Back of the Packers

Lisa Pozzoni

As someone who has been DFL (Dead F*@&ing Last) in races before and coaches mid-to-back of the packers, I have some good knowledge and experience to share on this topic. You see, my life’s mission is to make sure people fully understand and enjoy the great things about running. So many are misinformed about select aspects of running, it’s not even funny. Most people are intimidated to even start running because they think they will not be fast enough to keep up. The most common statement that I hear from new runners is, “I will be the slowest.”  Pace and speed should not be their biggest concern.

First, I mean no disrespect to elite runners, the front of the pack or runners who use speed as a way to measure their running success (Check this blog out here).   I’m in awe of these runners and am happy that they enjoy what running brings to them.  They work hard to be where they are and I have a huge amount of respect for them!

However, relating speed to success can be intimidating and scary to the newbies or beginner runners out there.  Many people who decide to try running can be easily intimidated (maybe injured) and then begin comparing themselves to faster runners and quit because “it must not be for me”. I call BS! 

Let me introduce you to some of the coolest runners out there, the back of the packers (BOP).

The BOPers are the most tenacious runners!  Most of them had to conquer the fear of running (which in itself is a huge win).  They are out on the course the longest which requires some serious physical and mental stamina! They are also the friendliest bunch of runners and most of them are darn proud to be called back of the packer! Because better be at the back than sitting at home on the couch.

I recently surveyed a bunch of runners on social media and asked the question, “What are the benefits of being a back of the packer?”  These runners are a proud bunch, and here is what they had to say:

  • We get the most out of our registration fee! Think about it, if you spend more time on the course, you get more get more bang for your buck!
  • Way less pressure! There is already enough stress and worry in our every day lives, so why bring that into running?  We have more time to stop and smell the roses.  People in the back of the pack are about the journey, not the destination.  We love to take pictures of the scenery, motivational signs, group selfies and really soak in the experience.  We are just happy to be out there, living in the moment.  No need to be staring at our Garmin watch to keep a specific pace which takes away from the experience (With this said, please make sure you are aware of race cutoffs. Those are there for a specific reason, usually safety, so you want to make sure you can complete your event in the time allotted.).  Heck you can stop, pose and take “senior photos” like some of my friends did here:
  • Races are like mullets, business in the front and party in the back!  Back of the packers are out there for fun.  Speed is not a concern for us.  You are more likely to find us smiling and having fun. They will spend more time at the aid stations and talk to the volunteers. Some aid stations may even provide alcohol. I’ve been known to stay at these aid stations for 15-20 minutes having small samples and chatting it up with the volunteers.  Running is more fun when you’re relaxed, right?  BOPers tend to be more social because they’re not in a hurry and tend to make more friends.  There is strong sense of camaraderie with this group.  BOP is lighthearted and gritty all at the same time. There are people who are simply out for a good time and people who are breaking themselves to make it to the finish line, and we support each other to no end. There is nothing like the spirit of the BOP.
  • We can get the trail to ourselves.  As much as you may be in a pack at the back, sometimes you end up all by yourself, and there is nothing more spiritual than being one with the trail. 
  • You don’t have to keep moving over for people to pass you. When running on a single track trail, there is pressure when you hear people behind you coming up to pass you.  You have to disrupt your forward momentum so you can get up to the side and let them pass (well, you don’t have to but it’s the nice thing to do). If we are at the BOP, there are not many people to pass you!
  • Any wildlife will be scared away by the runners up front!  Animals can be a concern during a trail race (or run) but we don’t have to worry. By the time we run by, they have all been scared away already.
  • Because our joy comes from encouraging others, not beating them to the finish.  Most of us don’t have a competitive bone in our body (maybe to improve on our own goals but not to compete or beat anyone else).  Back of the pack is the best place to be if you need encouragement. Not only do you get a lot of cheers from people watching the race, but those of us back there are very friendly and helpful. Some people purposely stay in the back for this reason. They love to encourage first time runners and keep them company. Faster runners can intimidate newbies, so being at the back of the pack allows us to be ambassadors for running that welcomes slower and newer runners, no matter their ages, sizes, physical limitations, etc.
  • We don’t puke on our shoes or poop our running shorts from trying to PR! And if we need to stop on the trail to take care of any “business,” we normally don’t have to worry about people coming from behind because they are all ahead of us!
  • If you are doing a road race, you get to pet all the spectators dogs!
  • You also get to support your friends who run longer distances at their start line because of staggered start times!  AND if they are running a longer distance, you still may be back in time to catch their finishes too!
  • You get cheers at the finish line from your friends who are waiting for you.  I mean look at these faces!  PURE JOY! They were having some serious fun and I’m pretty sure they finished last on this race!

