Sabrina Lott

Guest Post: “Can You Do More to Help Them Feel Welcomed?”

By Sabrina Lott

If you have forgotten what it felt like to be new at something, maybe you don’t know what it feels like to be a back-of-the-pack runner, a curvy runner, or a minority runner. The fears and trepidation we experience when we show up to an event vibrate so loudly through us that we feel like it can be heard for miles. For some of us, it’s taken more time than you can even imagine to SHOW UP. I cannot explain the amount of research and fear that went into running my first 10K and showing up to my first group run. I would not have been able to do it without the strong encouragement of people in my community and the welcomed experience I felt. 

Minority runners and curvier runners will show up to an event and look for others that look like us reflexively. It’s a habit because we need to know that we’re safe. In a similar regard, not all back-of-the-pack runners are new runners and most don’t want to feel singled out. Many of us have trained for years to achieve a pace that others may not appreciate. You may not know our health struggles and the obstacles we overcome each day in order to enjoy the miles we conquer. I remember the first group trail run I participated in. I maxed out my heart rate at each interval and was still very far behind the group. I was mortified and didn’t need anyone’s negative comments to help me feel small or undeserving. At every fork, they stopped to wait for me and greeted me with nothing but cheers and encouragement, despite my delaying their progress. It was such a surprising response and a memory I will cherish forever. On the other hand, I have reached the end of a group run only to questions of what took us so long and comments about being in the “loser group” for being at the back of the pack. I am the grown woman remembering what it was like to be bullied in grade school when all I’m trying to do is stay healthy for my family and build a new community.

Sabrina Lott

The majority of the endurance community truly seeks to be inviting at the core, I believe. If you share that goal, we invite you to consider integrating a few practices within your community standards. As an athlete I experienced things that I thought I had to deal with because I am the minority, curvy back-of-the-pack runner who has never aspired to run an 8-minute mile. Just as there are things that women are conditioned to believe we have to accept until we mature, or become mothers, and realize we would never let our children accept this treatment. Now that I am a coach, I know that no athlete should feel unwelcome. What we often need is for others to help us feel safe and help us remember that we deserve to occupy the endurance, fitness, and race spaces. 

As a coach, you generally know the athletes you are working with. However, when you’re hosting a group run with new people, please consider making introductions and talking about more than just pace. Congratulating Sally for showing up three weeks in a row or asking James if there is something he is proud of having accomplished in the last six months will spread a different type of vibe throughout your group. Another fun strategy to keep in mind when you have diverse athletes in your group is to randomly pair people up to run or walk together. Those comfortable running faster will have the opportunity to slow down to match the pace of the others and those who are able to push a bit harder might find encouragement where they may have never found it. Some of us have met our best running friends by passing the miles together side by side.

I asked a few back-of-the-pack friends what messages they would like to share with the larger coaching and athlete communities. One reminded us to please stick around to support and cheer for all of our athletes, not just the ones that finish in the first half of the event. Those of us at the back of the pack deserve as much support as everyone else. We’ve finished too many runs faced with diminished crowds, already closed-down aid stations, missing “free gifts,” and sadness instead of celebration. (To that regard, we also remind all back-of-the-pack runners to carry their own hydration and fuel, when possible. Back-of-the-pack racers at road races have encountered many an empty aid station at the end of a race when supplies were not rationed or the volunteers were unaware of the sweeper times and closed up early.)

Sabrina Lott

Back-of-the-pack racers work just as hard, and some might even say harder, than faster runners in long races. It takes a lot of training, preparation, and endurance to be out there for over three hours for a half marathon and five to seven hours for a marathon. If you’re a faster runner, consider what your longest run has entailed in hours. If you’re an ultramarathoner, you might have a better understanding of what others are experiencing. Have you tried to slow down and be on your feet for three-plus hours? Have you supported a friend on a training run whose pace was slower than yours? How does your body feel? How did you feel carrying the weight of the extra nutrition and water it takes to make it safely through that workout? If you’ve never done it, we strongly encourage you to try. “Walk a mile in our shoes,” as they say. We endurance athletes are always looking for a different way to feel challenged, right? See if it changes the way you relate to other athletes.

A friend once said, “We don’t have a fear of missing out, we have a fear of being left out.” We may start the event together and feel a sense of team camaraderie, but when we get to the end of a group run or race and no one is there for us, the raffles have already happened, and everything has been cleaned up, how do you think we feel? As a community, it’s our honor to help everyone feel comfortable in endurance spaces. There are many elements of our lives that we cannot control as athletes and they shouldn’t be cause for us to feel unwelcome. As coaches and athletes, we have the ability to look around our spaces and ask if we’re doing the best that we can to make others feel welcomed, supported and encouraged. Our encouragement has ripple effects that we may never see but that everyone can feel. Fostering diversity of all types in endurance sports will make us all stronger athletes.

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Coach Sabrina Lott is a mother, athlete and partner. As a curvy woman of color, over the age of 40, she saw the lack of visibility and inclusivity of people who looked like her family in endurance sports, racing and training and wanted to work to help make a change. Sabrina became a Coach in order to help other women feel safe and supported in fitness whether that looks like walking, hiking or running in the outdoors. As a mother runner, these days you can find her running the streets or hiking with her infant in the jogging stroller or with her local running group. While she may be training to PR the Half Marathon distance, her passion is best experienced on the trails enjoying the natural beauty with family and friends.As an 80/20 Endurance Certificated Coach, Sabrina specializes in helping Women, Mothers and newer athletes get moving. Whether you have a specific fitness goal in mind or you’re still trying to figure out where to start, she is here for you.



3 Comments

  1. Kari H on April 22, 2024 at 12:39 pm

    Brilliant insights!! As a back-of-the-pack endurance runner, myself, I have experienced many of the situations mentioned here. As a curvier person, I frequently get comments from others out on the trails along the lines of “hang in there” and “good for you” along with a head tilt of pity. They think they mean well and are encouraging, but it lands quite differently. They have no idea that I’m doing the same thing they are, while carrying an extra 50-100 lbs. They have no idea that I may be at mile 15 of 20 that I’m doing that day, or that I may be having a really great training run and am hitting segment PRs left and right. I’ve also had the good fortune to have the finish line still up and a finisher medal waiting for me when I was dead last, after getting injured and pushing through at a half marathon. Can I just tell you, I already felt bad enough that I took so long, holding up everyone that stayed to cheer me across the finish line…but I also was elated, because it WAS an very difficult thing I did, and coming in to the support and friendship of the RDs and some of my running community was INCREDIBLY AWESOME and HUMBLING!! I am forever grateful to those that remember us in the back. Thanks, Coach Sabrina, for all you’re doing to raise awareness, and help others in our shoes get out there and thrive!

  2. CS on April 24, 2024 at 7:38 am

    This was a great read, thank you so much! I must admit I wasn’t aware of many struggles slower runners have to go through. When I got into running I only went for runs during the night because I didn’t want other people to see me. And even though that kind of worked for me, I completely understand that this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for certain privileges I have regarding location, gender and race.

  3. Lianne Holloway on April 30, 2024 at 8:55 am

    Thank you fellow back of the packer! I started running at age 52, and am also a curvy woman of color. I KNOW what it’s like to walk in your shoes and I hope you never stop running and talking about it. I did my first and only marathon to celebrate turning 60 and it felt SO good when I finished (more than 7 hours after the start). The skinniest youngest and fastest Kenyan could not have been happier. Keep up the great work!

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