I spent yesterday cheering on women from my local Moms RUN This Town chapter at the Manchester City Marathon. It was such a fun thing to get out there and support these women who have been training for months to run 26.2 miles, some for the first time and others as veterans.
On our private group board on Facebook, I decided to post an “event” to gather a cheer squad for the MRTT runners. I had gotten feedback that the second half of a marathon can be really lonely and mentally challenging, and women were thrilled to hear that there would be crazies like me out there with signs and cow bells, making noise and giving them the boost they need to keep going. I didn’t end up spending that much time with the ladies from the event I created – we all spread out and went to different locations. But I DID get to spend some time with my Wicked Early Wednesdays crew before/after their respective relay legs. Lovely!
I highly recommend being a spectator at a race! The runners REALLY need it, and enjoy it! While I did this at a marathon, there’s nothing stopping you from supporting athletes running any distance (or heck, athletes of all types). They will be so appreciative!
Here are my tips for how to be a supportive race spectator:
- Tell your athlete where you’ll be standing. This way they know where to look for you and can give you a wave, or stop for a hug (assuming they aren’t chasing a PR). If you know approximately which mile-marker you’re closest to, or if there are really obvious landmarks that they can keep an eye out for, that’s helpful. Also, tell them which side of the road you will be on.
- Know what your runner is wearing. Not only should they be able to find you, you should be able to find them. Knowing what they’re wearing will make it much easier for you to pick them out of a crowd.
- Wear something that supports your runner. Did they sell t-shirts to raise money for a good cause for their race? Buy a shirt and wear it. Or write their name on the front of a t-shirt with a thick Sharpie marker. Or even have shirts designed and screen printed. There are so many ways you can craft an outfit to support your runner. They’ll feel so special knowing they have a squad out there, just for them.
- Make signs. Of all of the 5Ks I’ve run, not once have I noticed a single spectator with a motivational sign. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there, I just didn’t see them. However, when I ran the Traveler’s half marathon, a truck slowly drove by us at one point with a sign hanging out the window that said, “SMILE if you’re not wearing undies!” Naturally, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling, even though I was in fact wearing undies. Runners like to talk about poop. Make a poop sign. Runners need to smile. Make a funny sign. Runners like to be recognized for their hard work. Personalize a sign for YOUR runner telling them how bad-ass they are. You can also consider laminating your signs so they’re weather-proof, or reusable.
- Make noise. Cow bells, tambourines, Christmas bells, whistles, kazoos, use your voice… anything that make noise is a-okay in my book. However….
- Be respectful of residents. It’s not cool to just assume you can park in front of someone’s house and squat there for hours, especially when you’re making all kinds of noise. Some races are early on weekend mornings when people are trying to sleep in, so be considerate of this. Even consider finding a section of the course that isn’t purely residential. And…
- Don’t be rude. This includes where you park your car, taking care not to litter, and yelling obscenities… even if your runner is cool with that. There could be kids around. Try not to show to everyone how much of an a-hole you can be.
- Come prepared for the long-haul. Your runner could be out there for hours. If you’re planning to be there start-to-finish don’t forget to bring water, snacks, and folding chairs so you can settle in. Depending on the weather, consider rain gear, extra layers, and umbrellas. Also consider bringing snacks and gear for your runner, just in case. They might not take you up on it, but it’s there if they need it.
- Don’t become an obstacle on the course. If your runner is on the other side of the road, tough luck. Don’t try to cross the road to see them. You’d be creating a hazardous environment for other runners on the course. And be sure to keep your chair and other belongings off the course, as well.
- Say the right things. “Great job runners!” sounds really generic, but it works. What doesn’t work it, “You’re almost there!”…. no runner ever wants to hear that, because as far as they’re concerned, you’re a lying jerk. The only time this is acceptable is when you’re right next to the finish line (as in… you can see it, because you’re basically standing in in). But when in doubt, don’t say it. Also, if you happen to catch a runner’s name on their shirt or bib, don’t be shy – yell out their name! “Great job, Emily!” would perk my ears right up, and I’d definitely smile!
- HAVE FUN. You could be miserably cold, and that sucks, but it’s fine. You committed to being out there for your runner, so you might as well make the best of it. Don’t let them see you feeling down – they’re probably exhausted. So make sure you’re having the best time you possibly can, and pass the good vibes on. And if you happen to see the race director, like we did, try flagging him (or her) down for a selfie!
- Have a finish line plan. Smaller, local races make it relatively easy for spectators to meet up with their runners. Larger events, like the NYC Marathon, it could be impossible. Not to mention, your runner might need to pick up their stuff from gear check, and that could be a distance away from the finish line. Before the race, work with your runner to set up your finish line plan for where to meet, and when. This way you’ll have an easier time finding each other.