Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Birmingham,  Race Reports,  Running

The View from the Back of the Pack – Mercedes Marathon Recap

This will be a different type of race report than the one I had originally planned to write. This is more of a rant-y one, a call-to-action. You’ve been warned.

The hubs and I ran the Mercedes Marathon this past weekend. This was my fourth year running it, and it is such a good race. Home turf, well-organized, full of friends, impressive medal and after party.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
The only Mercedes emblem I want to own

Originally, I was going to pace the hubs to a PR. But he had been battling bilateral Achilles tendonitis for a few weeks, and his ankles were obviously hurting. So my plan shifted to keeping him relatively uninjured and upright as he crossed the finish line.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
What a miserable little monkey

Because of this, we ran/walked and finished in 5:32:47, making us back-of-the-pack runners. Now, I’m usually a midpack runner, so this race was a whole new experience for me and opened my eyes to some things that made my blood boil. As we were running the final miles of the race, a lot of organizations and spectators started to leave. Before all the runners had passed. The fuck?

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Is this a race? Where are the people?

The hubs was too mentally checked out at this point to really notice or care. But it fired me up for my good friend Rachel, who was a few minutes ahead of us and running her first marathon. She and all the runners around us were missing out on cheers and smiles of encouragement—all things runners need and appreciate while running 26.2 miles.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
This girl is a marathoner!

I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not referring to the official water stops—they were still up and running and well-supported. You all rock! I’m talking about some of the cheer stations who were either packing up before our eyes or were long gone when we ran past on the second loop.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Signs Resolute Running put out for their runners

Do you know what message you give when you break down early? That slower runners don’t matter. That they don’t deserve the same enthusiasm and support and encouragement as faster runners. And that’s terrible. Back-of-the-pack runners are not any less of a competitor. They pay the same race fee, put in as much, if not more effort, and spend the longest amount of time on the course.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Thankful for volunteers and moon pies at Mile 24

Put yourself in that runner’s position—you’ve spent hours on your feet, you’re cold, tired, hungry, wet. Despite all this, you’re excited to be out running and determined to finish the race. But there’s no one there to share your excitement with. The street where the music once blared is empty, the cowbells and cheers and funny signs missing, the faster runners long gone to the comfort of their hot showers. What a buzzkill.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Fuck it – we cheered for ourselves

To add insult to injury, at one point late in the race an acquaintance ran past me and asked what I was doing “all the way back here,” because I am “usually so speedy.” Right in front of the hubs and Rachel, who at that point were exhausted and giving 110%. I regret not swinging at said runner. It infuriates me that we’ve developed into such an elitist society that being “slow” is a bad thing. And. And! Who has the right to define what “slow” even is? AGH!

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
This group is not “slow” – we’re awesome

This is a huge reason why I gravitate toward trail running—there is no “slow,” and pace doesn’t matter. We’re all there to support each other. Runner #1 will win and hang around to wait for the DFL (dead fucking last) runner. The BUTS proved this unwavering support with their rocking aid station at Mile 10/23—right when struggling runners need an uplifting. The group was doing just as much singing, dancing, bubble-blowing, high-fiveing, and loving five hours into the race as they had been at the start of the race. And everyone appreciated it.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Dancing with the BUTS

All cheer stations and spectators need to adopt this mentality. Right now. When you leave early, you are telling back-of-the-pack runners that they aren’t important. That their efforts aren’t worthy of celebration. That if they want support, they need to speed up. And that’s so wrong. If you’re going to go cheer at a race, do it right. Commit to the entire race. Don’t peace out when you decide the race is over.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Thanks We Run Huntsville for great photos – you guys are good volunteers

I’m sure these people didn’t do it to be malicious. And I appreciate all cheer stations and spectators, I really do. It’s equally exhausting to be standing in sometimes crappy weather for hours handing out water and high fives and cheering until throats are sore. They make races fun and worth running. They can turn an entire race around.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
This superstar stood in the rain all six hours with this kickass sign

But we can do better—we need to do better. Let’s show runner #5001 as much love as runner #101. Because in the end, we’re all running the same race.

Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Done and done!
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
My adaptation of a “Flat Tanya” pre-race photo – I missed the Runner’s Rapture…
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Rachel and I photobombing a live race interview
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Accent nails. Because I’m so fancy.
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
What our last 10 miles looked like
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Smile, dammit!
Mercedes Marathon, marathon, back-of-the-pack runner, race volunteers
Mile 26 – we made it!

