for fear I would dnf and embarrass myself. I would have stopped at about mile 1 if it hadn’t been for that stranger with the sign that read “I’m proud of you stranger!”, and probably again a half mile later at the top of the seawall, but there was the guy with the “there’s vodka at the finish line” sign. The local constables and police who were manning the intersections were bedecked in pink boas and cheering as loudly and as enthusiastically at the end as I could have hoped for. When I crossed the finish line I cried. And cried and cried. And ran into a big party. If my first turtle-paced 5K finish had been like what many of you describe, I would have turned my running shoes into gardening shoes and quit for good. Thanks so much for reminding me to register early for next year’s Divas!
I might be off on that 100 people, but a bunch at any rate. 😛
This was one of my favorite posts. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for many (and I have had it happen to me a few times due to injury), and it is not fun. Most important that all back of the packers need to remember that it is still YOUR race. I hope that the RD’s read your comments about fulfilling the time allotted/posted to ALL participants. We all pay the same fee and should be entitled to the same amenities provided.
Thanks for the post and glad you had such a fun time! 🙂
I’m a very slow runner, a “completer rather than competer” as one person said above, usually in the back third of a race. I go by the zombie method, which is if I’m not first, I’m not gonna finish last and be zombie food. Most of the races I’ve participated in during the last several years are 5Ks, with the occasional 10K thrown in when I feel particularly masochistic. I use races as motivation to exercise on a regular basis as I battle type II diabetes.
We’ve been very lucky here in the Kansas City metro that most of the races are good about keeping track of runners and staying open until everyone’s in. The ones I’ve seen that had some issues were either smaller races or ones that were in their first or second year and still shaking things out (only one water station in a July evening downtown race when the heat index was 110F comes to mind — I lost four pounds of water weight, and that was after drinking a quart of Gatorade after the race).
The one time I was well and truly last was at an outdoor sprint triathlon a few years ago. I was so far behind everyone else that I was just pulling into the corral from the bike to the run when most everyone else was packing up. My girlfriend at the time walked the 5K with me because she thought I was in real trouble, the weather turned nasty, and I apologized to every volunteer on the run course because I knew they were waiting for me so they could go home. But all the volunteers stayed, I still finished, and I got a shout-out from the stage when I finally pulled into the line.
Our ugly hill race was over the weekend too — the Hospital Hill series. I participated in the 10K and finished in the back third as usual, about a 15 minute pace in a rainstorm. One of my friends walked the half marathon and she noticed that support was decreasing in the latter part of her race, but that was also because we had a 35-minute weather delay at the start, which bumped up against the end of the open course window for the slow participants. Really, not a lot one can do about that. She finished a few minutes beyond the cutoff of 3:30, but she still got her medal, some friends helped her finish, and she was happy with that.
As a solid back of the packer and many occasions the DLF – the experiences you had are not unusual. I have done small races, big races, rD races, and raced from coast to coast. I have come to an end to find almost no one (hubby and an RD), no supplies, been lost on a course, water stations closed, etc. I have learned to carry my own, be grateful when there is still stuff/people at the end, and have become a solid believer that those who run in the front of the pack tend to run with their legs while those at the back of the back tend to run with our hearts. I do not disparage the efforts of front, middle or back. I am honored to watch those who move with a grace of motion I will never have. But I will be honest to say that I am most inspired and impressed not with the efforts of the first 100 but the last 100. I know I will never be fast and that is okay. I am happy to be in the back with those who inspire with a will that does not quit.
Thank you for this great post. I’m a habitual back of the pack’er. I’ve been battling leg shin issues and a left side that has slightly atrophied due to illness a few years back. It has been disheartening to me to watch so many of my friends, run off (especially since I’m the one who suggested they try it) and not wait for me at the end – they weren’t alone, but often I was. I always have to remind myself that I walked the same mile they ran or walked, just without all the fanfare and many times without the water.
This has been my experience too many times to count. When I did the RnR Las Vegas half, they RAN OUT OF MEDALS! RAN OUT. RnR races are NOT cheap, but by the time my group got to the end they were out of space blankets and medals. For my sister to not recieve a medal on her first half marathon was devistatng!
I did the same half. I finished in 2:50 – not my worst time; not my best either. Yes, I’m a back of the packer. My experience was not the same as yours, even do (although I did have to wait briefly at one intersection & that did piss me off). But I have had similar experiences, too.
I am a slow runner. I trained so hard for this race & so hoped for a different outcome. Just because I’m slow does definitely NOT mean I am running as hard as I can.
I have been in races where they ran out of water or were packing it up as I approached – it is why I always carry my own water.
I’m sorry you had such an experience, but your reaction to it warms my heart, too.
I’m a back of the packer and will never be much faster. My half PR is a 2:48 and I’ve had much slower races. And some races are awesome about it and some are brutal. Now, there are races where the course is only open for 3 hours. I don’t run those races because I know I’m at risk of falling behind and I would deserve to get swept if I did. But if a course says it will be open for 3:30, then it should be.
And if you’re out cheering for a race, don’t give up when the fast runners are done. Stay out there for the back of the packers! We need you. We’re trying, but maybe we’re not built to be fast. Doesn’t matter. We’re still there.
Every year, I go out and cheer at Marine Corps Marathon. I park myself at mile 22, see the fastest runners and I don’t leave until the last runner passes me, followed by the trailing police. Yeah, it means I don’t get to the finish to see my friends there. But I have gotten more high fives and smiles and “thank yous” from those slow runners, people who are just glad to see cheering faces out there.
I did monster dash mn last year. I’m a back o the packer. I signed up knowing I could make the 3:30 time limit but at the expo I started hearing the time was changed to 3:15. When I went to the info booth the would not confirm or deny. They said that they would have to reopen streets and I’d be allowed to finish on the sidewalks. I was happy to be allowed to finish. On race day I finished … And before being forced to the side walk.got my medal but they were packing up … No water, no food, no free banana … In fact my friend who had finished at 2:45 experienced the same thing. My husband who finished at 2:30 said they started shutting down right as he came in. Btw both my husband and my friend walked back a mile and came in with me so I wasn’t as alone. There were about 100 more behind me.
There’s never too many people behind me when I finish a race, and there have been times when I’ve been last. If there’s still a finish line, announcer and water, I’m ok with it. For those races that have run out of t-shirts, food, water, medals, etc., I just refuse to participate again, They had their chance to get my entry fee and screwed up.
I’m not often a spectator, but when I am, I make it a point to stay to clap for people until the police come by for their sweep. I know what the racers have put into their training to be out there – and you can really see what a difference it makes to someone having some encouragement.
I’m a 2:45ish half marathoner, and I can tell you this is absolutely the norm for about half the races I have run. I have finished races where they were taking the finish line down and there was NO food left for the slower runners (and in the worst case of this I have ever seen, there were a good 100 people behind me who didn’t even get to “cross the finish” despite being well within the allotted time). I tell people not to do those races. However, there are also races like Flying Pig in Cincinnati or Divas in Long Island where crowd support was phenomenal, and the race was still well in swing for the back-of-the-packers. I think one of the keys is that races where the marathon and half go off at the same time tend to have better support.
My one DNF was a race (a 30K, not a half) where they were sweeping the course ahead of the stated time, and there was NO on course support at all. Physically I could have finished. Mentally, I felt like no one cared and I just wasn’t interested in pushing through any more.
