Heart at the Back of the Pack

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of those in the “back of the pack” isn’t hard to do, and it’s well worth the effort.

One of the favorite parts of my job as the IT director of the Chicago Marathon was being at the finish line. I had a prime post, as timing and scoring fell under my role, along with the honor of facilitating certification for three world marathon records during the time I worked on the event (1997–2003). I also was there as the last finishers crossed the line.

Which is more memorable? The world records are something I’ll always be proud to have a small part in, but the joy on the faces of those final runners as they reach the 26.2-mile goal is unforgettable. While the crowds in the grandstands may have gone home, the energy was just as abundant as when Khalid Khannouchi or Paula Radcliffe finished first.

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of those in the “back of the pack” isn’t hard to do, and it’s well worth the effort. Many of these runners and walkers are new to the sport and have a circle of supportive friends and family who could be inspired to join in and become your future participants or volunteers.

Of course, every event organizer wants to create a fantastic race experience for all participants. Here are a few things to consider when focusing on the back of the pack.

  • If your event has a strict finish time due to the course and arrangements with the town or city, make sure you deliver that message up front and include it on the first page of the online registration form. This will help manage expectations and avoid the disappointment of registered participants who may not make the cut-off.
  • Have enough water, post-event refreshments, and giveaways for everyone. No event organizer wants the added expense or hassle of leftover items, but place importance on providing the perks to all registered participants.
  • Deliver on-course support to everyone. Talk with the leader at the hydration or aid station ahead of time. It might make sense to start breaking down a station once the majority of participants have gone by, but pre-arrange to have a few volunteers dedicated to handing out water or fluids and cheering until the last participant has passed.
  • Keep the music at the finish line going strong until the last participant has crossed the finish line. Encourage everyone to stay and cheer fellow participants.
  • Ask your event photographer(s) to stay until the end. It seems the smiles on finishers’ faces get brighter as the finish line clock ticks on. Your favorite race photo could very well come from one of the last shots of the day.

So don’t forget about the back-of-the-pack. I’m not saying that just because that’s where you’ll find me these days. Embrace the emotion and energy you feel at the finish line long after your top finishers have gone for their cool-down, and you’ll find yourself with an event that has more heart.

Do you do anything particular to support the last finishers?  Tell us about it.


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