Are slow running “back of the packers” real marathoners to???????

SJ40 me runningHere I am somewhere in the middle of running 42.2 miles back in May.  During this race I ran, jogged, walked, hobbled, limped, etc.  I PR’d this race but still finished hours behind the leaders and the “real” competitors.  Did this simple fact nullify my effort???


Neither does the fact that 1000’s may finish in front of you in a marathon.  A blogger dear to my little old heart recently posted on the topic of being a “plodder” or “back of the pack” runner in a marathon. There is heated debate on this topic because many  “purists” feel that finishing a marathon beyond 5 hrs is not really running a marathon and some would even say that you are not really finishing a marathon if you finish that slow because you are not giving it your all.  Here is what I have to say on this topic.  I am so glad for ringmasters post because this is a topic that is highly meaningful for most people who aspire to running a marathon.

You see, it is somewhat of a recent trend that non-competitive runners and/or people would even attempt to run 26.2 miles.  Prior to these present times, marathoners were a fringe group of crazy people who were mostly competitive runners that wanted to test their (“their” is the key word here) limits and abilities. Since they were of a competitive nature they were also very interested in how they measured up to other runners partaking in the magical distance.  These people were well versed in shorter distances and wanted to move on to longer ones.  Now, however, people from all walks of life and from a vast array of athletic backgrounds desire to tackle the marathon. WHY?!!!  The reasons are the same!!!  This new group of people want to test their (“their” is the key word here) limits and abilities.  These are people who for whatever reason, had a light bulb experience, that lead them to believe that they too could push themselves beyond their current comfort zones.  They believe that by pushing, even if it is just once, beyond what they think they are capable of, that life will somehow be better.  They will be better.  They will believe in themselves just a little more.  They want to grow just like the “original” fringe group.

Here is my answer to the criticism of the “back of the packers”

  • The purist group says that if you don’t run the whole way and suffer, you are not “running” a marathon. To me this is like saying when you take a day off from running you are not really a runner.  If you don’t run at a 6:00 pace you are not a runner.  This is saying that if you don’t run like I do, then your running efforts lack validity. I can promise you one thing, I have finished faster than 1000’s of people in marathons who never walked a step.  I have never run a marathon without walking and this includes my fastest time of 3:33.  I actually had “non-walkers” say they wished they could finish as fast as I did.  Running is personal and you are the captain of your running ship.
  • The critics say that slow back of the pack runners are just showing up. Well no duh!!!  And in fact, I find that this is actually the truest of all victories in marathoning.  Reaching the starting line is the biggest victory because just getting there means that you have experienced a transformative process on your body and mind.  That is right!!  You have been through and experienced the same process that the front runners went through to get them to the starting line.  We all walk the line of belief and doubt, time, endurance, work, family, etc. to get to the start.
  • The critics say that 5+ hrs is not the “best that you can do”. My first marathon was 5:45 I think.  Was I lazy?  Was I “just showing up”?  No!  I truly did what I could do with what I had in my little box of running experience.  I could not have done better on that day and at that time.  Of course, once it is over, it is easy to say “what if…..only if…..” but you can’t change WHAT IT IS.  This is an area of big concern to me because it is SO CLOSED MINDED.  Everyone has different natural abilities.  One person said that if you are under 50 and give it your all you should finish below 5 hrs.  BWAAAAAAAA HAHAHAHAHA!  This must be coming from someone who has forgotten or with more natural ability then they think they have. Finishing 26 miles, especially in under 5 hrs, WILL TAKE TRAINING.  You don’t just go out and do the best you can do when trying to tackle a new and longer distance especially if the gap is from 0 to 26.  Most people who are in good shape would just totally bonk out and fail if they just did they best they could do without consideration of training.  And one more thing, pushing HARD WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO PUSH HARD COULD BRING ON INJURY.
  • The critics say that 5+ hour people ruin the magic. I am sorry but everyone is responsible for taking and holding on to their own magic.  Not a single person nor anything in life can take the magic away from your marathon finishing time except you.  If you run marathons simply for other peoples recognition of the magic, then this is not healthy either.  If a 3 hr person is standing next to a 6 hr person and they are both talking about their experience to a non-runner, there should be no reason that 3 hr person should feel cut-down.  Sure, the non-runner may think that it is not that hard when looking at the slower person but who cares what they think.  You know what it took to get you to your time.  Non-runners didn’t do it for you.  Slower or faster runners didn’t do it for  you.  Others perception of marathoners didn’t do it for you.  You did your marathon in your time because you wanted to do it and you did it the best way you knew how.
  • The critics say that 5+ people should not get a reward for their “easy” effort. This just cracks me up.  Do you know how many marathons I have done and didn’t even pick up my shirt or medal.  These are nice keepsakes but the best keepsake of all is the little increase in the “I believe I am capable to…..”  meter.  To say a slower runner should not get rewarded just says to me that the critics are mad that their “fringe” group is just not so “fringe” anymore.
  • It’s all by degree……….. What if a nice person were standing there listening to a critic (I have observed this in real life).  The critic talks about each of these points of why a slow runners are not real marathoners.  Then, the listener sarcastically says, “well, I just finished my first 100 miler last month.  I don’t think any type of marathoner is a real runner. HAHAHAHA”  What about this???  This person was joking in order to make the point that running is running and running is done by degree.  What one person thinks is lazy and easy, another person thinks is out of this world difficult or impossible.  In fact, the honest truth is, that most all fast marathoners would never even dream of running beyond 26.2 miles.  Does that make them less of a runner.  Does it take away from them or add to the ultra-runner.  NO.  We are the captain of our own running ships.