As a person with a PR of 3:19, I have seen more finish lines still open with nothing around them, than I care to admit. I have emailed race directors to make sure they will still be open when I finish, because there was not posted limit, to be told “yes” only to finish to nothing but a timing mat and my medal in a box waiting for me to try and bend over to pick it up myself. I have watched countless races clean up around me. My goal at every half marathon is to finish while there is still food. Thank you for opening people’s eyes to realizing we at the back of the pack are athletes too and deserve the same race for the same money.
This is a great article and makes me realize how lucky I am with my half experience. Come run (or walk) the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus, OH and see what it’s like to have a top notch organization run the thing for the ENTIRE time. I ran a 3:09 and when I crossed the finish line at gun+3:30ish, the race director was STILL there as we crossed the line giving high fives and greeting people. Police officers clapping for us as we go by. Bands in full voice.
Come check it out. You won’t be disappointed. Contact Dave Babner (race director) at M3SSports. They do an awesome job.
unfortunately, this has been my experience as well. Worse off, the food and water stands were taken down. I watched a sorority take a pic of dumping all the gatoraide cups off a table when there were still people running. I walked past (mile 10!) and said “id like a drink, please”… they looked at me like a deer in the headlights! I was going the OTHER direction, but i know there were 30 people behind me. that was my first half, and Ive done better, but yes, Love this article. thank you.
What a great post. I’m not a back of the packer, but this made me stop to think about my actions when I’m done a race or volunteering. You are 1000% right- they deserve the same experience as I did- we paid the same entry fee after all. Yeah, on a hot day, when I’m done, all I want to do is go home and sit in the air conditioning, rather than wait around to cheer on some strangers. But, these aren’t strangers per se- they are my fellow athletes, and they have been pushing themselves to their limit just like me. They deserve my support. In April, I volunteered for the St. Anthony’s triathlon, and after my shift was over, I went for a run, off to the side of the course, where we knew the roads would be closed but we’d pass some of the back of the packers. I passed my friend who was still racing, gave her a cheer, and kept going. But how disheartening that must have been! Sure, I gave her some encouragement, but man, still being out there when some volunteers were done and getting in their own workout was probably more discouraging…
Thank you for giving me pause-I will certainly remember those back of the packers next time I race/volunteer.
I used to be a mid to back of the packer. Now I’m close to the sweeper and have sometimes been last. I’ve completed 31 marathons in 28 states. For various reasons, I’m walking now more than running. I became emotional reading your blog because I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. And although you only experienced it for one race, I experience it at almost every race. You were lucky that there were medals and food. I can’t tell you how many races have run out. I like the advice you gave to race directors. Race directors have every right to post a time limit and those of us considering participating can then decide if we will be able to enter and finish in the time limit. But EVERY athlete who finishes within that time limit should be treated the same (food, medals, volunteers, directions, spectators). But we are not. And it’s disheartening. I make sure to give feedback to race directors: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I always start with the good. But until we get our voices heard things will not change. I have found most race directors to be extremely receptive to feedback and have made changes because of it. I have even found an increasing number of races that have official early starts for walkers (or will allow us turtles to start early if we ask). Many of us (if not most of us) in the back are BUSTING our butts and doing the best we can. For various reasons, we just can’t go any faster. And no amount of training is going to change that (at least for some of us). And we shouldn’t have to change. If we can finish in the time limit then we deserve the respect that everyone else gets. A big shout-out to the faster runners who cheer for us back of the packers, to the race directors who provide generous time limits, and the spectators who stick around for us.
Jennifer @ The Final Forty
Hi! I’m new here. First off, I’m sorry you felt so sick that day, and congrats on finishing! But more importantly, I just wanted to say that this is an AWESOME post. This was something that needed to be said. I had a similar experience when I ran the Rock N’ Roll marathon in DC this past March. I’m a solid middle-of-the-packer, normally, with anywhere from a 9 to 10:30 minute mile pace. But during the full, I decided I was going to run with my boyfriend, as it was his first marathon. He’s normally a bit faster than I am, but he ended up struggling — a LOT. Regardless, we still finished before the course time limit of 5:30. And after hours of struggling, we were greeted by…nothing. The food was all but packed up, the volunteers were breaking down tables, and it was basically like a ghost town. The runners who finished just a few minutes after us literally got NOTHING. I felt horrible that he trained so long and so hard, and just because he had a bad race that morning, we were entitled to such a non-existent finish line experience — even though we still finished within the limit. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I FULLY agree with you; if there’s a posted course time limit, then all race activities, hoopla, etc. should continue UNTIL that time, period!
Michele Collette Keane
Wonderfully stated. I, too, tend to be near the front of the pack (except at the Boston Marathon – but I qualified, so you see what I mean). I; however, have run with friends who are back of the packers and it is indeed an entirely different experience which is why I always try to go back out and cheer until the end. This past May, I was a 4:10 pacer at the Cleveland Marathon but I was only running 16 miles of the race (we generally split the course so the pacers have fresh legs as it has been warm the last few years). I stopped at the 16 mile Water Stop (which was also near my house) and I started giving out water with those volunteers. We didn’t leave until we were absolutely sure that there were NO more runners on the course. The police also stayed and kept cars, bikes, etc. off the course to accommodate those last few runners as well. In Atlanta where I used to live, the Publix Georgia Marathon has a Dead Last pace group that runs every year. They stay on the course until the very end (7 hrs) and sweep runners along the way until the group that finishes is usually 10-20 runners strong. I have run in that group with a friend and it is such a well done experience I think all races should adopt this approach.
Our Hospital Hill half marathon (in Kansas City) has a similar group that sweeps up the last of the runners. Normally it’s not a problem, but this year it was a little tricky as we had a weather delay that shortened the effective time everyone could be on the course before the roads had to re-open.
AMEN! I have done 5 half marathons and I am definitely a back of the pack girl. 16 min pace is around my time and I have to work for it. I have done 2 at Disney and those were great experiences.
Just this April, I did the Bucks County Half in PA. I knew it was a hilly course but the website said it was walker friendly. I even contacted the race director and he assured me that there was no time limit at all and I would be totally fine.
The course was a loop so when I came around the first time, I had to literally run through other finishers with their medals eating pretzels and relaxing. The DJ was playing and everyone was enjoying themselves while I had to continue on for the second half of the race.
As I come around to the aid station that had been there for the first time through.. it was all packed up.. so now on an 80 degree day I had to go 5 miles with no aid stations. There were about 5 of us out there still at the back. I was the last person to finish and when I did the entire finish area was gone… no DJ, no pretzels, not even a bottle of water. Just one volunteer with my medal and the 4 other people at the back that waited for me.
I contacted the race director and said that not only was it disappointing, it was dangerous. It was so hot and the race was in a park. Someone could have easily passed out and there was no one else around. He emailed me back and apologized and asked for my address to send me some free race merchandise… I have yet to received anything.
But I will continue to run and do races…
Recently I’ve started to move up from back of the pack to middle of the pack, but it certainly depends on the race. I’ve had so many races where I’ve hit a water station only to find them sweeping up the trash. There might be cups left but it truly is disheartening to watch them closing up shop as you’re still trying to give it your all. I’ve been in races where they’ve left the water and Gatorade on the sidewalk. One time I was coming up the last hill into the chute only to see most of the runners in their cars headed home. They cheered for me… from THEIR cars. I could have cried — probably did tear up — because I wasn’t THAT slow in relation to the distance. I was so happy the race organizers stuck around that day as well as some friends to cheer me into the chute. And I try when possible to cheer on others — especially at smaller, local races.
