runDisney Perspectives: From the Back of the Pack

I was having a chat with another runDisney addict, Amanda Bond, who’s run just about every runDisney race there is.  Amanda1

We got onto the subject of how different the race experience is for a runner who is starting in the back corrals to one who is a bit faster and is starting up in the front corrals.

I’ve been lucky enough to have fairly high corral placements in all my runDisney races and have rarely experienced serious crowding issues or excessive lines for characters.  I remember running my first Princess Half and starting in Corral B and being able to run through the Castle and waiting only about three minutes to get my picture taken with the Pirates.  Then I got back home and read stories of having to shuffle through the castle, shoulder to shoulder and getting in narrow areas where runners couldn’t even do their run intervals because it was so crowded and huge lines for characters.  It felt like they’d run an entirely different race than I’d run.

slowerrunnerrunDisneyAmanda agreed to write up a guest post about her experiences running runDisney from the back corrals.  I think it’s a great read and I’m grateful to her for sharing.  It should be helpful to know what to expect from your race if your pace is closer to the course limit pace.

My view from the back of the pack.

I’m a relatively slower runner.  My current PR for a half marathon is a 3:19, so about 15:10/mile.  I enjoy running half marathons – really I do – but the half marathon experience differs significantly for runners at the front of the pack or even the middle of the pack vs. runners at the back of the pack. My husband runs Goofy and Dopey, and his half marathon PR is a 2:09 – a far cry from my time – so we’ll often compare notes after a race and he’ll talk about the excellent support and the cool towel or gizmo that they were handing out at the finish.  I, however, sometimes find water stations shutting down around me and I never saw hide nor hair of any cool towel or gizmo.  Some races are better than others at support all the way through the half for even the slowest of runners, and April asked me to provide a view, as it were, from the back of the pack where I seem to be solidly rooted.  So here it is: the good, the bad, and the inevitable.   I’ve run most all of the Disney races, and the ones I haven’t run are the ones I’ve gone to with my hubs so I’ve seen them all.  I’ve also done a lot of local 5ks, 10ks, and a few local half marathons.  I’ve been running since about 2009 off and on, and to date I’ve completed about a dozen half marathons (half of them just in 2014!), a ten miler (hello Tower of Terror), and scores of 5ks and 10ks.

The Typical Back-of-the-Pack Experience

Generally, in the back, you find the run-walkers or power-walkers (some of whom put me to shame with their speed).  I do the Galloway method and do run/walk intervals, so I fall into the run-walk camp.  You also tend to find the runners who have never run a half distance before – either they really are speedy but didn’t have proof of time to submit so they’re in the back corrals with you, or this is their first attempt so they don’t have speed yet. This is also where you find people who are injured, or went out too fast and have had to slow down.  So, you have people stopping, starting, slowing down, speeding up, walking, and then running.  It gets a little busy in the back, whereas at the front when people run a steady pace, the whole pack moves mostly as one.  So I typically have an extra one-tenth to three-quarters of a mile on my GPS from all my darting and weaving.  That is, of course, assuming there’s even room to dart and weave – a narrow course for the back of the pack is a dangerous thing, and you will find yourself forced to a walk in the more crowded and more congested races (cough*Princess Half Marathon*cough).  Those new runners at the back, however, are also often new runners who haven’t read excellent race etiquette yet indicating that you shouldn’t stop at a water stop and you shouldn’t run/walk/skip/hop/etc. more than two abreast.  They’re friends doing a girls’ weekend or are part of a club, and they’re going to do the race stuck in a little clump of three to ten women, making the necessary leap-frogging almost impossible to do without playing a nasty game of Red Rover every sixty seconds.  And Lord help you at a water stop.  Here’s a pro tip:  if you haven’t run a half marathon yet, or any race for that matter, go google “race etiquette”.  It will make EVERYONE’s race more enjoyable if you do, especially at the back of the pack where you’re ten times more likely to hit someone with that snot rocket (assuming you do that sort of thing), and where, if you’re ready for a walk break, give the folks behind you some kind of a warning so that they don’t slam into you when you stop.

runDisney from the Back of the Pack

Running at Disney for their events is a great option for slower runners and/or first-time half marathoners – they will keep the course open for all three hours and thirty minutes (an approximate16:00/mile pace), and the water stops will stay open that long, as well.  They won’t run out of water (or Gu, or Powerade, or whatever), either.  The last finishers always get fireworks just like the first finisher does, and Disney will never run out of medals (though they have run out of sponsored “freebies” on me like some free wine from Wine & Dine).  The Balloon Ladies, two of whom I happen to have the pleasure of running with every week in my local running group, are also at the back of the pack working as runDisney’s official pace-keepers, and they’re a hoot when I run with them (though luckily, I haven’t seen them yet during a race).  You also will be in very good company if you’re a slower runner at a runDisney event.  I’ve been dangerously close to dead last finish several times while being well under the 16:00/pace advertised by local races (I was only a few from the back for one race that had an 18:00/mile pace!).  Because of the ENORMOUS amount of runners for any given runDisney event, you’re likely not going to be in the back by yourself, which is great.  On Disney courses, too, us slower runners tend to enjoy the course scenery for much longer, so runDisney has the most interesting things to look at for long stretches of minutes.

