Missoula Back-of-the-Pack Runners Rock n’ Roll

By PAM GARDINER, Wellbuddies Coaching

The distance was the same:  13.1 miles.  Everything else was different.  In Choteau last July, 102 runners followed a gravel road across the plains.  In Denver the following October, 15,000 people shuffled by the Capitol en route to the starting line. Arranged in order of pace, my son Jonathan was in “Corral 2.” I was in “Corral 15.”  The racehorses and the plowhorses.  We were running the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon.

Days later, as my aching legs and tight knees lingered, I asked why.  “Why have I done 13 miles 13 times, and why am I looking forward to more? I found the answer at the back of the pack.  After leaving Jon with his peers, I walked through the cold, dark morning to the end of the line.  I knew, as soon as I saw them, that these were “my people.”

A woman sported a sign, “Today is my 65th birthday.”  Matching t-shirts identified Camp Make-a-Wish, fundraising for children with cancer.  Others supported the Crohns and Colitis Foundation. Leukemia and Lymphoma.  Diabetes.  Suicide prevention.  Some wear their disabilities on the outside; others carry them in private.  We all have them.  Setting a goal, facing a challenge, and sharing the experience is a powerful way to deal with limitations.  Life overflows with setbacks and temptations to give up.  Lining up at dawn for three-plus hours of effort develops important strengths: believing in oneself, showing up, seeing it through.

Why do I do it? I do it for the joy of knowing that I can.  I do it in solidarity with those who are dealing with illness and other hardships. I do it to support beginners, and in sympathy with others who are re-calibrating their expectations with age.  I do it because it is better to slow down than to stop.  And, last October in Denver, I did it because there were rock ‘n roll bands every mile along the course.

After we got back to Missoula, I continued to think about the back of the pack.  So many slower runners and walkers hesitate to join a running club.  We are intimidated by the youthful hard-bodies charging across Higgins Bridge on Sunday mornings, training for the Missoula Marathon.  We know that we won’t keep up; we worry that we won’t fit in.  We have these fears despite the fact that the Run Wild Missoula mission clearly welcomes runners and walkers of every age and ability.  We wonder if “they” really mean “us!”

Since last fall, Run Wild has developed a Back of the Pack (BOP) program aimed directly at runners and walkers who (like me) collect in Corral 15.  We have our own Back of the Pack Club on the Run Wild Missoula website. We have monthly fun run/walk/tailgate parties scattered from Frenchtown to the Bitterroot.  We have a “buddy locator” service that helps people find pace-mates.  We write “View from the Back” for the monthly Run Wild newsletter.  We have bright green bandannas that help us find each other in a crowd.  We have an e-mail list and send out periodic messages with opportunities for involvement.

In the process, I have accepted a new title, one that I bear with pride and joy:  “Leader of the Back.”

If you want to sign up for our mailing list, contact backofpack@runwildmissoula.org.


Like this blog?  Chances are you’d like these posts from our running blog:  Running Buddies or  Missoula Runners Attend Prefontaine Classic.    Or, check out our Missoula Running and Walking page or Missoula Outdoor Recreation section.

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Pam retired from the US Forest Service in 2008, and trained as a wellness coach (doing business as Wellbuddies Coaching).  She also volunteers for Run Wild Missoula, co-directing the Galloway marathon training program and developing programs that encourage slower runners and walkers at the Back of the Pack.  Pam started running in her early 50’s, and ran three marathons the year she turned 55.  A decade later, she has settled on the half marathon as her preferred distance. Pam is grateful for the diverse and inclusive community of runners and walkers in Missoula. (Left: Pam with son, Johnathan)