Last Saturday, as I ran the Blue Ox Marathon in Bemidji, I was coming up a particularly steep hill (the course is actually just one big hill, if I’m being candid), and the race volunteer at the top said, “this is the last hill!” Having run enough marathons to know better than to believe everything I hear from the marathon sidelines, I said, “Don’t say that if it isn’t true!”
He looked shocked. But I read the truth in his eyes. This certainly wasn’t the last hill on the course. Or even close.
As a runner who also races, I appreciate the spectators more than you know. Their smiles and cheers keep me going. The volunteers are even more appreciated. And runners should never take race-day frustrations out on them. After all, they are doing this for free. But in the spirit of good spectating, here are 5 cheers we really don’t want to hear when we are racing.
1. Please don’t tell me that this is the last hill, unless is absolutely, most certainly is. You see, we believe you, and look forward to flat or even declines straight to the finish when you say that. And then when the next hill hits, it is even more demoralizing than it would have been if we’d been expecting the hills to begin with. And to clarify, the volunteer who told me I’d just run up the last hill at mile 23 of the Blue Ox Marathon was wrong or lying. And even though I suspected he was, I was still discouraged to see the next hill – because a part of me hoped he had been right.
2. Don’t tell me that I’m “almost there” at mile 13 of a marathon. Or mile 6 of a half-marathon. And definitely not at mile 25 of a 50-miler. I’m not almost there, I’m halfway there. And that second half is probably going to take a bit. It’s not encouraging, it’s just wrong. In fact, even the Baltimore Marathon Organizers agree that “almost there” shouldn’t be used in a marathon until the runner is literally feet from the finish.
3. Likewise, don’t tell me to “go faster” or to stop walking. This also happened to me at mile 25 of last week’s marathon, and while I felt like I was moving fairly fast for the last mile of an 80 mile week, the dudes behind me were struggling just to walk. We were all giving it our all, and the last thing we needed to hear was that this lady thought we weren’t doing enough.
4. On the flip side, when I am struggling through a race, and locked into the death march shuffle with spit plastered to my face and Gatorade all over my shirt, please don’t tell me I’m looking good. I know that I don’t. You know that I don’t. A sad face nod of acknowledgement will suffice.
5. Finally, “run, Forrest, run” isn’t clever any more. It isn’t even funny. It’s so 20th century, and as I plan my cross-country run next summer, it’s also the one I hear the most even when I’m not running. Let’s shut it down, and move on to truly encouraging things like: “Good work!” “Awesome job!” and “Free wine at the finish!”
Okay, the last one is probably specific to me.
What do you wish spectators wouldn’t say on race day? What should they say instead?