The Mid-Packer’s Lament
Middling runners of the world unite! Are you a member of the mid-pack? You may ask “How do I know?” Here’s a quick rule of thumb.
Posted Tuesday, 22 November, 2005
Look at the results of the last big local 5k that you ran. Throw out the top 10% of each age group. Then, throw out the slowest 10%. Are you still there? Then you’re one of us!
Welcome to the club. Welcome to the tribe. Welcome to the secret society of “serious, but average” runners who fill out the midsection of our sport.
Have you been with us long? Or are you just joining? I’ve got a life-time membership. Come on in and let me show you around. Come out for a run with us. We are a friendly and talkative bunch. We enjoy what we are doing. We laugh a lot. We laugh at ourselves and each other.
Our victories come in local triumphs over ourselves. We may not hang around to see who gets the trophies, because we know that we won’t. Only occasionally, through perseverance, luck or the vagaries of local demographics is one of our members accidentally thrust into the limelight.
You may find us clustered in the parking lot sharing a warm conversation or a cold beer. We will be taking turns recounting some exaggerated incident or racing tall-tail. You can join us. All you need to bring is your smile and your stories. We will take liberties with your geniality and rehash your race with you. We will add you to the human stew of our never ending running story.
We don’t own anything, nor do we act with any propriety. There is nothing to hide and no power to share. We are all threads of varying lengths and color in the common tapestry of shared experience. We have no membership rules, dues or application processes in the mid-pack. (Although there may be some hazing!) You don’t even have to run. All we ask is that you jump into the mélange of experience.
We are a varied group in the mid-pack. Our membership rolls contain the names of has-been’s, never-were’s and a few will-be’s.
Some of our members used to wear the laurel wreath in high school or college. They have since been demoted by age or injury to our ranks. In the middle corrals with the rest of us, they no longer break the tape. For the most part they have made peace. They have made the hard mental and physical transition. They are not sad or to be pitied. They hold onto their love of the sport through participation and interaction.
They are the sages, mentors and seasoned administrators of our company. They get joy from the rest of us and occasional glimpses of past glory out on the course. Perhaps it is out dueling a foe, a strong kick or a crafty move that keeps them coming back to run with us, even though they will not attain again the performances of their peak.
They share their experience with an easy smile that belies experience and an inner strength that whispers “If you only knew the things I’ve done.” They help the newbies with simple advice and caution. They don’t overbear; they shepherd, they assuage and parent.
Then there are those of us who have always been here. We may have competed in school, but even then we were in the fat part of the pack. The coaches had to fill out the rosters and we were there. We have big hearts but little inherited talent.
We train as hard as the others. We put in the lonely miles and suffer the hard training injuries with a determined stoicism. We tell great stories and laugh too loudly. We pay our way. We have shoe boxes full of bib numbers and finishers’ medals. We have all the professional gear and gewgaws like the elites. But, for all this, we seldom find ourselves on the platform, nor do we expect to.
We are the full time residents, the long time members of the mid-pack. If we were race horses we would have been rendered for glue and cheap dog food years ago. We are the proletariat of the sport. We are the economic engine, we are the assets, we are Das Kapital, and we are the means of production.
There are also new members always entering the mid-pack who have no prior experience with our sport. They are brought into the fold every day.
They get to a certain point in their lives and turn somehow to running. Maybe it starts as a resolution to get in shape or lose weight. Maybe the ravages of bourgeois careers and baby making have left them one belt loop or dress size beyond their tolerance. Their youth is no longer in the mirror and they wander to us looking for it. With us they discover a hidden hero – an inner athlete. We get to vicariously warm ourselves in the glow of their early successes and discovered joys. We celebrate their rapid progress.
We feed their growing desire.
We tell them the old stories that we’ve all heard before. How about that time we ran through the floods and hail? Wasn’t that goofy? And that time Bob tripped over the dog and took out the water stop table? Wasn’t that a hoot?
Like a homo sapiens tribe passing down its magic incantations and hunting-myths as they gorge on buffalo at the cave entrance, it’s our tribal knowledge and the races are our campfires that we huddle around for warmth. We help the new members of the mid-pack through their first follies of over training and injury. Our collective knowledge of injury and cure dwarfs the physician’s reference desk manual.
We also accept the wandering castoffs of other sports, other tribes. Ex-football, soccer, lacrosse, wrestlers and sprinters come to us with their damaged knees and want to run. They want to taste again the sweat of life in their mouths and feel the fire in their bellies. They add to the community pile with allusions of grandeur. They sweeten our soup with their experience.
The tribe gathers for races on misty mornings. We gather like a pile of unmatched socks. We are there to be stronger together. For the next 20 minutes or 4 hours we are part of something bigger. We are working cells in a larger organism. Without us it would be a sparse and different beast.
Our motley club of mid-pack fools has a collective competitiveness and joy that really makes no rational sense to the outside observer. But we know the secret handshake. We’ve all cracked the code. All we need is our burning lungs, aching legs and pounding hearts to tell us why.
At the end of the day there are no trophies in our hutch, but there is pride of accomplishment none the less. There is pride and self satisfaction in our hearts in such great heaps that it dwarfs us. It fuels our lives in ways that outsiders will never quite understand. It is the large stone dropped in the center of our pool that sends ripples to the edges.
This is the mid-packer’s lament. We are working class heroes in our own dramas. We are mythic stars of our own sagas. We have taken a lover that will never fully satisfy us, but that we cannot leave.
I salute you my friends. The next time you are standing in the middle of the pack at the starting line, turn and talk to those about you. Smile and say, “Thanks for coming out today. Without you all we wouldn’t have a race. You look great! We are going to have some fun!”
We’ll smile back and tell you an old story about this race that may make you laugh.
Cool Running Note:
Chris has just finished writing his first book. The Mid-Packer’s Lament is a series of short stories on long distance running, racing and the human comedy inherent in all sports enthusiasts, but prevalent in the mid-pack. This is a book for runners and wannabe runners. There are stories about training, eating, special places and special races. There are stories about the accidental athlete in all of us and the stupid things we do for even amateur endeavors. Whether you are a weekend mid-pack runner or a competitive club runner, you’ll find something thought provoking and amusing that you can relate to in the Mid-Packer’s Lament. Cool Running encourages you to buy the book and it would make a great stocking stuffer. It can be ordered directly from http://www.booksurge.com/product.php3?bookID=GPUB04148-00001