The Back of the Pack Matters

This is a two-part blog from Leeanne Adu, Captain of the Backpackers and Heather Lawson, Coach of the Backpackers. You can run with us every Thursday evening at 6.45pm from the ASICS store 249–251 Regent St, Mayfair, London W1B 2EP. Find us on Instagram:

Photo Credit — Simon Roberts Photography

Hands up if you can remember the first you joined a group run?

How did it feel? Were you made to feel welcome? Were you able to keep up? Did you say sorry any time you had to walk?

Hands up if you can remember your first race?

How did it feel? When you got towards the end had the volunteers packed up and left? Where the last few spectators looking at you with pity in their eyes and telling you to speed up? Did you miss out on a medal or a goody bag because you were too late across the finish line?

That’s the perils of being a slow runner, right?

I’ve told this story a few times but my first group run experience was almost my last. I rocked up to this “all abilities” run feeling motivated and ready to roll. I let the organisers know that it was my first time there, but I could run 5k in around 35mins. I was nervous but I knew I could do it. I opted to run with the slower group but as we set out towards Regents Park I soon fell behind. I gave it my all but I quickly found myself running solo. Ever so often a pacer in a bright t-shirt would pop up to direct me along but it became clear that I was in this on my own. No one stayed with me to check I was ok or that I knew the route.

On the way back I was told to hurry up. I apologised for holding them up. I was last back. I was a nuisance to them.

We got back to the base and I left very quickly. I got home and was so exhausted I threw up. It was my birthday.

I almost gave up after that but thankfully found a crew (THE crew) that nurtured me and made me believe I was a runner. This runner went on to run many races all the way up to a full marathon.

I ran the London Marathon in 2013, I trained and trained and was fitter and stronger than ever before. I finished in 5h36m. A really decent time or so I thought.

Sitting around a table in a restaurant a couple of weeks later a prominent woman in fitness exclaimed that anyone who ran the marathon in over 5 hours clearly hadn’t trained properly. The assumption being that those who train for their marathons can run faster. I didn’t disclose my marathon time but I left that dinner feeling my like achievement wasn’t good enough.

Copenhagen half marathon was run in 2hrs27minutes. Towards the end of the course, I was running along empty streets as all the spectators had gone home.

I got used to being the last in. I learned to accept it. I embraced party pace. Because even at my peak fitness I’ve only ever broken the 30min 5k time barrier twice.

I realised that there was more to running than how fast I go. I realised that I was only ever competing with myself.

When the opportunity came up to front The Backpackers, a new running crew, born out of the powerful Chasing Lights Collective and created especially for those who find themselves always on the outside of a “good” time, always chasing the last pacer. For those who run strong but still get told: “you’re too slow for us”. I couldn’t turn that down. Almost every new runner comes to us with a story of being told they weren’t good enough or fast enough.

Most new runners wait months before coming to a session because they’re worried they won’t fit in, but at Backpackers when we say “no runner left behind”, we mean it. If we need to walk, we do but we walk with purpose, so we can run strong. We don’t accept apologies for it because no apology is needed.

Forget about pace, turn the watches off and let’s just get our legs moving.

One of our family had a truly awful experience whilst acting as an official pacer for the London Marathon. It truly hit home how much more work has to be done before casually paced runners are accepted as runners.

It takes real guts to know you’ll be out on the road up to double the time of your racemates. Yet somehow a 2h30/3h half marathon is not worth as much as those running a 1h45/2hr half marathon.

Ask someone who runs a 1h45 half marathon to complete it in 3hours. They’ll tell you it’s one of the hardest races they’ve ever done. I know this to be true because they’ve told me and I’ve seen it. We regularly pace the back of the back for Virgin Sport and choose our pacers because they understand our spirit. These pacers get what we the Backpackers are about and know the value of having an epic support team for every pace.

As Captain of this running crew, it’s my job to support and nurture everyone who comes through our doors and to make sure they don’t have the same experience that Liz and other runners experienced at the London Marathon.

The Backpackers are for all the warriors who know what it’s like to come last, we want to encourage and nurture those runners to understand that every run is a winning and worthy run.

You are a runner and you are worthy.

Read part two of this blog here