My story and progression.

Since I started running, I have been in all kinds of “fringe” groups.  I have done many marathons in 5+ hours.  I have done many below 5 hrs and on down in the the 3 hr range.  I have moved on into the “fringes” of the distance running world by running ultra-marathons.  One thing I have learned along the way that is essential is that one person’s journey cannot take away from another’s.  I have had people tell me that “back of the packers” ruin the marathon only because they don’t think I am or have been one.  I have bragged about my 50 mile runs only to have a very nice and humble “old timer ultra-runner” chuckle and then tell me about there 2nd place finish at the Badwater 135 mile run in death valley.  Did this guy mock me and tell me that I was nothing.  Heck no.  YOu know what he did, he sent me a personal email telling me it was an honor to share the road with someone who had had the drive lose weight and get healthy the way I did. Now this is the right way for the fast and slow runners to react.  Running is special and running is a privilege.  Some people don’t get the opportunity to run marathons even if they wanted to.

Like I said before, I have run marathons from 5:45 through 3:33.  I started somewhere.  I started with my first one.  I did the best that I could do with the knowledge and body that I had at that time.  What was the difference between 5:45 and 3:33.  Strategy, training, and physiology.  My strategy was different.  My training was different.  My body was different.  Did my 5+ hurt less, no not really.  Did my 3 hr make me happier, no not really.  Did my fast one make me discount the slower ones that I had run or the slower ones that people ran that day.  No, in fact, I sat and watched the slower runners come in with much emotion as they toiled within themselves to finish the last miles.  They looked just like me.  They suffered, they triumphed, the endured, they persisted, they finished.  I started out with a 2 mile run one day and ended up finishing a marathon 7 months later.  It was a life victory and nobody can ever take away from it or add to it.


14 Responses to “Are slow running “back of the packers” real marathoners to???????”

  1. October 25, 2009 at 9:50 am

    AMEN!!!! I want to run a marathon but I’ll have to do the Galloway method and will probably be over 5 hours. I’m a runner but I’m not a fast runner. But I’m proud of what my body can do because I couldn’t do this 4 years ago.

    Congrats on how much you’ve improved and thank you for inspiring us “non-runners.”

    • 2 run4change
      October 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm

      My first and many after that were with the galloway method and they were also over 5 hrs. Go for it.

  2. 3 Ann
    October 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    THANKS for the reminder that we all make our own magic! I did my first marathon as part of IM Canada in Aug this year in 6 hours 15 minutes. Just did my first stand alone marathon last weekend in San Fran in 5 hours 09 minutes. I am a run/walker due to previous injury….


  3. October 26, 2009 at 1:51 am

    yes yes yes we are.