John "the Penguin" Bingham
Congratulations. You are officially a “penguin”. We, the waddling wonders, welcome you. And you made me smile. Yes. A 1:40 half is VERY good. But when I started writing for RW in 1996, anything slower than a 7 minute pace was considered jogging. The times – literally and figuratively – have changed.
Thank you so very much for posting this. As a back of the pack runner I have been told by faster runners if I want to experience the best stuff I have to run faster. As someone who can barely run at all I find my 17 minute pace to be amazing and as I continue to keep moving I am getting faster but it has taken YEARS to get to this point. I would love to be faster and I work my ass off to get faster and there are many races I cannot even do yet because I am still too slow but I will get there.
I cheered for a race recently that my husband ran. The time limit was 3:30 and so I knew I couldn’t do it so I did the 10K that day and then cheered the rest of the half in. My husband is still new to running and runs a sold 2:50 half which is amazing considering a year ago he was running a 3:20. He and my friend ran together and they finished right at 2:50. The course was supposed to still be open another 40 minutes and they already were having trouble finding the turns because the volunteers had already cleared the course. We hung out at the finish line area for about 15 minutes waiting for another friend to come in. When she did she was disheartened by the fact there was no one to tell her where to finish as the finish line was around 2 corners and no one was there to direct her.
We gathered our things and headed to our cars about 10 minutes later (still within the 3:30 window) and along comes another runner with no idea where to go. They had already collected the cones and opened the roads to traffic. We showed her where to go and sent her off to the finish all of us shaking our heads. We don’t even know if there was anyone left on the course at that point but there could have been. I won’t run a local race with a 4 hour time because I know my 3:48 best time may end up with me lost on the course with no idea where to go. I always run now with a Camelbak pack because I have come to water stops that had run out of water. Friends of mine have run across the finish line to be told they have run OUT OF MEDALS! This is something I find deplorable. Bandits run the races and take medals and then the last people coming in to the race who honestly worked a hell of a lot harder then all the front packers have no medal to show for their work? It is just sad to me that this is the state of racing.
I can say I absolutely LOVE the Rock n Roll Portland I ran last month. Every band and cheer group was still on the course when I came by. Also Portland being the wonderfully weird town that it is had people out on every corner as I came through and they cheer for everyone. It was the very best race I have run for support. While they did break down many of the tables at water stops as I went by they still had plenty of water available for everyone. It was a very pleasant surprise.
I often cheer at races that my friends are running and when I do I cheer till the bitter end as often as possible. My poor husband knows I often will not be at the finish line for him because I am waiting for the last of the runners. They are really the ones that need the cheering.
Thank YOU for your post. As an 18 min runner (down from 24 min), I think your 17 min pace is amazing too!!!
I’m planning on doing my first half this fall that has a 17 min cut-off. I just want to thank in advance anyone and everyone who’s still there if I make it. I just feel fortunate that I have my hubby for support and know he’s got my back no matter what.
Every race I’ve entered has been a race solely between me and the cut-off time – something most other people I speak to don’t seem to comprehend. If I lose that race, I fully understand and accept the consequences. But it’s always a huge let-down to win that race and yet have no one left who cares, or have those people left be annoyed because I didn’t go faster. On the other hand, I have also had some great experiences back there and am truly appreciative of every volunteer who’s stayed at their water station until I make it past – they are my angels in disguise 😀
Thank you, Heather for sharing a glimpse of our back of the pack world.
I also got choked up reading your story. I have been a runner most of my life and it has always bothered me at races how the back of the pack gets treated. As a faster runner I have always gone back to cheer on runners until the end. When I am at a race I am not running I am always amazed at the crowds how they will walk on the course after the front runner go by and be in the way of other runners. I am the crazy person yelling at people to get out of the way of runners. It infuriates me, the lack of consideration for others.
I am so glad you wrote this post and hope others start to see the reality of what slower runners deal with and hopefully change begins to happen.
This was my marathon experience with RnR in Denver. At one point we watched as the volunteers dumped an entire table of water right before we got there, because they were cleaning up well ahead of schedule. I paid a ridiculous amount of money for that marathon (which was a second choice, after our planned marathon was snowed out) and I was so mad. The finish line had medals, but they were packing up. We could see they opened roads well ahead of time. Don’t promise me 6 hours, when you really mean 5.
Thank you for sharing your experience!
I am almost always at the back and unfortunately there have been times where the finish line was gone when I go there…..well within the time limit too. I have crossed finish lines to no water…no food and no spectators. It hurts my heart…my body hurts….but I just keep going. I am out there for me and to prove that I can do it.
Those at the back of the pack have more HEART, more DETERMINATION, more WILL than all those that finish before. To finish at a slower pace/time has more WORTH than those who speed thru and don’t have to give it a second thought. There is more self talk going on, more camaraderie and yes, we have no water at water stops, no toilet paper in the port a potties and quite often no goodies at the end because it’s gone. Yup, this is the way it is, will it change, nope. Just gotta keep on keeping on . . . .
I had a similar experience at a triathlon last fall. I got a flat tire and it took 40 minutes plus the kindness of a passing cyclist to fix it. When I got back to transition for the run, it was deserted. Luckily there were a few duathletes who had started a few waves behind me coming in so I had a few people to run with. We got to a fork on the trail and the volunteer was too busy texting to notice us. We had to ask her which way to go – and she looked at us like we were from Mars. When we finally finished they were breaking down transition and had run out of finishers medals.
Samantha @ 24to30
I’m training for my 4th half marathon and this has always been my experience. In fact, after my first half, I was bummed enough about it that I almost didn’t do any more. I’m so glad I didn’t let that stop me. I hope someday I get to experience the front of the pack, but in the meantime, I hope this post gets out for more people to read!
THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this!! I am a very slow runner. My fastest 5K to date is 40:30. My slowest is 45:XX. I have finished multiple races dead last. Some of these races where I’m at the very end, I still have lots of people cheering me on. But sometimes it has been just my husband. Once, I got lost with another runner (she was recovering from a foot injury) because the route wasn’t well marked and all of the volunteers had left their post. We ended up running a 3.5 mile 5K that day. Oh, and when we to the finish line that day, all of the bagels, fruit, and water was already gone! Luckily I had stashed my own water bottle behind a bush before the race.
I’ve even been to a race where they started the award ceremony BEFORE the last runners were done! So those slowbies who were working HARD to finish were crossing the finish line by themselves while everyone was inside handing out awards for the fast guys.
I volunteered at a race last year and I made sure to stay at my post until the very last runner had past me. And I cheered them on with all the same enthusiasm as the first runner who came. Then, I went to the finish line and cheered there.
mom taxi julie
Great post! My husband did his first 1/2 marathon after being in the hospital for a blood clot. I didn’t want him to do it but he insisted he’d stop if he felt sick. He walked 10 miles of the race (before he got swept) and I can guarantee you he worked HARD for those 10 miles.
krissy m. murphy
I wrote a similar post about a runDisney event last year…I agree, it’s a tough situation and hard to find out that the experience is just SO different for everyone…and, this often goes unnoticed because, as stated in your post, “no one knows any different.”
I am truly stumped as to how things could be changed, but I am glad to hear your story nevertheless.
