Health and Wellness

Marathon: Observations from Starting in the Back of the Pack

A few weeks ago I started closer to the back of the pack than the front of the pack at the Cellcom Green Bay marathon (2014 race recap). I positioned myself there because I wanted to seed myself near other runners that would be running a 4 hour marathon and not wanting to cause any congestion for runners racing faster than me.

It is very common to pass very slow runners in the first quarter of the mile. I don’t understand why a runner planning to run a 4+ hour pace starts in the 2nd or 3rd row. To each his own I guess.)

In addition to my May 2014 experience, as a MyTeamTriumph angel (running with a captain that is disabled) in 2012 and 2013 (race recap) we started in the very back of the half marathon and marathon runner groups. So we were able to pass not only walkers but also over take many runners on our way to the finish line.

I have a few observations (maybe over broad generalizations) based on the limited sample I scanned while running through the field.2014-05-17 19.49.17

1. Many runners over run their fitness in the early miles. I have been guilty of this myself. It is easy to do. Tapering for several weeks makes me feel the best rested and fittest I have felt in months. Couple that with race day excitement and anxiety, as well as the surging energy of the crowd, and it is easy to blast off from the starting line.

I heard several runners say, “That is the fastest mile I have ever run” or “We are 45 seconds ahead of our pace.” If you say either of those things you need to immediately slow down. I have learned through experience that it is nearly impossible to “bank” time for later in the race and more likely you will lose time later by going too fast early.

2. Middle and back of the pack runners don’t know how to run the tangents. The Cellcom marathon has many turns and lots of gently curving roads. The 26.2 mile route is measured on the best possible line. Running with your head raised and looking up the road will make it easier to visualize the best possible line that cuts down the middle of a road or path with constant gentle right and left curves.

Run the inside of any corner, rather than the outside. As the race progressed I found myself frequently alone in the middle or opposite side of the road as I visualized and ran the best possible line. Many of the runners ahead of me, heads down and trudging along, ran in the footsteps of the person ahead of them adding unnecessary distance to their race.

3. Runners in groups running shoulder to shoulder always have someone running the outside of curve. The outside of the curve takes more steps to run than the inside. In a marathon this could amount to hundreds of extra steps. If running in a pace group I think the best place to be is either on the shoulder of the pacer or in the tail of the “diamond” behind the pace group allowing you to match the pace of the group, run the best possible line on the turns, and benefit from drafting.

4. Too many layers. I began to overheat at mile 10 in a t-shirt, shorts, and ball cap. I had shed a long sleeve t-shirt at the first water station, about 1.5 miles into the race. I probably wore this shirt too long. I am regularly surprised at the multiple layers, long sleeves, tights, and knit hats other runners are wearing when the start temp is above 50F. I suppose thermoregulation and comfort is somewhat relative and individualized, but performance will suffer if you are retaining too much heat. I drop layers and use water to convect and radiate away heat during the race. If you need wear a layer during the early miles, bring an old shirt or sweatshirt you can toss (say goodbye to forever) on the course.

5. Why are you carrying so much junk? Car keys and extra layers-put those in the drop bag or leave with a friend. (I have made a personal and public pledge to never get passed by someone carrying jangly car keys or a runner wearing denim). Extra layers-toss on the side of the road. Phone-either use it to take pictures or listen to music. Otherwise leave it home. Water bottles-unless you have a magic potion I suggest going with the on course water and drink mix. There are more water and aid stations than ever before in races of all lengths. There is not a time bonus for carrying 12 ounces of fluid from the start line.


By Greg

Elearning designer, writer, podcaster, blogger, presenter and paramedic. To relax I run and bike as far and as fast as I can. Also like to read a lot and fast.