    Im slower than the proverbial molasses in wintertime —- but Im moving and to me thats all that matters 🙂

  4. 6 Meg
    October 26, 2009 at 4:55 am

    THANK YOU for this post! I will never understand why people feel the need to rain on other people’s accomplishments as not being “real.” I’ve seen it in many different areas, from writing novels to practicing law (yes, there are people who think that lawyers in certain specialities aren’t “real” lawyers). I guess there are always insecure people who feel the need to put others down to prop themselves up.

    I was a spectator at a marathon a few weekends ago, and as I was cheering for the back-of-the-packers at the 26-mile mark, a guy next to me said to his kid, “Those people have been out there for almost six hours. They’re champions.” It warmed my heart.

    To counteract the negativity of the NYT article, here’s a story of a woman who ran her own race and is still on her own personal journey to improve herself:


  5. October 26, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Awesome post. We are all different. Every journey is special.

  6. 8 the Ringmaster
    October 26, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Thank you, Jason, for adding your own voice. At first I was apologetic about my indignation, but now I’m not. We shouldn’t apologize for doing our best–nor should we be told to have smaller goals.

    You’ve said it better than I–for that, and for encouraging others to voice their own indignation, and to continue to encourage other runners, run-walkers, and walkers to pursue their own dreams, be they the 5k kind or the 26.2 (or the 100-mile) kind–I thank you.

  7. October 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Wow, what a great post. I’ve not begun running yet…still at the walking stage, but I never knew this kind of mentality exists within the running community. I’ve told you before, but your story is so inspiring. Look at how far you’ve come. I look at you and it gives me hope that as long as I endure and persist, I, too will finish. Someday I hope to be a marathoner, even if it is a back of the packer!

  8. 10 Sheila
    October 28, 2009 at 11:27 am

    What I’ve found since I started “running” is that real runners don’t need to take anything away from me. They MAY wonder how it is even possible to move that slowly, and not die of boredom, but they have NEVER say it to me.

    The “mean runners” are probably wired that way in everything they do. So be it. No one said that life is fair…When I cheer for them at races they look at me like I’m a moron (if they even look).

    Rather, I focus on the 68 year old (who for the record can kick my butt, speed wise) whose face lights up like the dawn and pumps his fist as he passes my megaphone-yelling-cowbell-waving one-woman cheering station. THAT is also the guy that asks me how my half went, and doesn’t flinch when I tell him I’m shooting for 2:45.

    Keep Running, nice runner!

  9. December 18, 2009 at 9:40 am

    i love the final pointer most. slow or fast, long or short, it’s all about one thing only; putting our foot in front of the other. either we zoom and plod along, doesn’t matter. as long as we cross the finish line.

  10. 12 Malcolm
    June 16, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Ah, but here is something interesting you said about marathoners of yesteryear which you didn’t follow up:

    These people were well versed in shorter distances and wanted to move on to longer ones.

    What bugs me about many slowpokes is that they are either couch-potatoes or it’s-sunday-so-let’s-jog-once-around-the-block people who four months ago decided, all of a sudden, that they wanted to do a marathon. Er, no, it doesn’t work that way. For the same reason you can’t go to college without having gone to high school yet, you shouldn’t do a marathon without having gained some experience first in shorter races (for the record, before my first marathon I had already run two half-marathons, three 10-milers, three 10Ks, and a bunch of 5Ks). In fact, I think that the Paris marathon already requires proof that you have completed a half-marathon within the last year before they allow you to sign up. This is something very sensible and it should be implemented everywhere.

    My second peeve with plodders is that they can never STFU! In fact, the amount of bragging about having completed a marathon is in most cases inversely proportional to your speed. Sub-3:00 runners finish the race, shower, and then they go on with their lives —but 6:00-plus people will spend freakin’ months retelling their epic battle against the road to anybody who happens to be around.

    • 13 run4change
      June 28, 2010 at 4:48 am

      The greatest part about being a runner is that each runner is the captain of their own running ship. If they want to go slow then that is their choice. If they want to go fast it is too. 🙂

  11. September 20, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Congrats on how much you have improved and also thanks for inspiring non-runners.

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