Monday, February 24, 2014

A Spectator's Guide to Running

It's almost that time of year- spring running events are just around the corner! Long before I became a runner, I would watch Matthew compete in half and full marathons. Watching a distance running event is one of the most inspiring things you can witness; especially when you're watching a friend or loved one compete.

Our awesome spectators at the 2014 WDW Marathon!

Luckily, there have been lots of people in my life that have come to cheer me on while I run. I can't tell you enough how much it helps to see a familiar face on the course- your spectators can make a race 100 times better just by being there. To help everyone have an enjoyable experience, I've found it helpful to pass along all the tips I have learned while spectating races.

If you've got loved ones running in a race this spring or you've got a cheering section coming to watch you, check out the tips below for a fun, stress-free spectating day!

1. Study the course map and determine viewing locations.
Most races will have a course map available online or at the expo. Study this map and determine the best locations for viewing your runner. Look for out-and-back sections, or loops- that way you can see your runner at different places in the race without having to move around too much.

2. Know their pace and their plan.
Find out from your runner what they plan on doing with this race, time-wise. This can help you to determine where they should be at various mile markers on the course. I did this for friends watching me complete the 2013 Frederick Half Marathon by making a map with time ranges at different mile markers- see picture below. You can also determine "Plan B" locations too. For example, "If I haven't seen my runner by XX:XX time, then I may have missed them and will just go to the finish and wait for them there."

Some races have runner tracking technology- you can get a text when your runner is at various points on the course- but this may not always be updating live. You can also text your runner to ask where they are but some may not run with their phones or be able to respond to texts. By knowing their pace and where they should be on the course, you can avoid some of the stress that comes from wondering if they've passed you or not.

Map for the 2013 Frederick Half with predicted mile markers and times.

3. Bring something to keep yourself entertained, fed, and protected from the elements.
Even the best marathoners take approximately 3 and a half hours to finish. Chances are, your runner will be out on the course for any number of hours while you are traipsing around just trying to see them for a few seconds each mile. You may be on your own for a while. Make sure you've brought food, a jacket, cash, a book- whatever you need to be content outside for a few hours. Also, make sure you follow the race's guidelines with regard to purses, backpacks, etc. With heightened security at most races, you'll want to find out what the restrictions are before getting there.

4. Wear something easily recognizable.
If your runner is looking for you for support (which I promise you they are), you'll want to be easily recognized by what you are wearing so they can pick you out of a crowd. I will usually wear a bright color so Matthew can see me right away while he is on the course. Some people will have a unique sign or a balloon or a flag to wave around to capture their runners attention. Whatever the case, make sure your runner can easily identify you.

Morning of the 2012 WDW Marathon- check out that bright orange jacket!
5. Decide on a side before the race.
This one is pretty simple- decide what side your runner will look for you on. On some courses, you can spectate from either side of the road so you'll want to let your runner know which side to run near when they are expecting to find you. I can't tell you how many times this little tip has helped me while looking at thousands of runners all dressed in similar clothes. This is why I love wearing a tutu- easily found :-)

6. Carry what they need, when they'll need it.
Does your runner carry Gu or Shot Bloks? Maybe they like something else, like crackers or a bagel? Either way, you can be a great spectator by carrying the food your runner needs and knowing when they'll need it. In the 2012 WDW Marathon, Matthew needed Wheat Thins. In 2013, it was Goldfish crackers. Whenever I spectate a race, I always carry extra food just in case my runner will need it. And if they don't, then it's an extra snack for me!

7. Be ready with motivations sayings, signs, or texts.
One of the biggest jobs of a spectator is to keep your runner motivated. Sometimes it's with a sign, sometimes it's with text messages, sometimes it's with a little booklet of motivation they can carry with them throughout the race. Whatever your runner likes, be ready to help them when they need it. The best way to do this is to ask your runner where in the race they may feel like they need help. Matthew and I did this during the WDW Marathon this year and were absolutely overwhelmed with the love and support we received via text during our most difficult miles.

Signs for Matthew and my friend Steph during the 2013 WDW Marathon.

***Quick addition thanks to Megan B.!***

7.5 Cheer for every runner you see, not just yours!
There are some runners that may not have a cheering section at the race- nothing will make their day more than if you give them a shout out. Many races now give out personalized bibs; try to shout out some names if you can see them. A "looking good, runner!" is always appreciated. As a runner, it's also nice to pass a group of cheering spectators instead of passing a group of people just staring past you, looking for their runner. So, bring a cow bell, clap your hands, or just shout out some encouraging things as the runners pass.

8. Make friends with other spectators.
Now, this might be because I'm an extreme extrovert, but I absolutely love making friends with other spectators. Everyone has a story to tell and most people love talking about their runner. This can help to pass the time and your new friends can serve as another pair of eyes when looking for your runner.

9. Scope out the finish line for best viewing/least crowded spot.
The finish line of a race can be one of the most-crowded spots on the course. And at most races, there will be 4-5 people deep, all pushing on a waist-high fence, looking for their runner. I suggest scoping out the finish line before the race start to see where there might be a good spot that won't be too congested. At the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, I was able to scramble up on a construction vehicle located near the finish line to get a GREAT spot to view Matthew crossing the finish line. You may not have to go to that extreme, but just having a plan can help tremendously. Another trick is to find a place a few hundred yards BEFORE the finish line- that way you can see them cross and it's usually much less crowded.

Great picture of Matthew after completing the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half.

10. Be "hands-free" ready at the finish.
When your runner finishes their race, chances are they can't wait to give you a hug! And then probably ask you to hold their water, Gatorade, post-race food, etc. So, I always make sure I'm "hands-free" at the finish- all my stuff is put away but my camera is still accessible so I can get that coveted finisher picture. Basically, I try to make sure that I'm ready for whatever my runner needs at the end of the race.

I hope these tips will help you and your spectators at your next race! Do you have additional tips or tricks that you wish your spectators knew? Share them in the comments below!

Happy running!


  1. Love these tips!! I always run on the right side of the road and plan with my cheerleaders where they should be! It's so relaxing to see a familiar face!!

  2. Great tips. Hands free at the finish is so true - I make my poor spectators hold it all.

    1. Yeah, it's something I picked up on early in my spectating career :-)

  3. These are all great tips! Knowing your runner's pace is so important, until they slow down a bit (whether for pictures or otherwise) and then you panic and hope you didn't miss them! That's definitely happened to me more than once.

    1. Yes! I should have added that sometimes you just have to go to the finish and be guaranteed to see them if you think they are running slower than anticipated!

  4. Great post!!! Can you add an additional step - CHEER FOR EVERYONE!!! I love the spectators who read your bib and support you by name - or just the ones standing on the corner cheering for every person who runs by. It is AWESOMELY motivational, because Jeff and I typically do not have "race support" who travels with us. So it's nice to hear someone encourage us.

    1. Yes! I absolutely meant to add this in there and forgot about it! I always like to see cheering spectators instead of people just standing there looking around, lol. I'll make a quick update to reflect this tip! :-)