This is always my experience, whether it is a 5k or mud run or whatever. I am very slow. The worst part is when they run out of food and water at the end. That has happened to me more times than not. I pack my own food and extra water in my car trunk. It stinks because you’ve paid for those accommodations as part of the entry fee.
Healthy Simple Smart
As someone who would LOVE to be a front of the pack kinda gal (but usually I’m in the middle of the middle) this post really hit a chord with me. I first realized my boyfriend (who is a front of the pack kind of guy) and I ran very different races when one time he asked “The water stations get busy?” *eye roll*
I really liked this post and I think you do a wonderful job of conveying how you feel without getting accusatory or self righteous which I think you were trying to avoid. I found this article because someone shared it in a running forum saying “every runner should read this”. I’m going to share this with my friends and family too. I hope this article catches on (it seems like it already has!)
Tears. This is my experience every time I race. I made it a goal this summer to try and spectate every big race I’m not running and stick around to cheer on the back of the pack. I want to offer encouragement to everyone I know is busting their ass to simply finish.
I’m in tears reading this because I feel like shouting “Somebody FINALLY said it!”. I have been running for about four years now and I’ve completed three half marathons and one full. My experience at the back of the pack has just become “normal”. I don’t expect anything. It’s sad and we should all have the same experience but that’s just not the reality, and most race directors don’t seem concerned (I hope they read this!). I’ve resorted to now registering for 5k’s attached to half marathons (some I have a finish) or half marathons attached to a marathon (same reason). This is my way “around” how things are. I’ve just come to care less and less about racing and more about running each day for ME and the happiness it brings me. Anyway, THANK YOU a million times for posting this!
Sorry, I meant SO that I have a finish not some.
You nailed the experience. If you were running your normal pace in Seattle, we would be shoulder to shoulder in all our races. Some of my best friends are back of packers…dead last finishers sometimes. They’re also the most inspirational, motivated and strongest people I’ve ever met. The thing you note…they are putting just as much effort in as the fastest finishers, there is no part of running for 3-6 hours that is ‘easy’ no matter how fast you are.
I’ve watched them in races where they get no support, no water, no crowd…We’ve had to collect gear from closing gymnasiums, collect food and drink to share, held a timer so they get an official time. I’ve gone back on a course half an hour after the sweeper van went home to make sure my friends were ok.
It’s not right.
Races need to know where their next generation of participants is coming from…the back of the pack. We as a running community need to support and nurture them and help them grow.
AMEN!!! I’m an end of the pack runner and would LOVE to be faster (and I’m working on it but injuries have prevented me from doing so). Any race I volunteer for I always cheer the loudest and longest for those at the end of the pack!
Thanks for this. I have a friend (who is very novice) try to do a mini-triathalon only to have everyone closing up (or well closed up) before she got to the end. It’s either an elite race or an open race, if it’s an open race, it needs to STAY open. In races with chips, they know how many chips went over the start line, the race should stay open until x% of chips have been accounted for (either crossed or medic). I’m running my first race ever this weekend (5-miler) and somewhat nervous that this will be my experience. I’m only comforted by the fact that there were instructions for “walkers and strollers” and so my slow-running might fast enough to still get water at mile 4 if I need it.
Elaine Goodman Ackerman
Great blog post – I am a middle of the packer but have friends at all ends of the running spectrum. I’ve heard both horror stories and great stories from back of the packers. Our group trains people for races all year long and we volunteer at local races here in San Diego. We never close up our station until the last participant passes and even then we hang around for a bit for anyone still chugging along despite the course being re-open to traffic. Anyone who experienced what you did needs to let the Race Director know AND stop spending money for races that treat “funner” runners like they don’t count. There is no excuse for running out of medals/food/water, etc or not having those out and ready, especially for those who have been out there the longest. Congrats on staying the course and finishing on a very tough day.
Ruth Thompson (@RunningInShoes)
5k I’m nearly to the front 1/3 of my age group. Once had the “water support station” moved from the 5k course to the 10k course side just before I got to it. 40 minutes into the race. 10k started 15 minutes before 5k. My Mom (24:00 5k) hand me a water before dragged me off to get the promised socks before they ran out of my size.
My 1st 10 mile run no frills event (no shirt, no medal) course time limit was 3 hour, I finish 2:05:11 monsterously hilly course, had to yell make a hole to get people crossing the street out of my way for the last 1.5 mile loop. When I finially finished they were announcing award winners so no finish line photo. The privilege runners looked at me like I was the worst person on the world. When I checked times I’m no where on the results me and 10 others. The race managed to shut off the timing mat when they were giving out awards. I freaked out since this race is part of a race series. Post on face book that I wasn’t in the results that I finish 2:05 ish. I got a reply it is nice to have a place to start looking. I wrote back you are looking for the 10 people who finished after 2:03:00. We’ll look into it (like I am some crazy person) and they would update. Every single person running that 10 mile could finish a half in under 3 hours we were running to the best of our ability. I was having a great time up until that last 1.5 miles. Made a suggest note of if you don’t want people on course after 2 hours maybe you should make the cut off 2 hours. (I’m still angry)
I’ve been tread on by a jogging stroller on a hill during a 5k/10k person in front me stopped.
First and foremost, your Back of the Pack race experience is very familiar to me and I’m proud that you are committed to staying to cheer folks on from this race forward! MORE COWBELL!!! I’ll say this…If every road race finished like the last hour of an Ironman (excluding the occasional missing finishers medals) every BOP (Back Of the Pack) would feel like a RockStar!
Thank you for your writing about your experience! I loved reading your story and YES, it is quite typical. I am a mid-pack runner finishing under 2:00 for a Half. I absolutely LOVE running and am inspired by the many life metaphors a race experience can provide. I am the founder of a weight loss club, an author and fitness/running coach. From the birth of my business, I began incorporating and encouraging half marathon’s to be a part of the weight loss journey for my clients. For my clients (which I call ‘my girls’), completing 13.1 is an incredibly daunting yet awe inspiring experience. Through their training they learn incredible lessons about themselves and on race day, just for them to be there, to show up, is a big deal. They work their ass off in the back of the pack; their hearts on their sleeve and their will being tested. I often jump cones, skip, dance, do Peter Pan jumps, sing songs…all in an effort to create an experience that is ‘FUN’ rather than grueling. As their coach, I want them to remember the experience as something they want to do again. And if jokes, singing and acting a little crazy keeps them in the game of ‘fitness’ then so it is. It’s an absolutely incredible experience both for them and for me as their coach, proving there is more than one way to complete 13.1 (or 26.2)- just like life.
Many races we arrive at a finish line being half way disassembled with sparse spectators. We’ve had the race run out of water and run out of cups. The water situation was just terribly poor planning. But I have to say….because we have such a positive attitude for being out there, we never let the external circumstances get us down. Thank you for recognizing our AMAZING ATHLETES in the back!!!!! I LOVE THEM!!
Here’s how we complete 13.1-https://vimeo.com/97488345
Katie @ Runs for Cookies
This is such a great post, and I’m so glad that you’re getting the word out there about the back of the packers. I’ve been there myself, and what you wrote is very true. I even went to the Detroit Marathon as a spectator last year specifically to cheer on the very last people, and it was sad that my husband and I were literally the ONLY spectators that stuck around.
