As a proud back-of-the-pack runner, Sarah is passionate about encouraging fellow trail runners to embrace their pace and learn to love their position on the trails.


Jostling for position at the start of a race, it’s interesting to observe the various degrees of intensity in the runners around you. The front few rows are where those blessed with speed and endurance vie for the lead and the oh-so-coveted podium finish.

Then there’s the mid-section runners who are more like ‘meh, we know we aren’t as fast, but at least we aren’t last’.

And then there’s where you’ll find me – at the back-of-the-pack with the rest of the back-of-the-packers. Here, most of us are giggling nervously, discussing our hope that there’s still food at the aid station by the time we get there, and planning when we’ll catch up for coffee later.

I wasn’t blessed with athletic genes, so winning or standing on a podium has never been on my radar. But while I never expected to win, for a long time I had a mad fear of being last. As the elites flogged it from the start line with barely a bead of sweat in sight – leaving me to eat their dust – my confidence would shatter into smaller and smaller pieces.

In my head I didn’t feel like a ‘real’ runner.

But one day I asked myself ‘Why does it even matter?’ And then I started to look around and realised that in spite of how I was feeling, I was part of a bigger community. One that celebrates just getting out there, giving it your best, and most importantly of all – enjoying yourself. Isn’t that enough?

I also noticed that after an event, the chatter wasn’t about where you placed, it was about whether you enjoyed yourself, what you noticed, the beauty of the bush, who saw what wildlife, and which food truck we should buy our post-race snack from. I realised there’s a great sub-community at the back-of-the-pack.

But, community aside, there are so many more reasons why being a back-of-the-pack runner is awesome.

1. The Social Element

You can really set the world to rights on a back-of-the-pack chat. As you run alongside others, honest conversations happen, and relationships are built. Here you find your trail running tribe, and there’s so much joy in these moments with strangers and friends. It fuels me to keep showing up on event day.


100 Park Runs for One T-Shirt, Rebecca Burton, park , runners

You might just meet your running bestie in a back-of-the-pack chat | @burtonrebecca

2. You’re Running for Yourself

As a slower runner, my goals look different to those faster than me. Without the desire to finish on a podium, I’m more about making the best of the opportunity, and to challenge myself in a way that’s beneficial. I’d rather be able to run for hours at a comfortable pace than fatigue early. This means that my goals are often pushing a little harder for a longer distance or practicing mindfulness for longer periods.

Some runs I make a point of enjoying myself more and stopping to take more photographs of the view. Because of this, I find that instead of focusing on pace I’m less ‘in my head’. I forget about my sports watch, focusing instead on the trail and the experience. Your reasons for being out there are yours alone. So whether you want to push yourself to overcome the challenge of the course or to just enjoy the landscape, that’s up to you.


5 Reasons Being a Back-of-Pack Runner is the Best Place to be, Sarah Schmitt, Running uphill

Why do you run? Getting clear on your underlying motivations will help clarify you goals

3. You Can Appreciate Your Surroundings

When you drop the expectations of where you’ll place, there’s more opportunity to be present and really take stock of where you are in the moment. You’ll find yourself looking around more, noticing the budding wildflowers, and the views. You’ll also find other back-of-the-pack runners taking a lot of photographs, of both the scenery as well as selfies with their fellow trail buddies.

When you stop to catch your breath after an intense uphill, you’ll experience so much more than the pain you’d feel pushing through without a break.


A 3 Day Snippet of The Great South West Walk on Gunditjmara Country, Emily Scott, kangaroo, bush

From breathtaking views to kangaroos – the views while running can be pretty great! | @dallasfly

4. The Finish Line Still Feels the Same

There’ll always be someone faster than you, so embrace your place at the back and know that regardless of your pace, the finish line feels are the same. Regardless of when you cross, there’s still exhilaration when you see the finish in the distance.

You’ll still push that little bit harder for a ‘strong finish’, and you’ll get that same sweet relief when you pass through it. We all feel that pride of knowing we’ve just achieved something great. Plus, the finisher medals are handed out no matter when you cross the line!


10 Tips From My First Ultramarathon, anika warren-smith, trail runner on race day, finish line

Run your own race and you’ll be a winner every.single.time! | @anikawsphotography

5. The Way Is Clear

Let me leave you with one last bonus of being a back-of-the-pack runner. Because so many runners have gone first, you can run confidently knowing that all of the spider webs have been cleared. Any snakes and other creepy crawlies will have slithered far, far, away from the fray in fear of their lives – leaving you to pass through the undergrowth confident in the knowledge that there’ll be no webs.


A Tale of Monoliths and the Night Sky on the Granite Way Drive, WA, Lisa Ikin, Kwolyin campground, Western Australia, South West,cobweb

Nothing ruins a run faster than a face full of these… | @lisabenjess


If you’ve ever questioned your running performance, as I’m sure most of us have, remember that you’re a runner, regardless of your pace or where you sit in the pack. And the fact is, you got out of bed that morning, got yourself dressed and out the door.

You showed up.

Isn’t that a big part of the mind game of running? So feel proud of yourself and go enjoy nature, it really is something special.


Header photo by Talia Rose