Who Will I Find at the Back of the Pack?

By PAM GARDINER, Wellbuddies Coaching

We have been writing about the BOP (Back of the Pack) for several months now, but we have not  made it clear who belongs in this group.  That’s because the definition is, truly, in the eye of the BOPer.  However, I will take a shot at describing us in general terms.

Most of us average a slower than 10-minute mile (some of us much slower).  Our pace is slow enough that the “pack” is out of view before we reach the first fork in the trail.  At the track, while slower speedsters clock a 2:00-minute lap, we might be happy for 3:00.  In a race, we may cross the line after the timing clock is taken down and the snacks are put away.

We often ask ourselves, “Why are we different?” What makes us slower than average? We may put in countless hours and miles to improve, but somehow we never really catch up.

Some of us were just made that way.  When, in the game of genetic roulette, Lance Armstrong got world-class aerobic capacity—we got what was left over.  Though training can help, the potential of our blood to deliver oxygen to the legs is limited by inheritance.

Some of us are injury-prone.  Efficient, mechanically balanced running is (like aerobic capacity) partly a function of training and partly a function of structure. Some people train carefully, wear quality gear, and exercise proven preventive technique, yet still find themselves on the sideline whenever they push their limits.  In deciding whether to stop, they slow down instead.

Some of us got a late start.  When our friends went out for cross country, we signed up for the Latin Club.  Title 9 had not yet passed.  We were chubby teens.  When we finally laced our running shoes in midlife, we couldn’t quite keep up.

Others have conditions, from heart disease to diabetes, arthritis to asthma, which can limit our speed. For us, going slower is price we pay for remaining active over the long term.

Finally, while some of us are BOPers for life, others join the club for awhile, then speed up and fade into the distance.  People who are in and out of the Back may have recently given birth, recovered from surgery, or taken a long break to care for a loved one in need. They may be beginners who have not yet discovered their true potential.  We welcome them, enjoy their company, and cheer them when they move on.

We have different reasons for being slower than average.  We do, however, have similar reasons for wanting to run.  We want to be healthy.  We want to reduce stress and improve our outlook.  We want to meet fun people and spend active time together outdoors. We want to test ourselves against our limitations and increase our capacity with consistent training and commitment.

Sound like you?  Give it a try!  Come out to the Ft. Missoula Ballfields (South Avenue parking lot) for a fun run/walk on Friday, September 23 at 7:00 pm for a BOP social run/walk (2-4 miles at your own pace). Free bandannas will be distributed.  BYO beverage and a snack to share.

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.

Click here to see the Run It  / Walk It Archive.


Pam Gardiner 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.