Back of the Pack Fight Back

It’s all kicked off now.  Liz, the 7.5 hour London Marathon pacer, has been on several TV and radio news programme and appeared in the national and international press talking about the appalling treatment of slower participants.  I’ve gathered together a few links if you want to fill yourself in:

Liz’s blog – Marathon Queen to Comeback Queen including several posts and videos detailing her experience of the London Marathon.

Party at the Back” Facebook group – supporting slow runners, particularly those who plan to run the London Marathon next year.  Many links and videos of TV interviews available in this group.

Accounts from runners:

I’m sorry that Liz had to suffer so much but in a way I am glad she did.  The back of the pack are used to suffering, and they don’t speak up because there’s a sense of shame attached to being slow and they feel it’s their own fault.  We needed someone from the middle of the pack to see it for themselves. This attitude is, sadly, borne out by a minority of commentators:

“A seven hour cut off is plenty, I could walk it in six!  If you take seven hours, you clearly didn’t bother to train,” they said, completely missing the point.  A seven hour cut off is fine if you advertise a seven hour cut off.  If the London Marathon had a five hour cut off, and this had happened to all the runners who took more than four hours, that would be exactly the same.   Runners are not all born equal; a seven hour marathonner is not just a five hour marathonner who failed to train.  (A five hour marathonner who failed to train is far likely to be the 2.5 hour half marathonner who never reached the finish.)  Just because you – a fit runner with natural ability – could walk it in seven hours, it doesn’t mean everyone can.  I worked SO hard for my two marathons (7:07 and 6:50).  I’m actually quite upset that people think my results are down to lack of training, because I trained so hard I broke my bloody leg!  If you haven’t ever been a 7 hour marathonner yourself, perhaps shut the fuck up and listen to someone who has.

This attitude IS a minority though. I get the feeling the worm has turned (the snail has turned?) and after years of putting up with dismantled finish lines, water shortages, getting lost in Greenwich Park, running through empty streets and being chased runaway sweeper cars shouting at me in Catalan faster runners and race organisers are finally starting to understand what it is like to be at the back of the pack, and that things will change for the better.

The thing that I’ve learnt is that while I’ve experienced some serious back of the pack woe, there’s a whole new level of woe behind me.  I’ve never experienced a water station being packed up before I reached it and I’ve never been heckled during a race.  I’ve certainly never been sprayed with detergent.  When I wrote about how slower runners get the best race photos because there’s no one around them, I didn’t consider that just after I’d passed, the photographers packed up and went home and those behind me got no photos at all!  When I wrote about enjoying my own space as the runners thin out, I didn’t consider that I might have to share it with sewerage lorries and detergent sprays.  I’m disgusted that my snailier comrades have to go through this, and while maybe if they all trained their little gastropods off, perhaps they could leave snaildom and be transported to the dizzy heights of tortoiseland, why should they?  Snails, run as slowly as you like.  Walk or crawl!  Don’t succumb to peer pressure.  Your marathon is a distance, not a time, so take as long as you like.

2 thoughts on “Back of the Pack Fight Back

  1. I’ve heard of this happening at other races but never the VLM before. Like you say, it’s (almost) a good thing that the pacer could witness and record what was happening for the sake of raising awareness. It’s pretty judgy to assume that someone at the back of the pack is just a lazy person who “hasn’t trained enough”.


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