But you know that hefty price tag you paid for the runDisney event?  It includes time in the parks, on-course characters and even (for Wine & Dine and Tower of Terror 10-miler) an after-party.  Here’s the harsh truth for a back-of-the-packer, however:  You won’t get to see much if any of those fun treats.  Imagine this scenario:  Wine and Dine half in 2013 had corrals A (< 1:48) through L ( > 3:15), after the elite corral.  A runner that does a 10 minute mile will finish the course in about 2 hours and 11 minutes – they start in Corral E.  A runner that (like me) does a 15 minute mile will finish the course in about three hours and 15 minutes – they will start in Corral L.  The corrals at Disney go in waves, with 2 – 3 minutes between the earlier corrals and 5 – 7 minutes between the later corrals. For argument’s sake let’s use 4 minutes between corrals as an average.  If the gun goes off at 10pm, Corral E is looking at a 10:24pm start, for a 12:35am finish.  With Epcot being open until 3am, that gives Speedy Runner two and a half hours to get through the finisher chute, get her medal, get a heat sheet and a banana and some water, FINALLY visit the bathroom, and hang around with people.  She has also finished in front of about 60% of the other 14,500 runners, so she isn’t fighting the crowds to pop into Mexico and get a margarita.  Now imagine Slower Runner.  She starts in Corral L at 10:48pm, for a 2:03am finish.  She has just enough time to get through the finisher’s chute to get her medal and finally pee and… be confronted by 90% of her fellow runners crowded en masse in Epcot, if they aren’t already leaving the park, because Slower Runner has less than an hour and twice the crowds to contend with to enjoy Epcot at all.  Even if it’s not a night race, if you’re a back-of-the-packer and you’re hoping for photos with Pirates and Princesses during your run, be prepared for long lines because 90% of your runner buddies got there before you did (another pro-tip:  If your’e going to take photos during a race, please take your camera out BEFORE you get to the photo spot so that you’re ready to go or someone who is taking your photo can take the photo and keep on runnin’).  So, if you don’t know who’s out there, pick one or two characters that you REALLY want to get a photo with and look specifically for them if you’re in danger of being swept.  The same characters go the same spots just about every year, so you can find one of the excellent race recaps available and scout it out that way.  Amanda3

But what about being slow at a local race?

Local races aren’t to be avoided if you’re a slower runner – they just need a little more preparation than a runDisney event, just in case.  I was third from the back in a 10k last year where I ran at a 13:30 pace.  At a runDisney event, that would have had me solidly in the pack.  I received my first Dead Last Finish a few weeks ago when I did a (baking hot) 10k at a 14:20 – it can get mighty lonely in the back of the smaller-field races. You typically won’t deal with course crowding, however, or weave around quite so many people.  For local races, however, I do always bring my own handheld water supply – I’ve had courses run out of water, run out of cups, and just shut up shop before I arrived, so I always bring backup.  Often, local races can start late if they don’t have the same organization as a large and experienced race director, and the city roads will have to open up at a certain time regardless of when the race actually started, so you may lose support if you’re cutting it close, or the finish line could be packed up and gone.  One important note is about safety – I’ve been on several local half marathon courses where I’m back in a neighborhood or in a park somewhere, and nobody can see me, and I can’t see anybody. If I fell or otherwise was injured I’d have to hope that someone would find me, seeing as how I was the back of the pack.  At Disney events, there are so many other runners and bicyclists along the entire course to ensure that anybody who needs medical help can get it quickly.  So, on local races, I always always always bring my phone with me, and I don’t use it to track myself so that I can make sure I keep a good battery on my phone (I use my TomTom Runner watch for GPS pace and time).  If you’re looking for a good local half marathon that won’t leave the slower runners high-and-dry, contact the race director and ask them how long the volunteers will be out, when the roads close, and what to expect.  Even if the race director won’t answer, go on the race’s Facebook page – runners will always help another runner, and someone who’s done the race before will be more than happy to help you out.

It isn’t the end of the world to be a slower runner and hold court at the back of the pack, it just changes the race experience for us somewhat. But hey – at least we’re getting our money’s worth out of the scenery!