As runners we belong to one of the best communities! But the back of the packers are a special breed—we are a unique family! So if you’ve been holding off about giving running a try, take the step. I PROMISE YOU, you will find your running family!

Lisa Pozzoni

Lisa Pozzoni

Lisa Pozzoni went from thinking trail running was crazy to becoming a running coach with a 100K as her longest distance. She went from owning a personal training business to her current company, The Running University. Everything changed in her running when she learned about ChiRunning . She’s been teaching it since 2010 and is also a Master Instructor (teaches people to become instructors.). Running has changed her life in so many ways and now she wants to share her passion with others so she can help change their lives as well. She’s on a mission to turn more women on to trail running and loves building her community of beginner to recreational runners. More info: http://www.therunninguniversity.com/about-me/Check out Lisa’s free ebooks: 15 Simple Steps for The Beginner Beginner™ Runner, Easy & Practical How To’s for the ‘Newbie’, ‘Could be’, ‘Sort of’ or ‘Reluctant’ Runner

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10 thoughts on “Back of the Packers”

  1. I love this! Especially the point about getting the most out of the registration fee. When my mom completed her first 5K, she called to tell me she was dead last; I assumed she was exaggerating. She confirmed that she wasn’t by informing me, “There were men in a truck bed cheering me on while picking up the race cones.” But she finished and had a great time.

  2. I can totally relate to this! I was a BOPer last June when I did my first 10k which was in honor or a local fallen soldier. There were lots of military families in the mix. I was dead last for most of the race and in the last 1/2 mile of the race I created a hill and saw a woman jogging in place. When I approached her I asked if she was ok and she said, ‘I’m fine and we are crossing this finish line together.’ We chatted for the rest of the way and I learned that she had served in Afghanistan with the fallen soldier. I remembered the military mantra of no soldier left behind and it made perfect sense. When we were in sight of the finish line the police sirens went off and they announced our arrival. Big cheers rang out from the crowd and as be crossed the finish I stopped and hugged her and told her that she was an angel today and I would definitely pay this forward. I left that race with a full heart. No woman left behI don’t indeed!

  3. I love this story!!!! I can definitely relate and have embraced being a BOP. I ran my 1st 50K at Elephant Mountain and while I technically DNF’d. I gave it my all and finished as one of the last runners to come in. I celebrated that finish like nobodies business. I saw you on the trail that day, Lisa, and I said hi to you. I always say hi to you when I see you even tho you have no idea who I am….lol. Thank you for validating that BOP’s are awesome too and it’s ok to be one. See you out on the trail again I’m sure.

  4. This is such a great article! I am going to share with my fitness group because I am always trying to encourage people to try new things. I did one trail race and was hooked. I think for any running it is important for people to know that they can go at their own pace, or walk! Thanks so much for this. So funny and well put.

  5. I love this article. Thank you Lisa. Every race I’ve ran, I got only one goal in mind. Finish line, doesn’t matter if I make it or not to the cut off time.

  6. Thank you Lisa for your wonderful article. I have been the middle of the pack racer in the past but my pace has greatly slowed down do to arthritis. I still love to run but have been reluctant to do races & avoid group runs in fear of being a BOPer! You’re acceptance of this encourages me to not let being a BOPer stop me from having fun!

  7. I coordinate pacers for a marathon and after pacing a group much slower than what he usually runs, one of our pacers told me, “The back is where the party is! Those runners are having much more fun than I ever have in a race!”

  8. I had learn to enjoy the solitude when you are in the BOP but also enjoying a good chat with other runners next to me. At the end, elites and us are covering the same distance, and we always have more fun!!

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