I wish I’d have known you weren’t feeling well, because I would have gladly done the race with you! I’m not as fast as you and the other bloggers, so I ran my own race for all three, but the company would have been nice. Anyway, thank you for sharing your experience–I’ve shared the post with my readers as well. It was GREAT to meet you, and I hope I’ll see you again 🙂
Your post breaks my heart. Not only does everyone give their best in these races, but the training and prep before, and to have no one there, or seem to care is just heartbreaking. Especially. considering where the run took place. I am a part of a race in a VERY small community, and this never happens. We even make signs for our volunteers to hold to cheer on our runners/walkers. We have a 4 wheeler system to let our volunteers know when they can pack up and go. There are 2 4 wheelers 1 at the front and 1 at the end. No volunteer is to leave until the second 4 wheeler passes their intersection. If a small town like us can figure it out, then the bigger races should be able to as well.
I really enjoyed reading of your back of the pack experience. I, too, have had the displeasure of finishing a race with no help at the end. I was still within the time frame but I guess everyone just wanted to go home early. Aid stations closed, police opened the streets and for the last mile we had no idea where to go to make it to the finish line. No signs, no volunteers, no police, no nothing…but traffic. What got us in was runners who had finished the race. They were either out shopping, or having lunch or coffee or just walking to their cars. The race was the Woodlands Marathon, a pretty nice venue. At the finish, there was someone on the timing clock, but it was turned off! I got my medal, my finishers shirt and my official finishers photo. But l was not credited with a “finish”. There were no other volunteers around, except for those packing up. I am slow, and l was hurting. There were a few of us back there. Some having problems that they could not overcome. But we did complete the course. Ironically, if they had not opened up the streets, we might have finished 15 minutes earlier….those traffic light waits are really long. Anyway, thanks for speaking out for those of us who just run slower. At least we run. My next marathon will be Austin Marathon in Austin, Texas….a running friendly community.
It is even worse at full marathons. Imagine finishing 26.2 long miles and there not being any more food, the massage teams packed up and gone. I am either slow or slower, and I finish well ahead of the max times. I have been running two years and took up the distance part a year go. At 54 years old I have now completed 3 fulls and 3 halfs. After finishing the halfs and watching the full finishers it was amazing to see the difference in the races for front, mid, and back of the back finishers. And the back of the pack are in my humble opinion the most determined and dedicated, because they are not elites and it’s a challenge for them to finish, and finish they do! And they are thrilled.
Amen sister! I was there with you in the tye dye shirt (in the fourth pic). I was cramping and sick the last several miles. I was surprised to see the course returned to normal shortly after 2:ish hours. I have never been asked to wait multiple times at stop signs like I did at this race. I can understand if it was past the 3:30 cutoff but it wasn’t. Thanks for your kind words as you went past me.
Not So Desperate
Thank you so much for writing this. Its so hard to get yourself out there and run when you aren’t a naturally athletic person or have a true running body. I’m sorry your experience was so disheartening, but I’m also glad you got to see how supportive the back of the packers can be. Thank you for bringing some attention to it.
Thank you SO much for writing this. I have experienced this more than once. My first half was organized by a student group at a college but was celebrating it’s 10th year, so I thought it be a great first half. I knew the course well. I had 3 hours to finish and two things happen. 1. With 45 minutes left a volunteer told me that people were going to be packing up. I was at mile 9.. Almost there. I was pissed. 2. Shortly after mile 10.5 I didn’t know where to go and accidentally cut 1.5 miles out if my race. With that being said I finished in 2:50. When I got to the finish line they were packing up. I was crushed! They had 10 minutes left. I still celebrated and didn’t want them to ruin my accomplishment. That night I emailed them and told them I was pissed and this was my first half that I trained so hard for. They came up with some crap that they appreciated my feedback and would look into changing things next year..
It would seem that RW has taken notice. I found the link to your post in the RW article (posted to FB) in which RW says that they have a lot of things to work on for next time.. Thanks for writing it and thanks for making a difference.
Great post. I am a slow, back of the pack runner. In prep for my first half marathon a couple of years ago, I ran a small, local 10K and was the official last 10K finisher where the people were packing up the last water stop as I ran by. It wasn’t a great feeling. My time was under 1:30 but like I said, it was a small race (~100 people for the 10K and 250 for the 5K) and a fairly “fast” field. My lesson learned was to run larger races where there are walkers who will finish later than me. I now scope out previous year’s results to make sure there will be people finishing behind me. 😉
Great article. I have to say I am a back of the packer (2:30 – 2:40 Half-Marathon). I have been fortunate that all of the Halfs (maybe 5 total) have been great experiences start to finish. Only 1 water station (at turn-around) was closing. All my limited racing (using the term loosely) have been local ones. I do head out on each race taking everything I think I’ll need with me (4 water bottles & lots of Gu) just in case. Huge kudos to the volunteers who make these races the awesome experience that they are. Sorry you had such a bad experience. Great job in finishing! Come run a race in Victoria! You won’t be sorry. 🙂
Thank you for writing about this.
Thank you for posting this. Unfortunately this is an issue that is just getting worse as race organizers try and keep cost down. At the Michelob Ultra NYC 13.1 race this year they stopped race support on the course around 2:50 on a course with a limit of 3:30. The lack of fluids on the course caused my time to slow and I finished at 3:32:xx when I had been on pace to finish comfortable below the course limit. We also experienced confusion as to where turns were on the course as all cones were being packed up. My friends who finished earlier were asked to leave the post-race beer garden around the 3 hour mark because they were shutting it down. I never even saw remnants of where said post race party should have been. Race staff for this event wouldn’t acknowledge e-mails that I and several others sent regarding the conditions on the course for back of pack runners. The other races I participated in this Spring all had similar conditions for the back of pack crew. It is disheartening and makes one think, “Why am I doing this?” I’m not a fast person…but I like to do my best and finish…with this growing trend and lack of support it makes me wonder why I’d pay race fees for sub-par treatment.
Wow, this was so eye opening. I’m like you, I’m a faster than average half marathoner and my race experiences have always been positive with great course support and high energy from the crowds. I’ve heard stories of some races running out of supplies near the end, but I can’t believe that happens at the back of the pack. That’s not cool. That experience would not make me want to run races again and again. I admire anyone who doesn’t let that get them down.
I just wanted to say thank you for writing this! I ran the NYCM last year and was in the back after suffering from cramps and I was really disappointed with all the same sort of things you mentioned. At one point I was trying to take a gel from a volunteer and he turned around and started cleaning up instead! I had to help myself! While the crowds were still pretty full there was a real sense of “the party is over” So thanks for speaking out for all those who may never be able to be in the front. We all really do deserve the same experience.
Thank you so much for raising awareness about this issue for the back-of-the-pack (and proud!) My first half marathon was a small, local race, and I did take a wrong turn at an intersection where the signs had been taken down. I finally figured out the right way to go, and ran 14+ miles in about 3 hours (the course limit.) The finish line was down, there was no food, and my mom was frantic that she couldn’t find me. I am not going to state the name of the race publicly, but I will say that I wrote a letter about my experience and asked for a refund, which I received. I have gone on to have much better half marathon experiences, but still learned the lessons to bring your own water, food, and course map. 🙂 I am very interested to see how the Race Director responds to your piece, and hope you’ll share.
