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The View from the Back of the Pack: Who’s Who

I want to welcome one of our new Endurance Buzz contributors, Shelly Diaz of Texas! Shelly began running on the trails one year ago and has found a home on the dirt and in the trail community. She doesn’t take the sport or life too seriously and puts a focus on the fun.

Enjoy and Shelly shares her first article from her Tales from the Back of the Pack series – Who’s Who.


shellyd_eb100I’ve been a trail runner for about a year now and have learned many things about this curious sport. One of the best things about it is the people. Trail runners are a unique breed. A wide array of personalities and abilities. We come together to get dirty, run ridiculous distances, and mainly, have a great time. But, even as we unite, there are some noticeable distinctions among us.

What I have come to know as our “place in the pack” can be broken down into three groups:

  • Front of the Pack
  • Mid-Packers
  • Back of the Pack

The Front of the Pack are the rock stars of the trail. These gods and goddesses glide effortlessly through the trail, their sinewy muscles glistening. They always compete in the longer distances of any given race and speak in trail lingo about the 100s they have completed or are training for. As they eloquently quote Scott Jurek, they breeze across the finish line in record time looking like they should be on the cover of TrailRunner magazine.

Mid-packers are, what I consider, the more sensible members of the tribe. These runners actually care about things like splits and speed training. They let injuries completely heal before they run again. Meticulous planners, they rely on things like proper hydration and nutrition to get them to the finish line. They follow their ranking percentages with eagle eyes (You know, that obscure number that Ultrasignup assigns us all.) and enjoy imparting their wisdom about everything. Every. Single. Little. Thing.

Then, we have the Back of the Pack. If you haven’t guessed by now, this is where I fall. From this place in the pack, I have observed some interesting personalities. For those of you at the front or middle, I would like to introduce these lovable characters.

Who is at the Back of the Pack?

The Newbie – Eager to run their first trail race, these guys show up in brand new, matching running clothes, complete with new running shoes (not always trail shoes). Many are road runners, curious about the trails. Some have never even run on a trail before. The race starts and they soon find they are sucking wind at the back of the pack, thinking they should have slept in. They tend to fall a lot, not used to watching out for roots and rocks. Some of them are crazy enough to return.

The Chit-Chatters – I am amazed by this group. They can hold full conversations, while running, for the entire race. Usually racing with a friend, they travel in pairs. Bits and pieces of repartee can be heard as they wind through the course.

“And then she said…he didn’t call me…my brother-in-law…”

While I admire their vocal stamina, I always seem to get stuck right in front of or behind them. I have found this tends to make me run a little faster so that they may enjoy a more private conversation without my listening ears.

The Easily Distracted – This group reminds me of the dog, Doug, from the movie Up. Squirrel! Squirrel!

They stop often to snap photographs of scenery or animals. At the aid stations, they take their sweet time trying to decide if they want M&Ms or pb&j or maybe, just fruit. They are constantly adjusting their shoelaces or handhelds. These are the folks who frequently get lost, not noticing trail markers while making a detour to chase down a rabbit. Lucky for them, they are happy-go-lucky enough not to mind coming in towards the back.

The Running as Hard as they Can and Getting Nowhere – I fall somewhere between this and the Easily Distracted. I work as hard as I can, huffing and puffing my way through the trail and then, Oh, look! A bunny! I continue down the trail at what feels like breakneck speed when my shoe starts to feel funny. I stop to make an adjustment. Imagine my dismay when I get to the first aid station after an hour. I just knew that was 30 minutes!

The Walkers – These folks simply want to have a stroll on the trail. As you wish them a good race they reply with, “Oh, I’m just a walker” and give you a sparkling smile. They look as though they are barely breaking a sweat as they beat me. Every time.

The Poor Planners – On a whim, they sign up for the race at the last minute thinking that a week is plenty of time to train. They arrive at the start, with seconds to spare, arriving too late to hear the race announcements. They have always forgotten something-like socks, eating breakfast, and/or filling their handheld. They will almost certainly get lost because of missing out on vital info about the course.

My attitude about being at the back of the pack can be summed up by a quote from Eric Orton in Chris McDougall’s Born to Run. As the inaugural Caballo Ultra is about to start he advises Chris, “Look, I have some bad news. You’re not going to win. No matter what you do, you are going to be out there all day. So you might as well just relax, take your time, and enjoy it. Keep this in mind-if it feels like work, you’re working too hard.”

We may not be the fastest or the most prepared or most talented group of rag tag runners, but we are enjoying the trail and having a great time.

And that’s my view from the Back of the Pack.

– Shelly Diaz

About the author

Shelly Diaz Shelly began trail running with her husband in 2012. Shelly feels she has found a home on the trails and in the trail running community. She likes to keep a positive attitude and try not to take life too seriously. For more information on Shelly, check out the About page.

4 Responses to “The View from the Back of the Pack: Who’s Who”

  1. on 15 Jul 2013 at 2:28 pm olga

    Loved it!
    And I can assure you, in front and mid-pack those categories exist as well:)

  2. on 15 Jul 2013 at 2:57 pm Steve

    I think I have fit all of your categories at some time, the only exception being that I don’t think my clothes have ever matched. Great writing Shelly!

  3. on 15 Jul 2013 at 5:54 pm Peggy

    As a Back of the Pack, Mid-Pack wanna-be – loved your article. I have been accused of taking way to many pics at races, but that’s the fun for me!

  4. on 14 Aug 2013 at 8:54 pm Perky

    EXCELLENT, Shelly! That is all so true. See you at the back, snapping pictures and laughing.