5 Cheers No Runner Wants to Hear

trackLast 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?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. The best cheers are the ones specific to you. So a good job, salty! Or a go get ’em, pink shirt! Those are the ones that work best for me. Probably because I am a narcissist, but for whatever reason generic ra-ras directed directly at me are my faves! Least fave? All the lies, especially when I’m clearly struggling!

  2. I like to wear one of my Brooks ‘run happy’ shirts for trail races. As I’m tripping up the upteenth hill watching out for rocks and tree roots and sloshing through mud nothing lifts me like hearing ‘hey good going run happy’ or ‘hey run happy!’
    I hate hearing ‘good going’ at the beginning of a race: ‘scuse me I just started!

  3. I was thinking about this post today when i was running a half marathon and people kept saying “you’re almost there” or “it’s all downhill the rest of the way!” I knew they meant well but I also had run the course many times before and knew that it wasn’t exactly true:)

  4. YES. When I was running my first full marathon, a lady on the sidelines told me “you have a tailwind the rest of the way!”. Being a new-ish runner and sincerely believing the stranger, I was sadly disappointed to battle a headwind for most of the race.

    I don’t cheer for the sidelines often, but the next time I do I’m going to just clap super loud. Clapping will hopefully keep me from yelling anything stupid 🙂
    Amy @ http://www.livinglifetruth.com/

  5. Agree – those are 5 things I don’t need or want to hear (unless they’re true or I’ve changed my name to Forrest).

    Also frustrating to hear, “There are only a few women ahead of you.” Really? Great! Umm, how many is a “few?” (In my book, 7 is not a few. Thanks anyway, Encouraging Sidelines Lady. ;-/ )

    I do like hearing my name and was especially glad they’d managed to get my “nickname” onto my bib this past weekend … I’m only Elizabeth when I’m in trouble.