Back of the Pack

Posted by Filed Under: Running is Funny

backofpack_2.jpgA couple of weeks ago I wrote about my turn near the front of my half-marathon training group comprised mostly of beginners. By unfortunate coincidence, an injury forced me to reduce my mileage considerably, and so I spent last week’s training session at the back of the run/walk group.

While the coach was very good at explaining technique and transition, I found it difficult to establish any sort of rhythm. Running allows your mind to wander – indeed, it is part of what makes running so appealing. You can focus on form, breathing, footfalls or perceived exertion.

During a walk/run, you are pretty much consumed with your watch. When do I start and when do I stop? Going from one form of locomotion to another every few minutes is surprisingly tough to master. And it’s embarrassing to learn I have been walking incorrectly for about 48 years. I guess practice doesn’t make perfect after all.

Another difference in the back of the pack is that the amount of conversation increases exponentially. In the middle of the pack pleasantries and brief comments are exchanged, and in the front there may not even be someone nearby to talk to. In the back there are full-blown and lengthy dialogues, sometimes with multiple participants, encompassing both personal stories and pressing issues of the day.

This sort of conversation is rare in other sports. It’s hard to imagine similar debates occurring while playing tennis or boxing.

Boxer 1: “Hey Bonecrusher, where did you buy those gloves?” (Whap!)
Boxer 2: “I picked them up at Pugilist Barn on clearance.” (Ooof!)
Boxer 1: “Do you think they have them in red?” (Pow! Thud! One, two three!)

Finally, I find that the folks near the rear provide a lot more inspiration. It is easy to admire elite athletes who are able to run sub-5-minute miles without visible effort. Most of the people in the back are really working hard, and because of their relatively low speed they will be working hard for a longer time to cover any given distance. Their ethic gets you going ñ making your struggles seem very small in comparison.

Perhaps running groups would benefit from a kind of student exchange program. Spending time with runners of varied paces is educational for everyone involved.

Now if I can only master that walking thing. Let’s see, left, right, left, left no, that’s not it.

About Mike Antonucci

I ran 6-minute miles when I was in the military, then tapered for 20 years. Two-time marathoner (3:43 PR), my next goal is to stay healthy enough to run another. There are literally thousands of people handing out running advice and serious tips. I prefer to focus on the humorous or odd facets of our shared obsession. Let's face it, running is funny.

  1. Nora on February 1st at 2:33 am

    There’s one more reason I shouldn’t feel too bad about never being out in front: I LOVE to talk!!

    Let us know when you’ve mastered walking, then we’ll send you some wackin’ great heels to try…

  2. Paul on February 1st at 7:16 am

    I’m interested to hear what the group taught you about correct walking form. Can you elaborate?

  3. 21stCenturyMom on February 1st at 9:09 am

    Thank you – thank you very much. Those of us at the back of the pack appreciate your appreciation 🙂

  4. Mike Antonucci on February 1st at 11:02 am

    When walking you are supposed to ensure you are leaning forward from the ankles and not from the waist. Additionally, you should avoid “pendulum arms” and keep your arms bent at the elbow, brushing them across your hips as you walk, avoiding side-to-side motion.

    And, as in running, you shouldn’t be slapping your feet on the ground, but rolling from heel to toe.

    Right now I’m walking more like Popeye after a bender during a stormy night at sea.

  5. Joe on February 2nd at 5:53 am

    Having done the run/walk thing for over a year now, I find that using a watch with a timer for both run and walk inteval allows me to get over the “what do I do now?” syndrome. With practice, my subconcious takes over…it hears one type of beep and slows to a walk…a different beep a minute later and a smooth transition to running again. The concious mind never loses track of whatever I’be been mulling on. Practice helps.

    Just like remembering to bend the arms at the elbow while walking 🙂

    Enjoy it!! You’ll be back at the front of the pack soon!!!!

  6. Mom On The Run on February 3rd at 12:47 pm

    That’s exactly why I “run” – the great camraderie and friendships that develop at the back of the pack.

  7. Dawn - Pink Chick on February 4th at 11:56 am

    I’ve always enjoyed the back of the pack for many a reason and the great people I get to meet is one of them.

    I think all runners should get to feel what it’s like out front and in the back. It’s one of the reason why in my running clinic the group rotates positions throughout the training session. That way they all get to feel what it’s like to be anywhere in the pack.

  8. Kettel on February 4th at 7:03 pm

    Something my old cross country coach always used to tell us was, “Practice makes permanent.” I think his adaptation of the old cliche is much more accurate than the original: If we practice doing things the wrong way, we’ll never get closer to perfection, it’ll just be that much more difficult to break the bad habits we’ve been developing. I know he was right because it seems like I’m always trying to break some habit or other. Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun learning this lesson too. Enjoy the back of the pack!