With several races coming up, I thought I would share my thoughts on the benefits of having people there to support you at a race. One of the things that makes big races fun is the vast amount of spectators. The masses of people bring huge amounts of energy to a course. I definitely loved the spectators this year at Boston, they were excited and they were loud. However, if I had to pick a marathon I have done that I would say had my favorite crowd, I would pick Chicago without a doubt. There was literally not a moment on the course when there weren’t rows and rows of people. Often times they were six rows deep. If you ran beneath an underpass you could look up and see rows of people above you as well. My first trip to the Chicago marathon was with a group of friends that were also running. We wrote our names down the sides of our arms with a Sharpie marker. That was my friend’s idea, and the first time I had ever done that. Although I was at first thinking it was kind of silly, I went ahead and did it. Well let me tell you, it worked. Although I didn’t know personally anyone out there cheering, when they yelled my name I actually felt a connection. I felt like the people were actually there for me and it instantly put a little pep in my step. It gave me that feeling of accomplishment, like a little reminder that I was actually doing something really great. (Something I had worked hard for!) Another thing that can be motivating, as cheesy as it sounds, is a high five. I really love high fiving the kids with their hands out. I still remember one thing my friend told me after she finished her first marathon. She said that when the crowd cheered for her, although there were thousands of runners ahead of her, they made her feel as though she was winning. I think that is very inspiring.
If having someone you don’t even know cheer for you is motivating, can you imagine how amazing it is to have people you do know out there? Although Nashville is not a favorite marathon course, I love it because it’s the marathon where I have the most people I know cheering for me. Many of them are out there to see other people as well but knowing that they will be there gives me something to look forward to. In 2013 when I ran Nashville, I had my husband and a few friends standing in the pouring down rain at mile 20 and mile 25 with some of the most amazing signs cheering for me. Yep, I said pouring down rain. Most spectators back out when it rains, which is understandable! So, having people there for you in the pouring rain is pretty special. Even knowing you have someone waiting for you at the finish line helps. Marathons start early so with small children and road closures it can be hard. Many of us crazy runners will of course tell you that it isn’t a big deal if you don’t come for the race, but deep down we really love and need the support.
So what makes a good spectator? Here are just a few tips on what may be helpful or motivating for the runner you are watching. Funny and personal signs are great. I even love reading other people’s signs. For my last Nashville marathon some friends of mine made a sign that said “Run For Adam” (as in Adam Levine) because they know he is my celebrity crush. They also made giant signs with my kids’ faces on them, it was great! Signs that aren’t as motivating are ones that say things like “almost there” or “just around the corner”. Sometimes the timing of these signs isn’t very accurate. No runner wants to see that when you really have miles left to go.
It is also a good idea to have cold water or Gatorade in case your runner is between water stops. Plus you may have their favorite. Having something salty, like a bag of pretzels, can help with dehydration and usually is not found on the course. Too, having a camera is a great idea! It is a good idea not only to take pictures of the runner you know, but other funny or inspiring things you see that they may not get a chance to see while they are racing. One last tip is plan ahead on where you are going to be. This way the person you are there to see knows where to look for you. Sometimes it is easier for the runner to spot the spectator than vice versa.
I could share so many funny and inspiring signs that I see. Things like “Who needs toenails” and of course tons that say things like “We are so proud of you mom”. But I have to share with you the coolest sign I may have ever seen. It read “I’m proud of you, perfect stranger”. It moved me because I realized at that moment I was really doing something special. It was something recognized by people who didn’t even know me from Adam. Maybe, just maybe, on that day I had actually inspired someone I didn’t know at all. That is a pretty cool feeling.
So if you are on the fence about whether or not you are going to show up this time around to watch a race, whether you know someone or not….consider showing up. Your presence really does matter.