I ran a half marathon on Memorial Day. It was my third half marathon.
One thing that has been the same in all my half marathons is that I am a solid back of the pack runner. I start my races in the back and I finish my races in the back. I am well acquainted with waving at the front runners as they pass me on the other side of the road. I can see their faces. I see the focus. I see the determination. I see the drive.
I have never been in the front of the race so I can’t really speak to what it’s like up there. I’m sure it is so exciting. Hearing the cheers as you achieve some incredible time must be enough to keep you floating for days. Seeing all that training pay off must be a reward like no other.
What I can do, though, is tell you what it’s like running in the back. I can tell you about what I see and what I experience. I can tell you what a joy it is to run in the back.
I can tell you about the focus, determination, and drive.
It takes a ton of hard work on and off the road to finish a half marathon (13.1 miles) in just over an hour.
It takes a lot of focus and determination to run the same distance in 3 or more hours. While the front-runners are eating their bananas and rehydrating, My peeps and I are just starting to hit our sweet spot. We’ve only done a third of the race.
I remember talking to a fast runner after one of my previous half marathons about how much respect I had for how fast he is. I told I couldn’t imagine being that fast. He responded with, “No, I have so much respect for YOU. I can’t imagine being out there for so long and never giving up. We need more of that.”
I can tell you about the stories.
One of the benefits of being a slower runner and hanging out in the back of the pack is that you have ample time to get to know each other.
There are plenty of people who want to be alone and zone out to their music and that’s okay. And there are others who are more than happy to engage. If you are willing to engage with them you can hear some pretty awesome stories.
I have heard stories of incredible weight loss, overcoming cancer, grieving the loss of a loved one, coming out of depression and anxiety, and health scares that can jerk anyone into healthier living.
These are the stories that will get you wondering why you didn’t start earlier.
They make you think about how small your seemingly big obstacles really are now.
These are the stories that tell you that you really can do anything and now is the time to things done.
It is an absolute honor to run in the back.
It is an honor to be in the presence of real-life superheroes.
I could tell you my own story of overcoming depression and making the choice every single day that I am worth the effort to get up and go running even if just for today. But, let me tell you. Those other stories in the back of the pack will bring you to your knees.
I can tell you about the community.
It is like a family in the back.
Just like we tell our stories to each other we also take care of each other. We all know the struggle of being out there for so long.
We know the pain and the frustration. We also know the determination to not quit.
If you are in the back you will hear plenty of, “Come on. It’s only X miles to the end. You’ve already gone Y miles.” Or, “Give me one more mile. I know you’ve got one more mile in you.”
You’ll see strangers wait on the side of the road while someone they just met that day is throwing up or just needing a break.
Finishing times aren’t quite as important in the back. It’s more about just finishing the race.
Isn’t that what life is all about? It’s more about the journey than the finish?
We help each other have the best experience possible.
I will tell you about the competition
In the back of the pack, the competition is with no one but yourself.
The pressure is off.
No one is trying to be the first, second, or 50th place. It is all about finishing and overcoming something.
You are pushing past the leg cramps, labored breathing, and dehydration and accepting nothing less than a finish.
And everyone around you is in the same place as you.
This is when the personal mantras come out to play and you hope and pray that TODAY mind WILL overcome body.
And since the back of the pack is a community, we help each other because we all have that same goal. We aren’t competing with each other. We are competing with ourselves and helping each other.
There is so much HEART in the back of the race. Click To Tweet
I can tell you about the finish line.
Goodness. That finish line. It is amazing.
You have been thinking and dreaming of that finish line for 2.5+ hours.
That moment when the finish line of your imagination that propelled you forward becomes the finish line in front of you is indescribable.
The big crowds are probably not there because many have gone home already. And that’s okay because you can hear your family cheering you on. You also have the new family that has been with you every step of the way that day. You celebrate the journey together. You high five, fist bump, sweaty hug, and celebrate. It has been an awesome day of mind over body.
When the race is over you go home to rest and recuperate. In moments of incoherence, you dream of your next big challenge and you think about the awesome people you’ll meet at that next race.
And you smile.
Because we back of the packers have got to stick together. The true spirit of the race happens at the back of the race. And who would bring that if we didn’t?