I want to thank you for such a thoughtful and insightful post on what it’s like at the back of the pack. I have never had the experience of finishing last or having cones removed, etc but I do run SLOW and at the back of the pack. But I run and I love that you recognize that those at the back are in fact running and that we put in just as much effort as those in the front and that we run longer. I am running my first half marathon this fall and I picked my race because it is is walker friendly. I don’t want to walk but I know s**t happens and I could end up really slow. Your experience is something I fear and because I’m new to running (I started a year ago) I don’t want to end up hating a sport I am growing to love.
Great post! I am not a fast runner and I’m not a slow runner. I’m a middle of the pack runner. I’m an average runner, but I give each race my all. I’ve had good ones, great ones and not so great ones. I’ve been the back of the pack too because of those not-so-great races. It once took me 7 years to finish a marathon because I ran it injured. I cried at every water stop begging for pain reliever and hoping for a golf cart to pick me up. Instead, I watched water stops closing up shop. When I crossed the finish line, my running club was long gone. There was no food left. Thank GOD, my family was there to comfort me. I felt so defeated even though it was such a huge achievement and one many elite runners would have never attempted.
Because of that experience, I stay and cheer for the VERY LAST RUNNER when I volunteer at races. Every runner has a story, a goal and a dream to cross that finish line. Some just do it a much slower pace.
Thank you so much for a wonderful article about being in the back of the pack. As a walker, I only enter races where I know I will finish in the allotted time but often the experience is as you described. Water stops run out of water, there is no food at the finish and everyone is gone. It’s tough to do 13.1 miles (running or walking) but it’s even tougher when you are out there alone and wondering if anyone will be at the finish line (or even if the finish line will still be up).
I hope race directors read your article and take notice of the Back of the Packers.
Liz Gross (@lizgross144)
My second 5K was a New Years Eve race, in Wisconsin. It was COLD! I finished at about 47:00 and there was ONE person at the finish line—a running friend I’d met on Twitter. My husband would have been there but he miscalculated how long it would take to run to the car for our sweatshirts after he finished ahead of me. If it wasn’t for my friend Annie, I would have crossed the finish line all by myself.
There was an after party going on inside a heated building, but outside, where it was about 3 degrees … it was a ghost town.
I completed my first half marathon this spring and specifically chose a race that advertised itself as great for first timers, with a course max pace of 18:00. I finished in in 3:20:08 (about a 15:15 pace) and although volunteers were still at aid stations, two of the stations that were supposed to have Gu didn’t have any. There were many times on the course where I felt like I was doing my weekly long run because I couldn’t see a single racer. 13 people finished after me. The last one was a friend I’d been chatting with on Facebook that I met in person that morning. She had literally been followed almost the entire race by the cart that was picking up the cones, according to my husband (who I’d asked to stay and cheer for ever person after me at different parts throughout the race).
I don’t know if I’ll ever be fast enough to really experience the race atmosphere that speedier people get. I just do it for the medals, I guess.
Well said – thank you. I am a WALKER!!! I do not want to be a runner cause my joints will not take it. That said, my race pace is is 13 -14 min mile. I pass many runners during a half marathon. What you experienced is a fact of life for people at the back of the pack. I have had races where the organizers have run out of medals, beer, and many of the food items. If the organizers learn, apologize and improve, I give them another try. but… if you advertise a 3:30 course time – stay open and have enough supplies for the later arrivals. Don’t put all the food out in the beginning. I don’t want to hear how the early finishers took more than you expected.
Luckily I volunteer with a great group that encourages walkers, runners, all levels of athletic abilities, Foot Traffic University in Portland, OR. When they host a race, there is always support available for everyone! And you are so right – the people at the back of the pack are ‘racing’ their hearts out!
Remember those of you in the middle of the pack and forward – if it weren’t for us walkers and slower runners YOU would be the ones in the back of the pack!!!!
I recently ran the John Kelly Half Marathon in Hyannis, MA. It was my 2nd half and I was very worried about all the things written here. I have to say that as a 3:05 Half Marathon finishing time, EVERY aid station was manned for us, every intersection and crossroad was manned with police and volunteer. I made sure I thanked each and every one of the volunteers that were there as I knew how long they had been standing around passing out water and Gatorade and cleaning up cups. Same experience at the Hyannis Half Marathon. Two great races in Massachusetts that I would recommend.
I am so glad that YOU have called attention to this. This is always my experience at marathons. I even wrote to the Rock n Roll people to complain that they schedule the bands to start well before any back of the packers would finish. Basically if you are not an elite or front -mid pack runner, you will hear no concert at the end. Most of the time, the food is gone and certainly no beer. At one race had to wander around for 25 minutes trying to figure out where the drop bags had been moved to. 25 minutes more of walking around frantically trying to find your stuff is unacceptable. I have written to RD’s and they either don’t respond or just shrug it off stating they plan for the “majority”. My last race clearly stated when the course would close, yet despite beating that time by 25 mintues or more, the mats were pulled up and my finish time was not recorded at all. Talk about a disappointment after running all night in a cemetery only to find out I didn’t get an official finish time! I did get the cool, glow in the dark medal and the volunteers had plenty of food at the end. Food at a midnight finish is awesome, by the way. I’ve run 11 marathons and two ultras. Ultras are the best..hands down. They get it.
My goal is to walk a half marathon in every state as an incentive for me to exercise even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve done 2 so far, along w/a 5k, a 10k, and a marathon… all by walking. My half marathons finishes were over 4:20, and my other races were slightly faster, including my full marathon when I was about 40 lbs. lighter. So I’m the person way behind you on a really bad day 🙂
I also don’t know any better, but in my experience, after the finish, there was still water, bagels, chocolate milk, etc. The finish line was still up, there were still some spectators (and those of you who cheer until the end are extra special), my name was called, and I got my thermal wrap and medal. On the other hand, the pizza was cold (can’t be helped, I’m sure unless they have an extra delivery towards the end), bananas didn’t look the best, some of the music was gone (for R ‘n R), volunteers are cleaning up the area and dumping the water, while I’m taking one of their last cups, and sometimes the police officer has to stop traffic for me (but with a “good job”).
However, I do a lot of research. The race has to allow for 4 1/2 hours (not a whole lot of those), I always check the results of the years before to make sure there were people with my anticipated time or longer, and I make sure it’s an event with “thousands” of people. I also email the race director to explain I’m a walker, flying there purposely to participate in event and walking alone, overweight, anticipated race time, and ask if there are any concerns before I sign up. I bring my own water and food as if there won’t be anything left (because there is no help when I’m doing my long 11 mile walks back home). I’ve had runners cheer us on because they truly can’t fathom what it’s like to be on the field for another 2 hours and random people congratulate me after the finish.
Realistically, I will probably never experience the middle or front of the back. My goal isn’t even to run, I’m not competitive, and I do this for other reasons (lose weight, travel, exercise, meet some great people with inspiring stories, take great action photos, etc.). I mean… I’m hoping that someday I’ll lose more of this weight so that I can walk a half under 4 hours (as in 3:59, not like 3:00), so that I can have access to more races.
So echoing some of what you already said:
– Make sure everything is available for the entire course time up to the last minute. If I come in 1 minute after the course time, I don’t have any expectations. My guess is that the ones at the end are the ones who are probably more in need of that last bagel, banana, or water. Also, don’t change the course time; some of us may have purchased plane tickets, booked hotels, etc. And don’t advertise your race as walker-friendly if you’re telling us we need to have a 12:00 pace!
– Volunteers should know they have to stay at their station until the last participant has come through (again with course time in mind) before tearing down.
