The Sport of Spectating For a Running Race
Race day may be all about you – the runner – but your spectators add a lot to your race day experience. Looking forward to seeing your fans on the course can be what pulls you through a rough patch, and finding them after crossing the finish line is a true celebration. On the surface, watching someone run sounds absurdly easy. But, if you’ve ever come out to watch a friend, or had a group of fans come out for an endurance race, you know it’s not as easy as it seems!
My parents and husband have been to enough of my races that they have it down to a science. Here are some tips on how to spectate like a champ and ensure it’s a fun event, not a stressful endeavor!
Dress the Part
Race day is not a day to blend in. While you should avoid wearing anything new on race day (the Golden Rule of running!) go for colorful and bright clothing, or at the least, a hat/visor that stands out. Have your spectators do the same and if you do not see them race day morning, send pictures to each other so you both know what you’re looking for.
Time it Out
Even though you won’t know the exact time you’ll hit each mile marker, you have a good idea of the pace you’ll be running. Communicate with your spectators your pace goal and when you should cross the start line (in large races there could be waves meaning you may not actually start the race until 10+ minutes after the gun goes off). Wherever they end up looking for you on the course, they will have a timeframe of when you should be passing. In races with pacers this is easier because they will have pace signs signaling what pace runners are running.
Plan a Route
This is especially helpful for half-marathon and marathon distances because your spectators can see you at multiple points of your race. Look at a course map at least a day before so you and your spectators know where to look for each other. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Easy access points to course
- Road closures (this is usually listed on the race website)
- Timing – for you to get to each point and your spectators to get there
- Side of the road they will be on
Flag Each Other Down
One year I did a race in the rain and it was so easy to find my parents because if their red and white stripe golf umbrella! Bringing something that stands out like a ballon, umbrella or neon signs will make it easier for you to find your tribe out on the course. Sure, there will be many people with signs, but if you’re looking for an orange sign on the right side of the road around mile 4, you’ve narrowed the crowd down significantly.
Do your part by looking ahead and waving your arms (if you have the energy!) so they see you coming. You’ll be sure to get a better mid-race photo if they have time, and can even drop off extra gear like gloves, jacket or arm warmers.
Make Post Race Plans
For every marathon I’ve done, I made brunch reservations for later that morning at least a month in advance. Part of it is to be practical; in large races there will be thousands of people descending upon the city, so reservations ensure you won’t have to wait. Plus, you won’t be in the best decision making mode after running for hours, so having a time and place set make things easier. The other reason is mental: I know that no matter how the rest of the race goes, I will be dining at a certain restaurant at 1pm. This is a great time to celebrate with your spectators, recapping how your race experience was, and hearing what they got to see and hear during their time on the course. I’m always asked if I saw certain signs they saw, or runners in particular costumes. It’s fun to swap both sides of race day events.
More immediately though, pick a spot to meet. In smaller races this isn’t a big deal, but if you can’t carry your phone on you or it doesn’t work with all the activity at the finish, you’ll want to have a designated meet up spot so you aren’t wandering around on legs that have been over it for 2 hours. Plus, you’ll need someone to help carry your post-race goodies!
Race day is a party. You’ve trained for months and every mile run gets you closer to your goal. Having family and friends along the course is the best way to break up a race and get an extra boost of motivation as you go. Make a plan so you all get the most out of the race day experience and have a blast celebrating afterwards!