To the uninitiated, watching a running race doesn’t sound very exciting. And really, just watching – standing there with your coffee as people run by – isn’t fun. But spectating, well, that’s a whole ‘nother ball game!
Spectating involves cheering for everyone you see, traveling from point to point to watch your runners and generally acting like a fool. Can you have a marathon without spectators? Sure, and plenty of smaller races do. The spectators really help make the experience, though, in this spice girl’s opinion. So whether you’re injured (we hope not!) or feeling supportive, or whether you’re the one racing and want to share this with your crew, check out our Salty guide to spectating like a rockstar!
Cheer for everyone. We’ve all seen those people at races that quietly stand there until “their” runner approaches. Or at best, they may say, “I think that’s her!” about every female runner in a white shirt. C’mon now, people. If you’re going to wake up early to cheer, spread the love! Give those vocal chords a workout and don’t be a cheer-discriminator. Bonus points if you stick around until the last runner crosses the line.
Get personal. Sure, you may only know a couple of people running in the race, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put a personal spin on your cheers. Many races these days feature runners’ names on their bibs. Even if a race doesn’t offer this, many runners write their name on their shirt. Shout those out like you mean it! No names? No problem! Get creative and yell out things that are specific to that runner, such as “Go green socks!” “Go pigtails!” or “Go Girls on the Run!”. Even their bib number works in a pinch. You may not know their name, but you’re almost guaranteed to boost those runners’ spirits by giving them some personalized love.
Bring in ‘da noise, bring in ‘da funk. You’re going to get tired yelling and clapping, so bring some noisemakers with you! Cowbells are a perennial marathon classic, but feel free to branch out here: vuvuzelas and Thundersticks are just two alternatives. Signs are another great way to spruce up your cheering, whether you go for sweet, funny or oddball. My favorite marathon sign of all time remains, “Suck It Up, Princess!”… partially because a 5 year old girl was holding it. Or bring in ‘da funk with your ensemble in the form of feather boas, crazy hats or even Elvis costumes.
Get your tech on. When it comes to navigating race day, technology is your friend. This can be as simple as a course map or as involved as an official race app. If you’re on site to cheer for a specific runner, check to see if the race offers tracking via text messaging. Getting their splits in real-time will help you judge when to expect them, or how much time you have to get to your next cheer zone.
Communication is key. If you’re there to cheer on someone special, ask them about the best places to cheer or where they may need the biggest boost. Know what their race day outfit looks like, and tell them what you’ll be wearing. (Tip: something funky – or at least colorful – is much easier to spot than a black fleece. Another idea is to hold a balloon so they can spot you from farther off.) Find out their projected times. Ask if they need you to hold an extra water bottle or grab their jacket if they get too hot (just make sure you’re not violating race rules with this kind of assistance). In short, just do what you can to improve your running bud’s race day experience!
Finally, one surefire way to fail as a spectator? Yelling “You’re almost there” when they’re so not. In fact, don’t tell runners that they “only have ___ miles to go!” unless you are 101% sure of that distance.
What are some of the best race signs you’ve seen? What spectator tips do you have to add?