Race Day as a Slow Runner

A runner is a runner is a runner. In my last post, I talked about how speed doesn’t make the “runner,” the act of running does. That said, there are certain aspects of the sport that are different for us back-of-packers.

Since training runs are generally self-driven, all runners learn to accommodate their specific needs during those runs and it’s only when we have to rely on others that these needs become complicated. This makes race day a tad more interesting to navigate.

Race Day as a Slow Runner

I’ll never complain about a little hitch here or there on race day; races are difficult to plan and there are many (literally) moving parts to consider when organizing particularly a long race. I understand that and I’m grateful to race directors for putting so much effort into creating amazing events for the community to enjoy. But as a slow runner, I do have to make certain that I vet events carefully before signing up for them.

Most runners are aware of course cut-offs, especially in long events. Half and full marathons generally have pacing requirements and sweepers to ensure runner safety as roads and pathways open for public use after a certain time. But course cut-offs are really only the beginning of a slow runner’s race-day concerns; here’s a brief list of other things that I consider for a long event which my speedier compatriots generally don’t need to worry about.

Running Support

I’m not just talking about spectators, though the spectators that fast runners are treated to often thin or vanish by the time we back-of-packers make our way through the course. Even if a race posts official pacing guidelines, there’s often no guarantee that water and aid stations will remain open or available for all runners even within those guidelines.

I’ve been to plenty of events where runner support packs it in early for a plethora of reasons: aid stations run out of water or gels, volunteers get bored or tired, the race has a poor communication infrastructure and can’t let tables know how many runners are left on the course.

Because of this, I tend to bring my own support (wearing water, packing extra nutrition, making sure there’s a bystander ready to hand me something at a key point in the race, etc.) As a back of pack runner, there’s often no knowing whether I’ll be treated to the same amenities that the speedy runners enjoy so it’s best to be prepared.

Finisher Village Support

While the finish line is always glorious, it doesn’t always remain fully operational for the full duration of the race. Usually there’s water and some kind of snack available, but that tends to be the extent of slow runner support at the finish.

I don’t mean for this to sound like a whine-fest, but I always wonder if there’s some way to manage finish line resources that can allow slow runners to feel just as celebrated as the speed demons. After all, we all pay the same entry fee. One great example is race shirt pickup: can races check a runner’s pre-requested size and ensure that all runners have a chance to pick theirs up before allowing size exchanges? This way, even the slow runners have an opportunity to take home a race shirt that’s the size they requested on the registration form.

I was particularly devastated when, after finishing a distance event at which massages for the runners were promised (for the full duration of the course cutoff, which I was well within), the masseuses packed up to leave the moment I had caught my breathe enough to wander over to their tent. I will never be upset at a working professional volunteering only a certain amount of their time, but perhaps the race might have better communicated massage tent hours to runners, or even found a way to stagger volunteers to ensure access for all.

It comes down to a basic principle: if a race advertises a course cutoff time, they should be prepared to support runners throughout the duration of that course time. Don’t make the slow runners fend for themselves when they’ve met the requirements of the event.


Because of my speed, I’m out on the course for much longer than the bulk of the other runners which means that I need to account for whatever the weather can throw at me in that time. If I dress wrong, I’ll be uncomfortable for much longer than those of speedier legs, so I need to make sure that I know what’s coming on a given day.

I check the race-day weather fastidiously and plan careful light layers. When I travel for races, I pack multiple race outfits with various mix-and-match pieces, just in case the weather experiences a last-minute shift. I also get to know myself and my running wardrobe really well to understand what I might need during a run, and how I can address that need. Long training runs are great for this!


Okay, so speedy runners have to worry about this too, but in a different way. Since I’m out on the course longer, I need sources of fuel that will sustain me over that extra period of time. After several years of trial and error, I’ve found that most sports gels or fuels don’t really cut it for a run of 20+ miles when I’m going to be out there for four or more hours.

I’ve run with a lot of different “real” foods, but did the bulk of my marathon training fueling with pop tarts (…. I can’t really call that a real food so it’s “real” food.)

So how about you, fellow slow runners? What are some race-day experiences you’ve had that front-of-packers probably don’t generally experience?

Related Post

If you enjoyed this article read Angie Spencer’s post on Issues Faced by Slower Runners

5 Responses to Race Day as a Slow Runner

  1. Marion April 6, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

    Just finished the Eastern States 20 miler from Maine through NH and into MA. I was 13th to the last out of a field of 400+. I had good support and never even considered that water stations might not be there. However, the race party was done well before I finished.

    • Beth April 6, 2017 at 10:02 pm #

      I am running a half marathon on April 6th in Spokane WA called negative Split. The race director has flipped the start of the race. Runners who will take 3-4 hours go 1st. The next group starts 1:45 minutes later and the fastest group An hour after that. I am excited for this change and look forward to enjoy the finish line with actuall people there!

  2. Isabelle April 7, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    Finished my first marathon a few months ago. One of the last to finish, but an hour ahead of the cutoff time. Race support/volunteers along the course were great! Most food vendors were packing up and the massage tent was closing up as well :(. The bonus of being at the back of the pack? No one else in your finish line photos!!

  3. Rebecca Jo April 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm #

    YESSS to all of this. when I volunteer at races, I make sure I stay till the LAST PERSON comes through – because I’ve been that person before. I know how it feels. So I’ll make sure to HOOT & HOLLAR louder for that person than the one who had all the crowds.
    I make snack packs with pretzels & raisins in them. My own trail mix 😉 It works for me.

  4. Gerry April 14, 2017 at 1:55 pm #

    I have run the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX – both half & full. Better experience overall for me personally in the half, because I finish, just as the faster full marathon runners finish. Water stations, and finish line food etc.. Not as much for when I ran the full. I passed on the bananas that were the only ones left. Gatorade was diluted to almost be water around mile 20+.

Leave a Reply