Sunday, May 5, 2013

What Elite (and Faster) Runners Miss By Not Being a Back of the Packer!

A few weeks ago, while I was still in PT, I had a conversation with one of the therapists, who is an elite runner.  It went like this:

Me:  Yes, at the NYC half, I crossed the start line 23 minutes after the official start. 

Her (incredulously):  Really?

Me:  Yes, the back of the pack is pretty anticlimactic. We have to walk further to our start and then we just stand around for a pretty long time. 

Her (even more incredulously):  No kidding?  Can you hear the start gun?

Me:  There's a start gun?  


But, really, it's typically more like a party at the back of the pack where everyone is busy patting each other on the back and talking about how long till we get to the beer.  Well, at least until we start hacking, coughing, limping and walking.  But, I think I even convinced her to give it a try.   

So, as I "raced' the Pittsburgh half today, I thought I'd document what it's like to be at the back of the pack.  Here's my story in pictures. 

Time:  7:01 Here I am on top of the steps taking a picture of half of Corral E.  Yes, the race started at 7:00 a.m. and I was safely ensconced in a porta john (a flushing one, no less) at that time.  But, then I had a few seconds to run up some steps to snap this one.

I've never run the Pittsburgh Marathon before, but I believe that what happened in Boston had an impact to the starting corrals here.  First, runners were limited to what they could bring into the corral and everything was checked by a security guard--one lone security guard, so we actually had about a five minute wait to get into the holding area for the corral (also known as the place where the porta johns are!)  Also, no one but runners were allowed inside the corral.  So, I believe that the area directly in front of me would have normally been where family and friends could have been in previous races.  But, they had been stopped about a half block to the right of this photo. 

7:02--the second half of Corral E.  There was no Corral F.  (Just in case you were wondering....)

7:07--Still hanging out by Fifth Avenue Place, home to Highmark (where I used to work and where my husband and I met!)


7:11--Not much of a different view.

7:14--We are MOVING!  Yes, walking towards the start. Note the steel fences with the spectators behind.  Again, I'm thinking this is a new thing.  It's always awesome to see spectators, especially those you know at the start. 

7:15--We have turned the corner and can see the start!  (Well, I think that's what is waaaaaaaaay off in the distance.)

7:17--Still there in a holding pattern. 

 7:21--Finally--we start and I especially liked the Cinco de Mayo-themed banner.  So, the back of the packers are happy to be moving.  The elites?  I'm guesstimating they're somewhere on either side of mile 4 by now.  

7:26--Probably around the half mile mark or so....not sure because my Garmin showed me running a 6:00 pace for a while...however, I think these photos are proof that the Garmin was a tad off.  Ain't nobody got time for a 6:00 pace in the back of the pack!


7:53--Crossing the first bridge.  I tried to get the billboard and the "Runner of Steel" banner in the same photo, but---alas, I did not. (Note the young man almost directly in line with the pole.  I'm guessing he was about 14 or 15 years old and he was wearing a "Marathon Maniac" shirt--that means he does a lot of them!)

8:07--Crossing another bridge. 

8:11--I'm guessing the same bridge...although that surprises me.  But, the reason I took the photo is just to show the crowd support...even for the back of the packers.  They were lined up and standing on the bridge supports to cheer.  Now, how cool is that?  Yes, I even veered from the center to the left just to get this pic.  (BTW--in my next half, I plan to take photos of all the interesting people and signs along the way.  But, that, folks--is for another day.)

8:48--Passing an elite runner water station.  I was tempted to shout out, "Hey, how did they know I was coming?" But I don't think I would have amused those around me.  So, I just amused myself with that thought. 

But, anyway....yes, elite runners have their own water stops with their very own water bottles with whatever stuff they choose to drink, not the standard issue Gatorade or water. I've decided I'm coming back as an elite runner in my next life.  And, if you read my blog post about what I have in common with Olympic athletes, you know that may be a dream come true!. 

9:33--Loved this guy.  His signs were two-sided, so you'll have to read my next post about all the support for Boston along the route.  I do think he thought I was a little crazy to stop and take his photo, but he was happy to do so!

Sometime during the race:  My hubby got this photo of me--the only one to show I was in the race, not just taking photos!  (As a side note, the Pittsburgh marathon had a bike path they promoted, so he was able to ride and catch me at several spots.  Unfortunately, the runner tracking system said I started 20 minutes after I actually did, so he needed to play catch up. Good thing I was taking a lot of photos so I could get his texts that said, "Between 5 and 6 at children's museum just after right turn" to which I responded, "At 8."  Somehow, I suspect the elites aren't texting their spouses during a race.)

9:49--The finish line is in sight!  And, yes, I stopped to get the photo.  Part of me was like, "For real? You're going to stop and take a photo now?"  And, the other part (that obviously won) said, "Yep, I've documented the rest of the race."  

Of course, looking at it now, I thought I was a lot closer to the finish when I took the pic.  But, then again, the finish always seems like it should be a lot closer than it actually is.   