I can so relate to your experience! Came in last place at a half marathon. At the middle of the course the bands were packed up the cones were gone the water stations unmanned. At the finish line the beer garden was gone. Fortunately my coaches from SacFit stayed to see me cross the finish line! My reward, a cowbell, it was the Urban Cow race in Sacramento, a cookie and a bottle of water. Really? I paid to have the same experience as everyone else! Very discouraging . . . 🙁
What a great post! I am a runner – but my husband is a walker. I sometimes run my races and then walk the last half with him, so I have seen both sides of things. One of the things I really appreciate about the Richmond Sportsbackers, who run the Monument Avenue 10k and the Richmond Marathon here in Virginia, is that the experience is the same for the front/middle of the pack, and those at the very rear. That is the sign of a well managed race.
I have walked 3 half marathons – average time is 3:30 in races that claim you have to finish in 4 hours so you’d think I would be fine. No. During my last half I literally walked behind the trash truck for 3/4 of the race. I had no sense of how much further I had to go because they had taken down the mile marker signs. The only reason I finished was because a) there was no way not to – I had to get back to the starting line or I’d die in the middle of Kelly Drive in Philadelphia and b) my dad, who almost never came to any of my sports things as a kid, had come to see me finish and it meant too much to me to give it up. But I sobbed through most of it. I had trained just as long and hard as everyone else. I wrote the race organizers a letter (Rock and Roll Marathon series) and never even got a response. Thank you for writing this – I think that most runners don’t know the other part of the story.
This is so well written! I haven’t done many big races and thankfully I finish between 11-12 mins/mile. I agree with you that a race should be the same for everyone and that absolutely nothing should be packed up until the last person has gone through. I wonder – I didn’t read all the comments, but what races are known for being the same at the end? It would be awesome to see a list of those races and maybe more of us could support them!
Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post and giving people a glimpse into my experience almost everytime I race. I never sign up for races unless I’m sure I can finish within the time limit but have still been basically left out on the course with no support due to everyone packing it in early. Makes me so mad and disheartened. Hopefully race directors will read this and make changes either with the amount of time a course is open and SUPPORTED, or the experience for ALL finishers. Thanks again for your wonderful article.
I loved this. Last August I had to walk/jog a half marathon because I was still healing from a hamstring injury. It was a completely different experience than when I have run half marathons, usually about an hour faster. I didn’t appreciate the camera people trying to get me to run faster when I physically couldn’t (nor could anyone else around me) and I definitely was disappointed by the waning enthusiasm as the hours tick by. Hopefully race directors will read this and create a game plan!
I suffered a stress fracture last fall with 5 races left before the end of the year that I’d already committed too. All of these were 5k and like you I was used to being at the front and finishing early. My worst experience of the 5 was when I walked the entire race with runner lapping me because it was a loop course. I finished 2nd to last and while they were finishing up the door prizes so the only person waiting for me to cross the line was a fellow runner with his WATCH because they took down the time clock already! My official time was 2 minutes slower than a fellow walker who cross right behind me. Don’t know if my number was called for the door prizes. It made me see my local races in a whole new light … the light from the back of the pack is pretty dim.
This was so enlightening. I also did the hat trick, and I finished the half in 1:43, just a little slower than my average pace. It was a great race, and a great weekend, and i had a great experience. However, while I stayed to cheer on some people who were finishing, i was more concerned about getting back to my shower and out to brunch. Thanks for this post, because you are totally right. Back of the packers should get the same thrill and encouragement that I had, and now I am going to make more of an effort to cheer them on and stay longer until the end. Congrats for making the best of a shitty race (i would have dropped out, for sure).
My first 5k race just happened to also involve a marathon and half marathon that was running and finishing at the same time and although there were spectators and race organizers around to cheer us on which was wonderful. When I got to the finish line I was told they had run out of medals. They were standing there with these huge medals for the Marathon and Half Marathon and nothing for the 5K I felt like a complete loser for only doing a 5k.
Great post! Like you, I’m typically at the front of the pace but I have also experienced the back when finishing races injured or running in with friends. Hopefully this piece and the coverage it’s getting by Runner’s World will get in front of every race director and your unfortunate experience with the flu and what happened in this race will have great value for lots of runners for years to come. Thanks for sharing!
Been there, done that. I’m sure lots of other commenters had the same experience. I finished a local half-marathon (back of the pack, around 2:30, which is closer the middle for a big race). After mile 9, there was no water at the aid stations. They packed up and left! I was very lucky to have a friend out cheering for me and had just thought to bring some water for me! No water at the finish either. Experiences like that make you never want to do a small race again.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! This post spoke to my heart- I’m a happy back-of-the-packer and this is my race day experience almost always. Thankfully, my first race was at Disney so I didn’t have quite this experience- if I had I don’t know if I would have continued racing. My boyfriend, who is considerably faster, stays with me to cheer me on- if he wasn’t there I don’t know what I’d do. Thank you again for writing this- it’s good to have a front of the pack runner on our side 🙂
Thank you for writing this post. I had always expected that the experience one gets at the front and back of a pack would be different but never anticipated it to be this disheartening. I just started running and have only done one 5K race, and I was way back at the end of the pack (at one point I felt sure that I was passed by everyone). But I was lucky enough that it was a 5K/10K so by the time I finished mostly of the 10K people have not come in, so everyone was still there. I am training for my first half-marathon in October and that race also has a 3:30 limit, after which they start pulling stations away and allowing traffic back, and I’ve been tailoring my finishing goal according to those rules. After reading your post I feel slightly nervous about what the reality might actually be. I think it’s important that you wrote this post so that potential volunteers, musicians, and traffic directors out there could maybe see this and realize that their impatience, or a change in their attitude, would mean the world for someone struggling to finish a long race. Thank your for being this bridge.
Great blog! you are 100000% correct. I have been front of pack, won my AG, placed high overall and have also been back of the pack…. I always have way more fun back of the pack. Every runner should be treated the same. We are all out there running, doesn’t matter speed
I can not tell you the number of times I have finished a race in the last 25% and the food is gone, or the medals have run out. The last race I volunteered at we stayed and cheered the loudest for the last person to come in, even though the staff was already busy taking down the finish line. I work HARD but I am not a naturally gifted runner, I will probably never come in with the front of the pack but I’m ok with that. I was the girl who refused to run all through school and now I’ve completed a half dozen half marathons and ton’s of shorter distances. I want everyone to be encouraged to do their best, not to be discouraged by anyone.
Jennifer @ Running on Lentils
Yep, like you and so many commenters, I had a similar experience. I messed up my first half royally by running a pace 1 minute/mile slower than what I trained for (which was slow to begin with) and then making every mistake related to fueling so that I got incredibly sick and had to walk the last 2 miles. I think there were 8 people who finished after I did. At the finish line were only the family and friends of those of us finishing last and the photographer. I was totally okay with no big crowds because I wouldn’t have wanted people to see me in such bad shape (and even felt bad that a friend surprised me by coming to see me cross the finish line). But I totally agree about the safety issue, and if a course says it will be open, it should be. Congrats on finishing while being super sick and thanks for giving this issue the spotlight. Kudos to everyone who completes a race, no matter where they are in the pack!
