The Essential Guide to Marathon Spectating

I promise that I will tell you all about my experience at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon.  But first, go read this article from the Onion.  Seriously.  It’s funny.  Especially if you are a runner, or if you know a runner.

Today, I’m going to give you some pointers on being a spectator at a marathon.  I call this the Essential List, but I reserve the right to add to this list at any time.

You are to be commended for spectating at a marathon.  Most people would not do what you are doing.  You got up early on a Sunday, you are watching thousands of people you don’t know, and you may see your friend/family member for a grand total one minute.  That being said, here are some pointers to make the most of the experience, both for you and for those running.

1. Please don’t assume that two-thirds of the way through the race, that the runners will suddenly forget how long a marathon is.  Unless you are stationed at mile 25.5, you CANNOT tell the runners that they are ‘almost there!’  The next person who says that at mile 19 should be drawn and quartered.

2. Most marathons print the runner’s name on their bib.  If you can read, you have no excuse for not cheering for every single runner that goes by.  This is so important.  I love hearing people I don’t know yell out encouragement to me and to use my name. 

3. Make a sign.  Make it funny.  I saw quite a few good ones.  Most notably “Ermagerd! Zombies!”  And “Run faster, the Packer game starts at noon.”

4. Bring the kids.  High-fiving small children makes the experience more fun.  And watching the kids jump around and cheer and wave their pom poms is encouraging to anyone.  And as a bonus, the kids will see that being physically fit and active is fun (unless they are at mile 24, then they will wonder why anyone is doing this).

5. There is a fine line between encouraging someone and patronizing someone.  Don’t say “Lookin’ Good!” to a runner who is limping and on the verge of tears.  That isn’t encouragement.  That’s obnoxious.  But saying “Good Job” to everyone is almost always appropriate.

6. Don’t assume that if someone is walking, that they are struggling.  I employed my 4:1 run:walk ratio for this marathon.  It seemed that I got more ‘encouragement’ from the crowd when I was walking.  They may have thought that I was giving up or having a hard time, but it was just part of my race strategy.

7. If you are going to be following your runner along the course, meeting them at several different locations, take note of the other runners around her.  Most of the time, she will be running with the same group of runners for large portions (if not all) of the race.  You will see these same runners each time you stop to encourage your runner.  Encourage them too!

8. If you live on the race course, and you come out to watch the race, and you are sitting in your driveway, in a lawn chair, covered with a blanket, drinking your coffee, be aware that all the runners will hate you.  Just sayin’.

9. If you live on the race course and you offer refreshments to the runners, while playing loud, uplifting music, runners will love you.  Orange slices are good.  Pretzels are good, but only if you are within a quarter mile of a water stop.

10. When you meet your runner at the end, do not try to ask questions about how the race went.  The blood has long since stopped flowing to our brains.  Offer to help in any way possible (holding the swag bag, getting another bottle of water, etc.).  And for God’s sake take a picture of her with her medal!  The only words you should say are things like “you did great!,” “you are my hero!,” “that was amazing!.”

My husband did a great job, although he admitted to not really cheering for anyone else (a fault he will rectify in the future).  I am so grateful that he was there and I don’t think I could have done it without him.  (And I will be super supportive when he decides to do his marathon!)

So, what else do I need to add to this list?  What is important to you?


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