Back of the Pack

A few months ago I fell into a running challenge. Run a 5k each month for a year. I have run 5ks and finished a half marathon but taking care of myself and being fit has been a long time struggle for me. After running two 5ks in consecutive months at the end of the summer, I decided to keep it going in hopes that the challenge would keep me moving through a dark, cold, icy Maine winter.

This morning it was gray with a relatively warm temperature of 30 degrees. A few friends and I bundled up and headed to the start all relieved that there was no chilling wind blowing off the water. I made my way past the lithe speedy runners at the front of the pack. They were all warmed up, stretched bouncing up and down waiting for the start probably with visions of split times and PRs running through their heads.

We made our way to the back of the pack. The people in the back are my people. We are all there to finish. I look around and know everyone has different challenges and different goals. But, for this morning we all come together at the start.

The view from the back of the pack.

The view from the back of the pack.

As the race starts the pack trots off down the streets of Portland. As the crowd thins out I enjoy the view of what the city has to offer. People cheer all the runners on. One of the advantages of going slow is that I get to enjoy a view of the city I miss when I am driving through. As I begin the climb up the long hill of the Eastern Prom, the front-runners are heading down. I admire their speed and athleticism. They will likely be done before I am barely past the first mile.

The race moves on and the pack has thinned way out to a trickle of runners… well really joggers and walkers. The smiling flaggers keep calling out encouragement and I thank them for coming out.

At this point, I have been out for a while and my mind wanders to my students. I think about my back of the pack readers (this would be where my students would roll their eyes and say “Your stories always relate to reading!). The ones whose reading progress is painfully slow. Most keep plugging away even though it isn’t easy for them and/or their habits aren’t very strong.

To be honest, I feel discouraged about these readers whose progress is so slow. I keep reflecting and thinking how can I get them moving? The flaggers remind me that I need to keep being positive to my core. If my back of the pack readers sensed my frustration they might give up. It would be like if the flaggers near the end of the race were looking at their watches and sighing into their coffee clearly anxious to go home. It would have likely caused me to abandon the race and just walk back to the car. I need to remember to keep cheering on my readers and pointing them in the right direction through my teaching.

As I head to the finish line the crowd gets louder. People clap and cheer for all runners, loud music plays and the announcer calls out names of finishers. My friends are there, yelling encouragement saying, “GO! GO! GO!” I see the clock and one last push gets me over the finish line just under my time goal.

I finished. The race was a success. Spring is around the corner and I am looking forward to building more stamina and getting a little faster. As I move into the last trimester of the school year I look forward to cheering on all of my readers as they make their way towards their reading goals.

The finish!

The finish!



  1. How touching…to compare ending the race with cheers instead of someone looking impatient and wanting to leave. We all need the positive strokes along our journeys….and you expressed it well. Your students are fortunate that you realize the need to cheer them on and not show your frustration. Wonderful. Jackie

  2. Bravo. In my 20s running brought me back to exercise. I didn’t run in races but I loved getting my shoes on and getting out there for the challenge. I have a few friends who have been running in races. So cool and welcome to the March marathon as well.

  3. This is a wonderful reminder! Finishing and persevering is the goal. Remembering the times I am at the back of the pack is an excellent way to build stamina and inspire “slower” learners.

  4. Good for you! Not everyone has to, or can be, first in everything he or she does. Even if you are last, you came in ahead of everyone who did not participate that day. We all need to jump in and do things just to do them, not to be first. Good for you!

  5. I really learned a lot from this. I’m plagued by wanting to go fast and be fast and finish better than last time. I’m proud that I can fun quickly BUT running a race isn’t about enjoying the scenery or the people around me, and I think I could learn a lot from slowing down and taking in some of these things. Thanks for the reminder of the great views from the back of the pack!

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