Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Here's my latest MDRA article...

Fall is right around the corner. As a runner, that means two things to me; cross-country season and fall marathons. We put in a lot of time and effort training for these types of races. And there’s no doubt that a lot is written about how to get the most out of ourselves on race day. But what about our friends and family members that will be out there cheering for us? We want them to get the most out of race day too, rather than being bored to tears watching a running race. Believe it or not, running can be spectator-friendly, especially if you follow these tips.

The first step to spectating actually should take place before race day. You need to determine how active you want to be during the race. Remember, other than track meets, we’re not talking about your typical sporting event where the action is confined within a stadium, making it easy to watch. Even the shortest of cross-country races can span an entire golf course in less than twenty minutes. Therefore, there has to be some level of activity, even for the spectators on race day.

I would say there are generally three different levels of activity for watching a race. First, are the stationary spectators. These are people that want to find one spot and sit there for the entire race. This group includes people that are lazy, have a difficult time getting around, or find it hard to move the keg of beer they brought to the event. Hey, I told you running could be spectator-friendly.

Second, are the people that want to see as much of the race as possible, but move around the least. Parents with younger kids would typically fall into this category. They want to cheer for their spouse or friends as much as possible, but are also responsible for getting 2 or 3 kids and a dog around the course too. This requires more time and energy, so they have to be smart about moving from place to place.

Third, are the people that want to see as much of the race as possible and don’t care how much blood, sweat or tears it takes to do so. If someone in the race gets a side stitch, dry heaves or pukes, they want to know about it. No, no, they want to see it happen. This is the group that thinks nothing of driving six hours to watch a 25-minute race. They want to be sure they get their monies worth.

After determining your level of activity, you need to decide how you want to get around the course. Obviously, if you’re going to sit in one spot for the race, this is not much of a concern. However, if you fall into the second or third group you need to think about your best course of action for getting around. For cross-country races this is typically by foot. Unless the race is on a golf course and you’re handy at hot-wiring golf carts. Because of the sheer length of the marathon, they offer more options. In addition to getting around on foot, bikes and cars are good options too. Even public transportation can be used, just ask Rosie Ruiz, the initial first place woman of the 1980 Boston Marathon who was later disqualified for taking a train. Since the use of a car requires extra time for battling traffic and finding parking places, I always opt to use my bike whenever possible.

Once you know how you’re going to get around, the number one rule for spectating becomes “know the course”. This is very important because you can’t watch what you can’t see. I only need to share one example to explain how important this rule is. During college I made a road trip with several teammates to Charlotte, NC to watch the men’s Olympic Marathon trials. We hauled our bikes halfway across the country in an effort to see as much of the race as possible. After biking along during for the first half of the race, some of us decided to cut through a neighborhood in order to get ahead of the runners. Instead of jumping two miles ahead of the runners, we accidentally ended up eight miles ahead of the runners. By the time we saw them again all the key moves had been made and the Olympic team had basically been decided. We kicked ourselves for not understanding where the course went.

If you plan on cheering for a specific person, it’s helpful to know the answer to a couple of questions before the race starts. First, what pace do they plan on running? This is especially helpful for longer races because there’s a big time gap between the first and last place runners. And there could be thousands of runners in between. Having an idea of their pace helps determine when they should be passing you. Of course, be sure to leave some wiggle room for the time needed to cross the start line, bad days, and other unforeseen events.

Second, what do they plan on wearing? Again, there could be thousands of runners on the course, so knowing the color of their shirt and shorts can help you pick them out of the crowd. When it comes to cross-country, keep in mind that many schools share the same colors. Therefore, parents should take this a step further and be able to pick out their runner’s exact uniform. Knowing that your son or daughter is wearing red and white might not be enough to pick them out of a big race.

These last two tips have more to do with your comfort level than they do with watching the actual event. I think it’s important to pack light, however, you also want to bring along a variety of clothing options because we know the weather around here can change quickly. And if you’re biking around the course, the chances are that you’ll work up a sweat, so it doesn’t hurt to have a spare shirt with you.

Finally, and this is good for all occasions, bring snacks. In your excitement to get out the door, there’s a good chance that you may have rushed through breakfast. You don’t want to be searching for the nearest McDonald’s when your girlfriend is expecting to see you along the course. So bring along something to drink as well as a few things that won’t melt in the heat or get smashed in your bag. That means leave the chocolate bars and bananas at home.

There you have it. Pass these tips along to your friends and family and hopefully they’ll be clamoring to watch your next race.


SteveQ said...

Last year I posted about how to watch a marathon; your ideas are better. I just noticed that people cheer for the first men, then run out of things to say and then cheer for the first women and for groups - I once ran the TCM in near silence, hearing cheers blocks ahead and behind me - please: cheer for those poor guys no one else is cheering for!

Anonymous said...

Just in time, Good luck to all the racers this Sunday, watch out people from wasteconsin, they are pouring in :)

Beth said...

Of course, bring the cowbell along. You can never have enough cowbell. I would also add to not tell people that they are almost done unless you can actually see the finish line. Hearing that you're almost there at mile 23 isn't a motivator. Nice list!