Running Buddies Forever: At the Back of the Pack

By PAM GARDINER, Wellbuddies Coaching

“You have to be really sure when you get a tattoo,” they say. “Can you live with it for the rest of your life?”


Some friendships are life-long (not many, but a few). This one was forged on a hot July day. It happened along the long, lonely road between Frenchtown and Missoula, Montana. It happened at the Back of the Pack.

A year ago, Carol Drake and Donna Bennett were new runners. The two of them met after signing up for Run Wild Missoula’s Galloway marathon training program. Yes, marathon! That word means 26.2 in running jargon: Twenty-six-point-two miles!

For six months, Donna and Carol trained with a group of other marathon hopefuls.

Beginning in the snow and ice of January, they went out a little longer every Sunday. On Father’s Day they took a final long training run. They were ready!

The Back of the Pack cheering section

Carol waited to decide whether to start with the walkers at 5:00 am and allow herself extra time to finish before the course closed in 6:30 hours. After covering the same distance in 6:15 during training, she knew she could make it.

Wahoo! Donna had maintained a brisk pace throughout her training, and was confident about starting at 6 am.

It was a gorgeous morning—and before they knew it, BANG! They were off!

So, what happened on that hot day between Frenchtown and Missoula? A lifelong friendship happened that day. It happened when Donna’s body decided to rebel. The undiagnosed stress fracture was the least of her worries, the irritated IT band, a minor inconvenience.

Her major setback in the Missoula Marathon was digestive. Most of us would have taken the hint and raced another day. Not Donna! She had trained for a goal, and she was going to finish!

When Carol saw her buddy having a hard time, she also made a tough call. Anyone who knows Carol sees her as passionate and goal-oriented.

Matching Back of the Pack tattoos

They may not know that she would forego the chance for a strong finish and stick with her friend, finishing hand-in-hand after 7:25 hours.

The BOP Cheerleaders had worried. Carol and Donna were “our peeps.” Where were they?

When they came into view at last, a welcoming crowd of well-wishers cheered them in.

In February, Donna and Carol took another trip together. Together they went to the tattoo parlor, and became the first to sport a permanent version of the BOP turtle in full public view.

The Back of the Pack is a place to make friends. It is a place to challenge yourself, knowing you won’t be left alone. It is a place where cheerleaders stay as long as it takes to celebrate when the very last tortoise crosses the line.


Do you want to join the Back of the Pack? You might like more of Pam’s posts: Galloway Training for the Back of the PackBack of the Pack Welcomes New Runners, and Who Will I Find at the Back of the Pack?.

  Visit the Run/Walk It, Missoula 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.