Thanks Amanda for this great write-up. While I truly believe this statement:


I think it is important to recognize that the experience is different for runners of different paces.   If you tend to be a back of the packer, did this article resonate with you?  What would you like to tell other runners or new runners?

Thanks again, Amanda, for your great guest post!


runDisney Perspectives: From the Back of the Pack — 32 Comments

  1. What a great post! I’m pretty much a back-of-the-packer, too . I’ve never had an issue with water stops closing or anything like that, but I have crossed a finish line with pretty much no one paying attention. That’s never fun. Every runner should get a cheer when they cross the finish line!
    Diana recently posted…Oh, Right, I Ran A RaceMy Profile

    • That’s a great thing about runDisney, everyone gets cheers from first to last!

  2. Great read! It’s such a different race in the back of the pack! I’ve done a couple with friends and it’s tough being out there longer then others. Disney races it’s a whole different world from the front to the back! Thanks for a great perspective!

    • I’m so glad Amanda shared her perspective. I know that when I ran Tink and was out there for more than three hours it was just so tough mentally to keep going! I think it’s actually harder for slower runners/walkers just because of the fortitude it takes to be out there longer!

    • Amanda did an awesome job sharing her experiences!

  3. Yes, I love this! It’s an awesome post. I’ve taken a couple DLF, but it’s always better than DNF or even worse DNS! I’m learning to cope with my back of the packness, and hoping I’ll eventually get faster!
    Lauren recently posted…Liebster Award!My Profile

    • I think everyone that gets to the start line has accomplished something that most people don’t. And finishing first or last is still a finish and something to be proud of!

    • I love the way she described her experiences and perspective! 🙂 My first marathon will certainly be at Disney too!

  4. This made me laugh. “They’re friends doing a girls’ weekend or are part of a club, and they’re going to do the race stuck in a little clump of three to ten women” It shouldn’t have been funny, but it is because you’re right. No amount of people strafing these groups will make them break up.
    I did Disneyland last year with some friends who were doing their very first half. I started near the back of the last corral with them, one of whom was injured, and it was a very different experience than starting where I usually start. We got to take maybe three photos in the park, none of which had lines. There just wasn’t time after starting so late. By contrast, when I do Tinkerbell with my other runner friends, we make it a point to stop for every single photo op we see. We’re often sprinting for our lives to make the first cut point, but we can do it because we start in an earlier corral. The other problem with Disney is that as soon as you step off to take a picture, you get behind the big groups and the walkers and it’s hard to regain your momentum. There’s a place for everyone, but I feel like Disney needs to rethink things for their back-of-packers. Everyone should be able to have the experience they paid for.
    Jen recently posted…Planning SeattleMy Profile

    • I think runDisney does a better job for the back of the pack than most other races (don’t run out of medals or water or shut down the finish line), but maybe the later corrals should be smaller or spread out more with the course kept open longer to help with the crowding. And the after party issue is something I’d never thought about. If you’re starting a full hour after the first corral and taking two hours longer to finish, you’ve just lost three hours of after-party…

  5. Really appreciated this post. I’m a middle of the pack runner (at runDisney events… at other events I find myself more BotP) and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to run through the castle either. I long for one of those pictures where I’m flying through there but I guess it’s just not meant to be! 😉 For the runDisney races, I look at them as a treat for all the hard work that I’ve put in through the year to just to it all in and think, “well isn’t this NICE!” 🙂
    Mer @ ScootaDoot recently posted…Failing to succeedMy Profile

    • Glad you liked it, I’m so grateful to Amanda for sharing! 🙂

    • Event though I’ve been speeding up, I still check the prior year race results before I’ll sign up for a local race. I’ve been close to DFL with a 10 minute mile pace locally. It shouldn’t matter, but I feel more comfortable signing up for races where there’s a wider range of paces (which is one of the many reasons I love runDisney).

  6. That’s a great write-up and SO true! My last two races I’ve experienced the vendors being packed up and gone by the time I finished. It’s a little disheartening that they can’t bother waiting so everyone gets something. It’s not like they’ve been out there running for 3 hours. I volunteered at a marathon water stop on Sunday and our group (at mile 15) made sure and waited a good 15-20 minutes from the time we saw the last person come through before closing up shop.
    Courtney @ Don’t Blink. Just Run. recently posted…BoldrDash Beach Race RecapMy Profile

    • I cannot imagine having the vendors gone by the finish. Even at our local speedy races, they wait to do the awards ceremonies until the very last runner/walker finishes. Good job making a difference as a volunteer and making sure no one gets left without support!!

  7. I’m a back-of-the-pack runner (although I was fortunate enough to get a good corral for 2014 PHM). I’ve been last, or close to, in local 10ks.

