No runner left behind in back-of-pack club

After eight weeks of chilly runs and Tuesday night post-workout Tacos, Brainsport’s first back-of-the-pack coached running group wrapped up last week. Many of the 16 runners capped off the experience by taking part in the Brainsport Gingerbread Run, which happened Sunday.

Rock 102 host Mike McGuire, who approached Brainsport this summer to ask about the possibility of such a club, says he still can’t believe it happened.

“This was more than a learn-to-run club. This was a ‘get over the thought that you can’t run, ignore those who laugh at you when you say you want to run, go all-in on yourself’ club,” McGuire says.

Mike McGuire, left, with members of the Brainsport back-of-the-pack running club.

“After talking to (Brainsport owner Brian Michasiw), he immediately saw the vision for the club. It brought a new style of learning to run to the store, which made us all excited to see what could happen next.”

McGuire says being part of the group for the last eight weeks has helped him stay active even as temperatures dropped. It’s also helped him find balance in his life.

“I like to work. I do a lot more than host a show on the radio and my job can see long hours being spent keeping things moving,” McGuire said. “The back-of-the-pack running club gave me a reason to leave the office and get out among like minded people — and put a lot of miles on I wouldn’t have if they didn’t exist.”

Perhaps the most defining moment of the group was this past weekend when one of the back-of-the-packers was going to be the last to cross the finish line at the Gingerbread Run, McGuire said. Other group members backtracked and finished the race with her so she wasn’t alone.

McGuire says he was inspired by seeing so many athletes stick with the club over the eight weeks, all with their own reasons for wanting to be part of a group of back-of-the-pack runners — and many made good friends along the way.

Mike McGuire, left, with members of the Brainsport back-of-the-pack running club.

Group member Heidi Abbey-Der had always joked about being a back-of-the-pack runner. After a back injury and subsequent surgery she was looking for a way to start running again this year. She had run with Brainsport in the past, but had been intimidated by some of the speedier runners.

“When I saw that Brainsport was holding a back-of-the-pack group clinic, I jumped on in and was happy that maybe I would finally have a group that I would feel comfortable in,” Abbey-Der said.

“The back-of-the-pack run club has helped me get back into my running and gave me the encouragement to lace up and get outside again. Before the group started, I felt a bit in limbo and wasn’t sure where to start again, even though I had ran in prior years. If it wasn’t for this group, I am not sure when I would have started.”

For Elise Ruiters the running club was a place to stay active without being judged or left behind. It also gave her the motivation she needed to stay active.

“It has made me be accountable knowing that I had joined a group (with people) who were doing their homework and I didn’t want to fall behind and feel like I couldn’t be with the group,” she said.

Lisa Ilko had always wanted to be a runner but, until she joined the back-of-the-pack run club this fall, she found herself making excuses about why she couldn’t run.

“After I lost 110 pounds in 2018 I was still too scared to start … I was so excited to finally start running and not have to worry about being the slow one or the newbie that everyone would be looking at/judging,” she said.

For Harley Strouts, who loved running as a kid, but stopped after high school, the group was a way to get back in shape and shake up a routine that involved plopping himself in front of a screen every night.

“When the ad for this club came out it intrigued me to see what it was all about,” he said. “First meeting they said there was no pressure to be perfect, just finish the race. No one cared where you finished. You were out there trying.”

Today, Strouts is running at least three times a week, either with the group or by himself.

Congratulations to the runners who took part in this inaugural run club. Stay tuned to the Brainsport Times and the Brainsport website to hear about when the next back-of-the-pack running club will start.