9:55--Leaving the finisher corral (where you get the medal and all the good food.  I grabbed a cheese bagel, banana, chips, water and an Eat N Park Smiley cookie!)  But, I couldn't help but notice again that spectators were being held back behind steel fences.

10:19--Finally met up with my husband (who was chatting with some friends whose daughter had just run--and hated--her first half.  Yeah.  Everyone says that.  I believe I'll see her again at a race.)  The cool thing about the Finisher festival?  Everyone's a finisher--everyone has the same medal and Smiley cookie!  It's a happy place!

Sometime later--a shower and a Church Brew Works Pious Monk Dunkel to celebrate meeting my goals--having a FUN run, taking lots of pictures while finishing at my average pace and (most importantly), not having anything escape from my body except sweat!   

So, whaddya think?  Not all bad to be a back of the packer.  Yinz agree with me?


  1. Loved the post! Looks like you had a great race and lots of fun!

    1. Thanks, Amy! This is now tied for my top two favorite races! NYC, then Richmond and Pittsburgh.

  2. Only 23 minutes after the official start? For the 2012 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon/Half Marathon, I crossed the start 1 hour and 5 minutes after the official one. Now THAT'S the back of the pack! I wondered how the events at Boston were going to affect later runs. I figured they'd check the packs and hold the spectators back but I didn't expect them to limit what runners could carry. Congrats on your finish and thanks for the photos!

    1. Sure, Mary! San Diego must be HUGE! The largest races I've ever competed in had 20-30K runners and I think I've always gotten to the start within 30 minutes of the start (always from the last corral!)

  3. I still can't believe you stop and take pictures! I need to stop focusing so much on racing and start enjoying the view! As for the steel barriers- I'm pretty sure they are always there for the Philly Half. I know that spectators are blocked until just past the starting line. And yes, a slow walk as a back-of-the-packer to get to the starting line!

    1. I have just started taking pictures during the races. Even though I do stop, it's fairly briefly because I do try to be polite to the other runners around me and not stop directly in front of them or block traffic. So, that does mean I end up weaving quite a bit. But, I've found that by doing that, I enjoy the race SO much more and I even run better because I'm so relaxed. I figure by running to enjoy, I may lose about five minutes, but in the end--does five minutes really matter? It's the same medal whether I finish five minute faster or not. I will try to train to PR one of these days, but in the meantime, I have enjoyed these "fun" races so much more. I can't wait to do my next big half to take pictures of the motivational signs and interesting people along the way. I'm even thinking of adding a race just for that purpose!

  4. The "Elite Athlete Fluid" sign made me laugh :) I am a BotP at even 5Ks, and it always looks like we're definitely having more fun than the runners at the front wearing their game faces.

    1. The physical therapist/elite runner I referenced at the beginning said that she doesn't really pay attention to anything except the race itself. She also said she has thought about doing a race from the BofP just to have fun. Who knows? Maybe one day, everyone will want to be with us!!

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  6. Back of the Pack definitely has more fun! Or so I assume since I've never run even in the middle of the pack let alone the front so I can't compare. I really enjoyed the half where I took pics and texted along the way....looks like you did too. We are running them for fun after all!

  7. Ha, Marie! You are right. It's probably not fair of me to say we're having more fun since I've not run in the front or middle either!!

  8. Back of the pack is the best! When we got done with the Solstice Run in Alaska I asked my (fast) boyfriend what he thought of the huge dandelions, and the bullet shells on the ground, the spectator signs, and how many moose he saw, and all the other cool things that were along the course. He hadn't noticed any of it. When I showed him my picture of me with Mt. McKinley in the background I got, "Oh, I didn't realize you could even see Mt. McKinley." These are the little experiences that I run for, and it would be sad to miss them.

  9. Nicole--has he ever considered running with you for "fun?"

  10. I love your posts! Just stumbled upon this blog after you shared on the River Runners fb page. As a fellow, "back of the packer," thanks! It's so nice to swap stories with others in the same boat. I just finished the Hershey Half and actually blew my own mind with how fast I ran (not that it was fast, mind you, but elite standards and I was also clearly in the back of the pack, but I was happy with it!:) The first 5 miles flew by and I felt fabulous, running alongside my daughter and favorite running buddy, at a 11 min/mile pace. She kept telling me to slow down before I wore myself out..haha!:) I absolutely loved my first half and am still riding my runner's high (albeit saddened by the news of the death of a fellow runner during the race). Anyway...I would love to hear more about the Pittsburgh half. I'm seriously considering doing it next year! I'm itching to sign up for another half already!! Was it a good course? Looks quite scary at the 11 mile mark...can you say "giant hill"??? And you didn't get lost at the back of the pack? My biggest fear is always that they'll start taking down barriers and I'll get lost and not finish...
    But, yeah...I'm completely hooked now. Hoping to do many, many more races...most likely always at the back of the pack!!! :)