Recently there has been a lot of talk about back of the pack runners all over the internet. I have not been in that position, I am usually somewhere in the middle, but I can’t help but feel for them as I read their stories. I think it is fabulous that they are out on a race course, challenging or improving themselves or whatever their reason for being there.

I recently read an article about back of packers who, even though finish before the cutoff time, receive no support.  Volunteers leave stations. Faster runners take all the free food. Race directors pack up the finish line. I feel that if a race stats cut off time is X then they should support all those who finish in X time. Water and aid stations should stay stocked and volunteers should remain as well (and I get volunteers have been out there a while but send relief or fresh volunteers). The finish line should stay up. All finishers should get their medal and banana. They earned it just as much as the rest of us.

I understand races only have roads and parks for a set amount of time but that should include the cut off time they have given participants. They have an obligation, and possibly a liability, to support those still out there within the cutoff time. When deciding on a cut off time race directors need to think of their take down time and adjust cut off time accordingly. Also, this time needs to be clearly stated on the race website, Facebook etc. If no time limit is given then you need to stay until the last runner crosses the line. That is on the race, not the runner.

Runners and walkers also have a responsibility to know their limits and estimated finish time to make sure it falls within any stated cutoff time. Yes, sometimes you have a bad run or something happens but if you know you can’t finish in the time given then don’t sign up for that race.

Personally, I was looking for a marathon to do for my very first one. I know my estimated finish time and looked at course cut off times. The one I was thinking of doing was five hours. My estimated finish time would be just under that. I want to be safe in the event something happens and I take longer so I went with a different marathon. I know my limits. I know I could have a rough race for various reasons. Maybe I don’t fuel enough. Maybe I have a bad asthma day. You just never know and I wasn’t willing to cut it that close.

I also know how much an empty aid station is. During my last half marathon I was in corral 14 out of about 25. The very first aid station was void of volunteers except one guy trying to clean up the cups and keep the tables stocked with water cups. I have done this race for the past three years and this was the first time I ever saw this. I hope it was some kind of misunderstanding and next year there will be volunteers throughout the race.

I was thinking about this blog post on my run Saturday. I was having a tough time. I hit 3 miles at just over 36 minutes, which is pretty slow for me. I just couldn’t get my legs working. I recalled an article about a women pulled from a race, with no course limit given, during mile 1 because she was doing a 12 minute mile pace. If my run had been at that race, I’d have been pulled. I was doing 13 minute pace in the first mile! When I hit 40 minutes suddenly I got my rhythm and settled into about a 9:45 pace for the last 10 minutes.

I think both sides have an obligation. Runners/walkers need to know their limits and only sign up for races the can finish. Race directors need to clearly state cutoff times and provide support through the entire stated time.

Are you a back of the pack runner? What have your experiences at races been?


Jenna Volden has a degree in business and has spent the last 10 plus years working for others. She believes it is time to start her own photography and writing business. She enjoys running, coffee and helping others achieve their goals. Gluten-free foods are a lifestyle, not a choice, for her due to celiac disease. She is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona.