Dear Fellow Back-of-the-packer
|May 17, 2017||Posted by Melinda under Ultra Running|
Dear Fellow Back-of-the-packer,
You and I get to hang out at every ultra. Sometimes I find out that you are there because you are battling injuries, or because you have an awesome streak going and this is your 100th 100 miler in 100 weekends (I made that up). Or sometimes you are just like me – slow because of some combination of genetics and life.
I learn your name, tell you that you are absolutely on track for finishing because – hey, you are with me and I’m right on track with my pace plan to finish without getting caught by the cut off times. “Stick with me“, I say when you are doubting. “I’ll see you at the finish line“.
But here’s the thing. Every time I look for your name in the results, it’s paired with a DNF.
“Welcome to the back-of-the-pack“, said one person on social media when I sadly commented that it seemed that every person I run with in a race doesn’t finish.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Oh sure, DNF’s are going to happen. I even have one – ironically on one my best race days physically. Mentally, despite being hours in front of the cut offs, 2/3 through the race, and smooth un-technical trail in front of me I couldn’t do it. So I totally get it that sometimes it just isn’t your day. But…..why are such a big percentage of you not finishing?
I’m not passing you on the trail.
I’m leaving the aid station while you are still trying to find your drop bag.
I’m thanking the volunteers and moving towards the exit while you are still trying to decide what to eat.
I’m moving down the trail drinking my broth while you sip hot broth in the aid station chatting with volunteers.
I’m still moving while you are sitting, adjusting, searching, visiting, changing.
I’m not trying to sound like a know-it-all and I understand we do outrageous distances for different reasons. But I’m assuming that you showed up to the start line for at least one of same reasons I did – to finish.
Sometimes when I talk to you as we move down the trail, I find out that this race is your redemption race after a long list of DNF’s. “This one will be different.”
In my very humble opinion from time spent at the back of the pack, here’s some specific ideas to make sure that this time really will be different.
- Make a plan BEFORE you get to the aid station. What are you going to eat? What other things do you need to do? What order are you going to do them in?
- Make your drop bag look unique (The volunteer at Black Canyon said “My little pony duct tape? I know exactly where that one is!“), make it small so you don’t waste time digging through stuff. Put the “maybe need” stuff in a small container so it’s separated and not contributing to clutter.
- Consider the all-in-all-out strategy. Everything in your pack gets dumped, everything in the drop bag goes into the pack. Out you go.
- DO have a race plan. Just because you are at the back of the pack doesn’t mean you are just “out there messing around”. In fact with less margin of error than a faster runner, I’m planning my race strategy as carefully as a front-runner trying to be in the top 10. Except my goal is to stay ahead of cut offs and finish the damn thing.
- DON’T adopt strategies of a front-runner or mid-packer that will cost you time. Ultras are all about trade offs. Move faster down the trail and do more self-care at the aid stations, or go slower on the trail with self-care “on the run” and minimize time stopped? There’s a balance. Will that thing that’s costing you time in the aid station let you go faster on the trail? Fast enough to make up for the time lost? As a back-of-the-packer your time has to be considered more carefully than a faster runner with more cushion. Don’t like this equation? Want to spend more time in front of heaters sipping cocoa and visiting with volunteers and have time for a shoe change (sounds delightful actually…)? Learn how to run faster (I’m trying….). But for now, you may not be able to do that.
- Be your own cheerleader.
- Banking time doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. If you are expecting to be back of the pack and in the first third of the race you are hours and hours in front of where you expected to be…..most likely it’s going to come down like a house of cards and your fellow back of the pack friends are going to want to shake you silly and ask “WHY????? When you know better….WHY?????“
I’ll see you at the finish line. For realz this time.