When was the last time you came last in a race? For most of you, the answer to this is probably a very long time, or never. But for many of us party pace runners, it's a very real and often off-putting possibility. In the midst of all the confident fast runners out there in our community bashing out sub 20 minute 5ks and getting Boston marathon qualifying times, there are those who have avoided attending their local Parkrun or signing up for an event for fear of coming last. Not to mention the runners debating whether to defer/DNS race places because of a cut-off time or sweeper bus and how they would feel if despite all their training, they just wouldn't make it round in a time considered good enough by the organisers.
Race atmosphere, crowd support, great goody bags, finisher tshirts and medals are the most common reasons why we will sign up to an event or recommend it to others. However, these things are only guaranteed for all participants if enough merchandise is ordered and crowds stick around until all participants have crossed the line. I've been a runner at the back of the pack for long enough to know that sadly, this just isn't the case.
Taking part in a closed road event but being ushered onto the pavement after a certain time, getting to the finish line only to find there's no tshirts in your size, no photographer to take your finish photo or no medals left are all too common experiences for Backpackers. Sure, a race route that finishes in on a track in an Olympic stadium might be a great selling point for an event, but when the place is emptying and most other runners have long since finished and begun their journeys home, it's a massive anti climax powering through the final 100m alone. It's a feeling that can certainly overshadow the achievements of the day. Nobody should come away from an organised event or training run feeling like that.
In the city I'm fortunate enough to have found running crews that celebrate all runners. Run Dem Crew, Chasing Lights Collective, Backpackers and The Running Works have all welcomed, encouraged and developed my running confidence and I'm glad there are more groups like this popping up both in the UK and internationally.
But I'd like to see more organised events lead the way in celebrating party pace.
Virgin Sport and communities like Parkrun and RunThrough.co.uk are setting a fine example by offering slower pacers, tail runners/walkers and truly inclusive events. If the last finisher of the British 10k can be celebrated and have a full brass band parade behind her, other events can and should do more to make walk/joggers and 12+ minute milers more welcome.
We're paying the same entry fees. Our miles are the same distance as the faster ones. We're the endurance athletes, pounding the pavement and fighting the trail the longest and we've got every damn right to be here too.
So here's my call to arms to all my fellow Backpackers out there who don't feel like they belong.
For the quiet ones.
For those new to running.
For those that want to run with other people but aren't sure how or where.
For the ones that know who their local clubs, crews or Parkruns are, but keep talking themselves out of turning up.
For those returning to the fold or recovering from injury.
For the people that think they will 'be too slow' and don't want to 'hold anybody up'.
And especially for those who find the biggest battle is showing up.
We see you.
We got you.
The running community is built for you too.
So print out your Parkrun barcode. Turn up to a group run. Sign up for that race. Cheer at an event until every person has crossed the line.
It's time to embrace your party pace and start leading from the back.