    My favorite distance is a half marathon, I think because I feel like the commitment and effort of running 13.1 miles “excuses” my slower pace. I especially like it when there’s a full offered the same day, so I can be sure that at least some people will be finishing after me (even if I feel slightly ashamed that people running twice as far as I am can finish before me).

    I always feel slightly embarrassed by my slow 5k time…not to mention that, even in a half marathon, the first 5k isn’t my favorite part (I don’t get past the “why do I like this again?” feeling until the second 5k or so). And for some reason, 10k’s seem to be the most intense distance, with a much less fun atmosphere than 5k’s and halfs. Maybe because it’s too intimidating a distance for a newbie runner/walker (or someone who just wants to support a cause), but still short enough that experienced runners think it should be fast? Although I’ve only ever done smaller, local 10ks, so maybe that’s the problem.

    Anyhow, as long as the weather’s good, I’d run a half marathon every weekend if I could. I love having a few hours where I don’t worry or even think about the rest of what is going on in my life, and I love that it ends with the glow of pride in my accomplishment…and a shiny new medal.

    • An early corral makes a huge difference in your race experience at runDisney for sure. I like half marathons, but even after finishing six, they intimidate me a bit. Right now the 10k is my favorite distance, maybe because I know it “counts” for corral placement and probably because we don’t have many around here so it feels “special”. It’s just long enough that I get past the “I hate running” first couple of miles but not so long that I get to “when do I get to quit this torture” stage… Maybe that’s just me!

  8. I am a back of the pack gal myself so I SO LOVED this post… it is a different world, but I always say its the back of the pack gang that have to work hard to make it through & we support each other there. The front, its all business… back? We’re laughing, getting to meet each other, cheering each other one…its not so bad back there 🙂
    Rebecca Jo recently posted…The heat already sitting in….My Profile

    • Amanda did a great job! I’m so glad you loved her post! 🙂

  9. What a great post, and a very thorough review of thoughts as well! I had never thought about how the back of the packers weren’t necessarily able to enjoy after-partys for the nighttime runDisney races. That would make me feel like I definitely was not getting my money’s worth. I have been fortunate to be in Corrals A and B for the Disney races I’ve done so I have been able to enjoy the general flow of the race without crowding. I wish there was something Disney could do to help the back of the packers. Maybe an earlier start time or even a later end to the after-party?

    • I like the idea of an earlier start time to spread the corrals out a bit more. Maybe the way they’ve made the front corrals smaller could be spread to the back corrals too. And keep that after party going until 5am! Let everyone have fun!!

  10. You look so great and happy in your photos. I actually want my sister to sign up with me on Disney run – specifically the princess one so we can wear tutus HAHA

    I’ve never ran in a group before. I’m more of a lone runner so I don’t have to slow down the group nor do I have to wait around. I should try group runs though and see how I like it.

    • Don’t feel like you can only wear tutus at Princess! I’ve seen people in tutus at all the runDisney races!

  11. Great post. I’m a back of the pack walker and have done at least one each of the runDisney halfs and a ten miler (two 10ks and a 5k too). I’ve had similar experiences and your points about the after party aspect are dead on. One experience I’ve had different…the running out of gels. At least two of the Disneyland halfs were out of Clif Shots by the time I got there. I think it’s because the volunteers are generous and people take more than one. I’ve learned to prepare and bring my own just in case.

    Also did the race retreat after the marathon relay….great for my teammate who had 3.5 hours to kill while I did my leg, not great for me as I arrived just as they were taking away lunch!

  12. The back of the pack is very different. I have run 2 Disney races where they ran out of water. At the finish on one(had to buy water from the vendors), and halfway through on the second. Really? I ‘ve also finished races where the awards were over and there were very few people left. I had one race where they ran out of medals and we had to wait for someone to go and find another box of them. Most of my races have been good, but they all tend to ignore or overlook the back of the packers at the end of the race. No one there to cheer you on, very little food left, everything being shut down. Biggest gripe, baby buggies (yes, they were on the course) and groups running/walking 5 abreast. Very hard to get around. The race is the same distance from start to finish whether you start in row 1 or in corral L. It just takes a little longer from corral L. Respect the back the same as you respect the front.

  13. GREAT post and oh so true! It’s crazy how different a local race is from a runDisney race. I am spoiled being a slower runner at local races- all that ROOM!!! haha :)- but at RunDisney, the crowds are super frustrating. I love ToT, but that’s so resonates with me.

  14. Pingback: OC Half Marathon Recap – The Half Marathon I’d Like to Forget | Why I runDisney

  15. Wow, this looks like so much fun! I hope I can do this one day! Thank you so much for the great post.

    • It’s an amazing experience! I hope you get to join in the fun!