As a regular Back of the Packer I have run that race she describes. I have been there on many occasions and let me tell you something, it can really, really suck.
It sucks to be told to move to the sidewalk because the course is opening up even though you are well within the time restraints for the course.
It sucks to finish at a finish line that is empty of everyone except the race director.
It sucks to get to the finish line and not get water or food.
It sucks to get to an aid station on the course and find it abandoned.
My first marathon...I say this because I am moderately tempted to run another full before I turn forty in a few years. We'll see. Anyway, my first marathon experience sucked. It sucked bad, bad, bad. I gave up running for over a year, it sucked that bad.
I ran the Cocoa Classic in April. The front of the pack half marathoners had no problems at the finish. The back of the packers finished with the 5kers and it was a mad house and so poorly managed that when I crossed the finish line with my friend we literally stopped three feet over the line because people were EVERYWHERE.
And sometimes it can be awesome.
I ran the Detroit Women's Half Marathon last year and finished a full twenty-five minutes slower than my fastest race. I was at the back of the pack, only finishing before a handful of runners. But during that race I never felt like I was unsupported. Every aid station remained manned until the last runner past. The police officers blocking side roads stayed there until the very end and clapped for us slow runners when we passed. There was music. And at the finish line there was an announcer cheering us on and shouting out names like we were the first people to cross the line.
I was the last person to finish a 5K. Because it was on a parade route the road was closed anyway so no one was stressing about where we ran and people cheered us on. And there were people at the finish line cheering and the music was still playing.
I was one of the last people to finish a four mile race that was pretty much just a group run for a local running group and the finish line was still up when I finished, volunteers were still at the intersections directing us and there was plenty of food and water at the finish.
I volunteered at a 5K and was there until the last person passed me, at nearly an hour after the start. I directed people through a loop of a neighborhood so it was pretty important that I stay there since they needed to know which direction to run in. And the water table at the end of the cul de sac remained up and stocked until the race director came through. He actually walked the course behind the last person to make sure everyone made it.
If you're ever in a race or volunteering at a race try to keep this in mind. Try to remember that the back of the pack runners are working just as hard as the fast people. Those people paid the same amount of money for the race as the people finishing it in half their time. Maybe stick around and cheer some people on. And if you're volunteering, it's an awesome feeling hitting a water station manned by people who don't look like they're counting down the minutes until they can leave.