18 Comments

    • Eric Thomas

      Rachel sorry for the comment, it was a really bad attempt at small talk. Should have just kept my mouth shut, instead of sticking my size 13 running shoe in it. But I really am a nice guy, not the jerk I came off to be. So if you see out running in the future, please don’t give me a shiner! 🙂

  • Jeff Vreeland

    Thank you for writing this post. I ran the last leg of the relay and passed you and Zach (trying to offer some encouragement). Because of runner getting into running we ran at the back of the pack as well. I was shocked to see so many tables empty. I was running fresh and tried to encourage as many marathon runners as I could but when I ran through an aid station that was closed, or watched a group tearing down their setup as marathon runners crawled through looking/needing encouragement it aggravated me. Hopefully next year it improves but it is a black eye on the Birmingham community.

    On a side note, major kuddos to Zach for finishing and not choking you to death on the course.

    • Tanya

      Thanks, Jeff! It was so great to meet you on the course, and even cooler than you helped out a friend and the other runners. I don’t think Z had enough energy to choke me by the end 😛

  • Everestgrant

    nice write up. As a back of the pack marathoner as well, I u set stand your pain. I know it sucks to stand in The rain yelling the same cheers over and over for 6 hours, especially on a loop course. However, I think as organizations commit to cheer squads and aid stations, they need to do a better job staggering their volunteers and shifts. Maybe the fine folks at Mercedes can offer that as a guideline next year. Congrats to you and Zac.

    • Tanya

      Thanks for reading!

      I totally agree – if you’re going to commit to a cheer station, create shifts so that volunteers don’t get too tired/bored/hungry/whatever and wander away before the last runner passes through…

  • Al DiMicco

    Hey Tanya – I guess pseudo snow days off are good days for bloggers to post about Mercedes (I put mine up today too). I’ve been in the back of the pack much more than you so maybe I see it from a different angle. It didn’t bother me as much as you that the “crowd” had dwindled (I was 5 minutes behind you). After a long day, enthusiasm has been drained from the stations, especially folks that don’t run. BUTS was amazing and so would you and me, because all of us have been on both sides of the fence. I’m pretty much focusing all my energy inwards late in the race and no “good job” is going to help. The ones that amaze me are the police. Good God, they stand in one place to stop traffic so I can WALK thru an intersection!!! Anyway, good post, good job, and glad you’re a good friend.

    • Tanya

      Man, had I known you were right behind us, we would have waited! Al stories would have been way more fun for Z to listen to than my “come on…come on…a little faster…”

      I hear you, standing still for hours and cheering can be boring, especially to a non-runner. But an entire station shouldn’t up and leave – they should at least keep *someone* there to cheer…

      And you’re right – the police rock! My favorite was the cop on the Forest Park/Avondale hill. He was super enthusiastic both times we ran by!

  • Jessica

    Thank you so much! I am training right now for my first half marathon. It will be my first race ever, and coming off of ACL tear that I was sure wouldn’t ever allow me to run. I KNOW I am going to be at the back of the pack, and instead of feeling like a loser, I am going to remind myself that I MATTER. Thanks!

    • Tanya

      AH! That’s so awesome, Jessica! Even more so since you didn’t think you’d be able to run. Don’t worry about time, the people around you, anything. Just go out there and love every single (eventually painful) step, and be your own cheerleader if no one else is around.

      Good luck!

  • Eric Thomas

    Read you article, great read. Unfortunately I was the jerk, who said what were you doing at the back at the pack 🙁 It turns out that was a really bad attempt at “small talk” on my part and I wasd just trying to be cordial. Anyway I sincerely apologize to you and all of your friends and your husband, the last thing I was trying to do was offend someone. Besides I was at the back of the pack myself pacing the 5 hour group and I thoroughly enjoyed it; no racing involved just conversing with new friends who have the same passion as myself. So I deserve that, and will humbly take all criticism and hope that this apology helps to make amends. Happy running!!!!

  • Tracy Eubanks

    Great read! Thanks for sharing. As the Admin for the facebook group Back Of The Pack, we all get where you are coming from. We definitely don’t think of ourselves as lesser of a runner. We celebrate being in the back and love every minute of it…even if that means no food, no awards, no spectators, and so on. It’s a party at the back of the pack! 🙂

  • Michelle Wales

    I totally understand your article!! My husband’s company Goodwin Mills had the tent passing out gummy bears and pickle juice at mile 23, right after the goo stop. My husband ran the full, and I ran a 6 mile leg. My 2 teenagers and a couple of my husband’s co-workers manned the tent. When I got done running, I headed back to the tent and handed out gummies and pickles! When my husband finished his 4:08 marathon, he came back to the tent to do the same! We gave the very last runner (who was behind the balloon lady by just a bit) gummies to get her to the end!!! Every runner matters and we would not pack up until we saw the balloon lady!! So look for us at the pickle juice tent! We promise to be there!!!

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