Updated: Jan 1, 2020
At Runnovation, our vision is to motivate and promote a healthy lifestyle and mindset through achievement in sport. We think achievement could be anything in any sport - from someone who is trying a new sport or distance for the first time, right through to the seasoned athlete striving for a new personal best. We are strong believers in inclusivity in sport. We generally also like to keep our blog posts about awesome things or people but we felt like we really needed to get something off our chest today, so here we are.
The team at Runnovation mostly enjoy running as their sport of choice to be more heavily involved in, although we do enjoy a variety of things to keep ourselves fit and healthy. Among the team we have some back of the pack runners, as well as runners who are front/mid pack runners. In support of our team members who are back of the pack runners, we wanted to do a blog entry to shed some light on the way that back of the pack runners can be treated, particularly at organised running events.
We have no doubt that you all would have read a lot about the treatment of back of the pack runners at the London Marathon this year - it was heavily publicised along with numerous instances of photographic and video footage being distributed online. We saw it and were pretty horrified and thought to ourselves that we were thankful that we do not have that sort of culture in the running community in Australia. We appear to have been wrong.
In the aftermath of that London Marathon investigation, we have seen several accounts from back of the pack runners who have participated in running events in Western Australia who have had sub-standard experiences. We thought we were lucky that this had not happened to anyone in our team and then a member of our team had a very sub-standard experience as a back of the pack runner at a recent running event in Western Australia.
Now, we are not going to name and shame particular organisations in this blog post but we do hope that the events committees of large running organisations at least in Western Australia - if not Australia wide - see this and try the steps below to make their events more inclusive for runners of all abilities.
Encourage a culture in your running organisation where back of the pack runners are celebrated and respected. Many of these runners overcome a lot of personal struggles to continue to pursue running and complete hours of grueling training (similar to runners of other abilities) and so the completion of their goals deserves the same amount of recognition and celebration.
Give back of the pack runners the same experience as other runners in your event. These runners are paying the same entry fees to participate and therefore should receive the same on course support, finishing crowd and any finishing merchandise that is being offered as part of the race entry. This includes making sure that you order enough finishing medals (if included) and a variety of sizes of merchandise - athletes come in all shapes and sizes. If you have an event photographer ensure that you have enough photographers, or have a package generous enough to ensure that all runners are photographed. This is not only better for your bottom line but increases the visibility and accessibility of the sport to a wider section of the community.
Set and advertise reasonable cut off times and stick to them. This means that volunteers/crew for events should not leave their stations before the designated cut off time for the event - the most vital of which are marshals and volunteers at aid stations! Many athletes rely on these aid stations for their hydration and nutrition needs and it is dangerous in long distance events for these crew members to leave early. It is particularly unhelpful to a back of the pack runner who may be worried about a cut off time to go off course because marshals have decided to leave early! Additionally, keep your course together until either the cut off time, or the last runner comes through the finishing chute. There is nothing worse than running a course that is either non-existent or is being dismantled around you.
Include pacers for a wide range of times to finish. Too often at events there are pacers only offered until a particular point - usually for front of the pack or mid pack runners. To be more inclusive include individuals who can offer a pacing experience for those who typically run at the back of the pack to enhance their experience and help them with personal bests.
Do not go out of your way to tell the final runner that they came in last. For many back of the pack runners we speak to, their only goal during an event is not to come in last. For individuals who do place last do not go out of your way to point it out to them. You may get some back of the pack runners who do not care about placement and only care about personal performance but for others even if they had a great run, this piece of information would be enough to ruin their entire experience. Be sensitive and respectful.
We have witnessed some really wonderful encouragement at events for back of the pack runners from other runners, or from volunteers. We think it is common courtesy that this same sentiment should be echoed with the organisation of running events. Let's all work together on making our sports as accessible and inclusive as we can so that everyday Australians can feel positive and supported in achieving their fitness goals.