What I have learned from Back-of-the-Packers (i.e. I have the greatest job in the world)

DreamFar is a inner city group that trains for
road races in hopes to keep kids off the streets
and away from drugs.

We just returned from upstate NY for a 5k, 10k and half marathon at a casino.  This is always a tough race to execute due to the distance – we work crazy hours cramming a week’s worth of work into 3 days, (we enjoy the casino nightlife), get up at 3:30am and produce the race, then drive the 5 hours home and unload the trucks at 9pm at night.  We are all beat by the end as it is always a very physical job.  But this year it was all worth it.

This year, we had a woman in the half marathon who was amazing to me.  We have a time cut off with our races as we do need to open roads back up, let our volunteers go home and allow the community to get back to their business of the day.  We knew this woman wasn’t going to be able to make that cut off.  But as the sag vehicle trailed right behind her all day, she never gave up.  This woman could have gotten in our truck at any time (it was right behind her, taunting her even…..) and had a ride back to the finish.  Even when I talked to her about how we had to pull up the cones and wasn’t sure we would be able to keep up the finish arch, she wanted to finish the race she started.  Her tenacity and will power was inspiring to me.  She finished that race, under police escort, on her own and under that finish line arch – she never gave up.

This woman had been in Boston during the bombing and had
been diverted before the finish.
She was able to finish her marathon with us and she was so moved.

As a race director, we often talk to the back of the packers that are not going to make the cutoff times – 95% of them do not want the ride back, they WANT to finish, even on their own.  The few people that ask for the ride back are in pain and often in tears.  We hear such amazing stories as to why crossing that line is so important to them.  It may be they are running for someone who no longer can, they have battled disease or abuse (mental or physical), they have this life long goal they need to achieve, they want to prove to their family that they can, for their own self-esteem – everyone has a story when they toe that start line.  Because running 13.1 or 26.2 miles is HARD – but that battle is mostly mental.

When you direct a race, you throw a lot of balls in the air and hope they all come down at the right time.  Most of the time, they do not – nothing ever goes as planned.  But when I start to get overwhelmed during the race about what is going wrong (I am a perfectionist so I don’t want ANYTHING to go wrong) – I take a moment and I stand at the finish line and I watch everything that has gone right.  All those stories come to fruition at the finish line – tears of joy, of pain, of self fulfillment, of goals being attained and life long dreams are satisfied.  A finish line of a race is truly the happiest place on earth.

And in some small way, I helped them achieve that.  So for me – I have the greatest job in the world.

 
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2 thoughts on “What I have learned from Back-of-the-Packers (i.e. I have the greatest job in the world)

  1. Susan, Every time I get those discouraging feelings about running (age, slower times, lack of motivation, RIRR newsletters that show me finishing last among the members, etc.) I re-read this post. I’m becoming closer to the back of the pack every race. It happens. This is an inspiration. Thank you one more time for all you do for us runners in Rhode Island. You and your team do such an outstanding job producing great races. Next for me is the “Wine Run,” where I’m guaranteed a PR due to the unique distance! I’m one of those people who rarely do races in Newport County due to the other race production company there, in whose races I refuse to participate. Thank you again for being honest, ethical, and terrific at what you do… even for those of us who never finish in time to see the finishing medals being awarded.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Bruce! I am blushing. I learn new lessons each time I do a race. I was actually using these experiences of mine with those “back of the packers” as a life lesson for my 19 y/o son who thinks he will always be young, fit, healthy and blessed. Everyone has a story and when one of our participants shares theirs as to why they run, it is so humbling. We are all lucky to be able to run – no matter how far or fast! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Cliche but true.

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