All my friends are faster than me.

They know it. I know it.

My friend, a local elite, will run twice around Memorial Park in the time I complete one loop.

I’m a back of the packer. I claim it. I own it. I rock that title with the best of them.

Why am I proud despite never running a sub-5 hour marathon? Or that in the last month I just, for the first time, ran a sub-30 5K and a sub-60 10K?

I’m glad you asked. A quick story:

My very first marathon was the Chicago Marathon in 2016. I promised my family I’d be like some of the best college basketball players: a one-and-done.

I started in the very back. I’m not kidding. The people behind me were the people picking up the clothes you all stripped off when you started an hour before me. By the time I crossed the start line, the elites had already hit the half marathon mark.

Six hours and eight minutes later, you know what happened? I finished my first marathon. Along the way, I got the same free Gatorade. I laughed at some of the same signs. I was fueled by some of the same cheers. I ran the same route. I crossed the same finish line. I got the same fantastic medal.

You could argue I’m not a runner because I used the Galloway method and I actually—wait for it—WALKED in the marathon.

You could argue I’m not a runner because I don’t obsess over my splits or have a watch better than the Garmin 230 or because I may never break a 4:30 marathon or run a sub-9 minute mile.

But guess, what? I’m not running for you. I’m running for me.

In a lot of ways, I could argue that being a back of the packer is actually harder. We’re out there longer. When our run groups gather for brunch after a weekend long run, we back-of-the-packers always come in when everyone’s already finished eating. The real fast ones have already left.

In marathons, I’ve stopped at many water stops that are out of water or Gatorade. We run through breakfast AND lunch. Normally most of the supporters handing out free beer along the route are so tired of watching the parade of people, the liquid courage is long gone — and so is a lot of the support, their runners having already finished hours before.

I get it. We all run our own race. I just run mine at a much slower tempo than you. But I’m still proud, not just because I run the same number of miles, but because I’m out there, pushing myself beyond limits I never thought I’d conquer.

A couple Sundays ago, before a long run, I met a runner named Brian. He asked about my pace.

“Oh, I’m a back of the packer,” I said.

“Hey. Back of the pack, that’s where the party is at,” Brian said.

Amen, y’all.

I hope this January, you all hit your race goals. We’ve run through high water and high humidity, on new trails and old, with strangers and the best of friends to get to where we are going. So no matter what happens on race day—whether it’s 100 percent humidity (please, running Gods, no!) or as cold as last year (Yay!), just remember you put in the work, you showed up for you, so celebrate you, no matter what the race results say.

And hey, if you end up slower than you wanted, just know, there’s still a party waiting for you at the back of the pack!