Notes From the Marathon Spectators

Marathons are a lot of work and I don’t just mean the training.  Race day can be brutal: finding parking; getting to the start on time; staying warm until the off; dressing appropriately for an extended period in inclement weather; learning and following the course; planing breaks – finding porta potties; having appropriate snacks; being on the go for a few hours; getting to a good position at the finish… and there is no medal.  For the spectators, the family and friends who make the journey and do nearly everything the runner does – without the running shoes and bib number – there is no achievement reward, no recognition.  No bling. 

And that is truly a shame because these unsung heroes make all the difference in the world.  For all of you who have cheered, crewed or volunteered – any race, anywhere, for anyone, let me say a huge and heartfelt thank you.  You make more of a difference and more of a contribution than you know. 

For those who think they may be cheering someone on at a long race at some point in time, I have polled family and friends who have found themselves in the position of spectator, volunteer or crew at marathons or half marathons to collect their tips and thoughts on this unsung but hugely appreciated skill.  Most of you claimed to have no special knowledge to pass along but I disagree.  A lot of this is things someone may not think of before they go for the first time.  I’ve left your input in your own words because I like the ‘off the top of my head’ feel.

“Get  good map.  Scout the route in advance…during the madness is no time to be caught in traffic or lost.  Maybe a GPS?  (If you know how to use them).  Nothing substitutes for knowing the area. 

 Weather weather weather…prepare accordingly. 

Have an extra…energy bar supply.  See weather, above.  Hypothermia is a real issue if it’s cold.   Umbrella?  Large plastic bag.  Yes, blanket.  A down jacket would be really nice if it’s cold – comfy.  

Be prepared for….communication issues.  How about a small home band radio, or cell phone?  Not just with the runners, but if you are in a group, you will get separated, if it’s a big race.  Camera.” – Arkansas

“Having attended only the one at Disney, I don’t have much input.  We could have used a map.  We did a lot of riding on the monorail in the early AM alone.  It was fun watching the runners below us. We seemed to have all the amenities – food, drink, bathrooms, even shopping!  But – we saw you only at the castle.  We realized that some folks knew something we didn’t know, but it was OK because we had all the amenities to entertain us. 

If you ever run in the Everglades, we suggest bug repellent :).  And if you are not a native Floridian we suggest an umbrella.  We natives don’t use umbrellas much”  – Florida

“Not sure if I really have anything useful for you, though when I volunteered for the Platte River Half I would say if you are stationed at the finish line, watch out for racers puking after they get through the gate. Most of them made it to the garbage cans but some didn’t, and you could be in the line of fire! Overall, though, volunteering was fun and appreciated by all, so I would encourage anyone to do it.” – Colorado

“I am not sure I know good spectator rules or, if I always manage to practice them.  Let me see…off the top of my head…   Plan ahead so you know where to go; make advance reservations, if an overnight stay is needed.  The more you can reduce the stress on your runner, the better.  Go prepared for any weather.  Dress comfortably and in layers.  Bring umbrella, gloves, sunscreen, snacks, water, anything you might need for the number of hours you will be waiting for your runner.  Take extra water/sports drinks and snacks for your runner for during or at the end of the race.   Try to plan a few places along the route where you will be able to see your runner and encourage him/her.  Meet your runner at the finish line.  Yell loud and call your runner by name.  Don’t be afraid to cheer for other runners, too.  They appreciate it.  Do not bring pets!  Avoid bringing small children, if possible.  If not possible, bring plenty of toys & activities to occupy the attention of the small child.  Keeping weather in mind, bring a towel and an extra jacket, umbrella, shoes, socks, or other clothing for your runner to change into at the end of the race.  For long races, find out if you can bring a bicycle and ride along for a bit to encourage your runner.  For a really long race, spectators should spell each other for naps, food, etc.  It is important for spectators to keep their energy levels up in order to help their runners keep energy levels up.  Be respectful of other spectators and their desire to photograph their runners.” – Arizona

  Thank you all for your input!

From a runner’s perspective, I might add that seeing someone on the sidelines with a sign cheering you on is fantastic.  Also, when fans cheer you on by the name on your race bib – priceless.   A request – if the rest of the course isn’t really and truly “all downhill from here” – don’t say it is!  At some point in the race, a parking lot speed bump is too much uphill to face.  🙂


About wfig

Longtime horsewoman and hiker, occasional world traveler and professional biologist.
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3 Responses to Notes From the Marathon Spectators

  1. Haha says:

    Wow! All great comments and great advice for those of us who chase. Walkie Talkies! Definitely, for next time. However, I guess we have to be careful not to weigh down our runner with gadgets and, instead, assign them to fellow members of our chase crew. That 50 mile run coming up will challenge the imagination and chase crew resourcefulness, for sure. NO worries. We’ve got your back.

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