I didn’t know it could be different. I walked a half several years ago as part of a fundraiser a friend coerced me into. I was overweight, had little experience, and went even more slowly than usual for several miles to keep company with a runner who was having a truly awful day (I was afraid he’d pass out). It took me just under 4 very quiet, mostly solitary hours, but I did it. And anyone who gives me crap? Can go walk steadily for four hours and tell me that doesn’t take effort, and heart. The medal doesn’t mean much to me — but I take pride in the several thousand dollars I raised for cancer research, and for finishing. Now I’ve started running, but have no interest in participating in a race, especially with my 19 minute pace.
I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I am a slow runner…SLOW. I am typically one of the last runners crossing that line, but you best believe I am busting my ass to get there! Thank you for sharing this story!
You are so right! I ran a 10k with a friend a few months ago. It was her first and she was really excited about it. By the time we finished I was so angry and sad for her. I had never experienced what she had to experience in that race. I had been talking up the inclusiveness of the running community. That is until there was no water left at the water stations by the time we came through and no medals left at the end! Also the post race refreshments were being served about half a mile down the road so everyone had left the finish line. So we crossed the finish line of my friends first ever 10k in a very commendable 1:20 and there was nobody there. Nobody!
Luckily we bumped into some lovely people at the hall who gave her one of their medals so that redeemed things a bit.
Reading this made me cry. Not in sadness, but more a THANKS for sharing what I see almost every race. I’ve been running a year this month and am around a 15-16min mile, but I love it. Love, love, love it! I start out with friends, but I’m the caboose in the end just chugging along. From the pictures I’ve seen of myself, I’m one of the runners you described as busting ass to get to that finish line, albeit a little later. But in being the caboose, I’ve decided it takes the caboose to keep the train going so I’ll focus on doing the best I can no matter if the volunteers go home and music shuts down. It would be a better day if everyone hung around though. THANK YOU for sharing your story. It made me smile just knowing I’m not alone. 🙂
Great job Jersey-Texan! Keep on chuggin’!!
I know the feeling-I love it anyway even at the BOP 🙂
My co host at Ironman:Year One and I are the champions of the back of the pack. At my first triathlon in 2011 they had broken down water stops by the time I got to them in the run. I know the BOP intimately. Great post. Sometimes we need to see the other side to appreciate what we can do. One day I hope to see the front of the pack.
A note to anyone who figures the answer is for back-of-the-packers to “just run faster”: the faster the back of the pack runs, the closer the back of the pack gets to you. Then you can enjoy closed finish lines and no medals.
Thank you for writing this! Even my running club friends don’t believe me when I describe what my race experiences are. They just don’t get how different it is – the unknown course directions, the traffic stoppages… They don’t understand why every half marathon I’ve run, I only have a selfie as proof and that no one was around to cheer me to the finish, celebrate with me, take a finisher’s photo, hit a beat on a drum — because everyone has packed up and gone home (even my running group) except for the person waiting to deflate the finishers arch who is, incidentally, the only person handing out medals if they still have some left. It’s sad, annoying….and yet the personal accomplishment I feel because I had to do it regardless of all of the missing celebration comradery….well, that may mean more to me than those at the front. I don’t know. I can’t tell you because I’m nowhere near the front. I also have to always take my own fuel (and I’ve started requesting refills along the way too – only been denied once thankfully) because that, too, is usually always gone — which is very dangerous, especially on hot, humid days. At that point, it’s not just about the ‘nice to have’ of the crowd or celebration, but the ‘must have’ for the well-being of participants.
Someone actually asked me once why I keep doing this because it sounds so miserable. Really? I have to explain to them the joy of running, the joy of personal competition, the sense of accomplishment even when no one’s there to witness it and praise you for it? I’m so glad my mom brought me up to be proud of me for what I do and to not rely on others for my own sense of self-worth. Otherwise, I just don’t know where I’d be in life without that. Certainly, I wouldn’t still be running, or racing to see that I am slowly getting faster with every race — though not enough to break out of the back of the pack anytime soon.
Amazing post. I love this, and I will certainly think about this the next time I’m spectating!
I have finished dead last in the half that now holds my PR -which is 2:29. I run my best on any given day but can tell you what you experienced is normal. Extrapolate that to a full and back of the pack runners may run 10 to 13 miles without crowd support, with little water support. Thanks for speaking up!
I so appreciate this perspective. I am a back of the packer….I always have been. I feel when I have commented on this very issue, people don’t take me seriously because I am a slower runner (not a REAL runner in the eyes of many). I have heard comments like run faster, train harder, etc…
When I first started doing races, I never seemed to have issues…there was food, cheering, and especially reasonable race fees. I have always been under the cut off but over the last few years, things have dramatically changed. My last few races have been so bad that I have emailed race directors and left feedback for their event. I finished an hour and a half before a race cut off and there was no food, blankets, or tshirts. I will be retiring from running “organized” races because they are not fun anymore and I am tired of wasting money feeling second class.
Sharon @ Rungry Runner
THANK YOU so much for addressing an issue that unfortunately has been prevalent at many races. I’m a mid-pack runner but I have many friends who are considered “back of the pack” runners. Their stories about their race experiences always break my heart. They are working as hard as they can and giving their all to get to that finish line, arguably harder than most others, and they don’t get anywhere near the same race experience. Thanks for bringing this to light and thank you to Runner’s World for their gracious response.
They must have done a pretty good job, there usually isn’t a ton of food left and sometimes not even any medals.
After reading this I am kind of scared. I am running/Walking my first 5k in October. I am not in great shape but I am on a journey to being in better shape. This 5k is part of my journey. I am sure I will be in the back of the pack and now I’m super nervous that people will act like I am inconveniencing them. 🙁
Tamie I don’t know what race you’re running but I’m hoping you have a great experience no matter what. Bring your own drink/water in case there isn’t crowd support. There are people rooting for you even if you can’t see/hear them in person. You are awesome for getting out there and moving! Go get it, girl!
You will be amazing!! Bring your own water for sure, and run/walk at a pace that works for you! People will be rude, but that’s their own problem, not yours. And, one thing I’ve learned, is how encouraging other runners can be when they see you coming in to finish. You’re going to be awesome!!
I have experienced this, energydrinks running out before averyone has passed by etc.
This year I ran a marathon. It took me 5hours 52 minutes. I was so happy to see all voulonteers still standing on their spots, cheering us snail-runners on. And the last 2kilometers a volunteer even biked next to me to keep me going, chatting to me the whole way.
He told me they kept a close eye on how many people were still out there and kept the goal open so most oft them could finish and get a medal, even if it took them 6.40 (end time was 6 hours). They wanted everyone to have a good time.
THAT IS HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE!
Ida from sweden
Heather, thank you for sharing your experience at the Heartbreak Hill Half. Your advocacy for equitable treatment for BOT runners and suggestions to race directors are spot on!
To paraphrase world-class runner, Bill Rodgers, “Runners in the back may be going slower, but they’re putting in every bit as much effort as I am.”
And to paraphrase the late Walt Stack, founder of the Dolphin South End Running Club in San Francisco, “It’s the runners in the back that make the runners in the front look good!”
Thank you! I was dead last at my first 10k, I felt like a burden on the volunteers (who were for the most part fabulous and encouraging) and thanked each as I passed them and wished them a good day and a cold beer. The van following the final racer (me) never pressured me and after a while began to feel like my own crew keeping an eye on me. I stuck to my plan and actually ended up faster than I thought on a mid-tough course and only 24 other runners. But…..it’s tough. So thank you for your article, I truly appreciated your comments and perspective.